Crimea air base damaged in attack, seen in videos and satellite images

(Video: The Washington Post)
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Shortly before 3:20 p.m. on August 9, Nikolay Abbasov, a resident of Saki, near the western Black Sea coast of Crimea, heard an explosion. As he walked to his window, he filmed a cloud of smoke rising in the distance. At almost the same time, a Russian influencer, Diana Andreeva, was enjoying the beach in nearby Novofedorivka as she turned her camera to capture the cloud rising from Saki Air Force Base, home of the 43rd Independent Naval Attack Aviation Regiment of the Russian Federation. navy.


Annexed by Russia

in 2014

Source: Aug 10 audit data via Institute for the

Study of the war

About 50 minutes later, both would catch two massive explosions at the base, capping an alleged Ukraine-claimed attack that killed at least one person and injured 13 others, Russian officials said. At least the explosion is gone eight military plane According to defense sources, military analysts and a review of satellite images destroyed or significantly damaged and destroyed parts of the facility. If Ukraine were responsible, the attack would be one of the most daring of the war, taking residents and tourists deep into the Crimea, which Russia seized in 2014.

To better understand what happened in Saki, The Washington Post analyzed more than two dozen videos, spoke with eyewitnesses and consulted eight military and geospatial experts, and confirmed that at least six explosions shook the base over the course of nearly an hour.

Anonymous Ukrainian officials have said the attack was carried out by the country’s special forces or guerrillas known as “partisans,” but have provided few details. Resistance fighters have been active in Kherson, which borders Crimea to the north, where they have been blamed for murders.

A senior Pentagon official told reporters on Friday that Ukraine had been targeted and that the Defense Department had failed to determine which weapons were being used. A news article on the Pentagon’s website does not attribute an attack to Ukraine.

Russia said the incident was the result of the accidental detonation of ammunition at the site – a theory that does not rule out The Post’s analysis. Crimean leader Sergey Aksyonov raised the threat level for terrorists to “yellow” but did not comment on Ukraine’s possible involvement.


Significantly damaged

areas

Source: Tony Roper, Janes

Satellite image ©2022 Planet Labs

Significantly damaged

areas

Source: Tony Roper, Janes, Satellite Image ©2022 Planet Labs

Significantly damaged

areas

Source: Tony Roper, Janes, Satellite Image ©2022 Planet Labs

Ukraine’s vague statements have different theories of analystsincluding that special forces have placed explosives on the base or used drones to fire or deliver bombs, or that the country’s military has used a precision weapon with a range beyond the systems known to work.

Experts said The Post’s analysis raises questions about how an attack was carried out and whether it benefited from secondary blasts caused by fires at the base.

“The question remains: How many of these explosions were caused by independent events, versus a chain effect of initially exploding ordinance or fuel that then caught other ordinance fuel or fire?” said Dara Massicot, a senior policy researcher at the Rand Corp.

‘The sky is pitch dark’

The Post synced videos and images shared on social media and confirmed at least half a dozen explosions at Saki Air Force Base. Witnesses told The Post they heard more.

Shortly before 3:20 p.m., Abbasov filmed smoke from the first explosion identified by The Post. “It just hit so hard — it made my bed shake,” he says in the video. The footage is consistent with other witnesses’ accounts and a statement from the Russian Defense Ministry saying that “several aircraft munitions were detonated in a locked warehouse” at “about 3:20 p.m.”.

Andreeva, the influencer, filmed that first explosion and posted an edited video of various explosions, along with her reactions, to Instagram.

Another explosion was recorded minutes later. One video, taken north of the base, briefly captures a small flash. Less than a second later, a fireball erupts, which then turns into a mushroom cloud. The Post confirmed the sequence of the blasts by examining smoke and confirming the timing with multiple witnesses.

(Video: Mash via Telegram)

Residents and beachgoers in Novofedorivka filmed the same explosion.

(Video: Instagram and Telegram)

Photographer Dmitry Filatov was at home in Novofedorivka when he started hearing thumps. After the second, he left to see his grandfather, who lives close to the airbase. “On the way back, the third explosion happened while I was walking past the adjacent building,” Filatov told The Post. “The shock wave blew out the windows in the building and they flew toward us.”

At 3:44 p.m., Abbasov photographed a small cloud rising from a bed of smoke, which he described as the aftermath of another explosion. Video taken from a nearby residential building caught the same cloud, as well as a separate blast.

At about 4:11 p.m., Abbasov recorded the aftermath of two massive explosions. A Post-analysis of other images shows the blasts happened split second apart, suggesting one triggered the other, known as a sympathetic explosion, according to Justin Bronk, senior research fellow at the Royal United Services Institute. .

(Video: Telegram and Nikolay Abbasov)

Andreeva also filmed the double blasts, confirming that they happened around 4:11 PM. “They’re getting louder,” she says in her Instagram video. “The sky is pitch black.” Other videos showed the two fireballs turning to smoke and rising into the sky.

Satellite images examined by The Post confirmed significant damage at at least four sites at the base that analysts said were likely used for storage. It also showed that fires had burned extensively at the base and crawled in the direction of Novofedorivka. Aircraft were damaged despite being parked within protective blast walls known as cladding. Despite the heavy toll, analysts said the airport remains functional. Videos and photos examined by The Post showed blown-out windows and damaged homes in the city.

Experts consulted by The Post agreed that no piece of evidence fully explained what happened Tuesday. But video and satellite analysis offer clues.

Massicot, who examined footage captured in May, said she found that the base regularly stored ammunition or other supplies near or in aircraft parking lots, a vulnerability she says Ukraine may have noticed.

“By addressing storage security issues, whatever caused this explosion could cause significant damage to fixed-wing combat aircraft,” she said.

In a review released Friday British Ministry of Defence said it had not confirmed “the original cause of the detonation,” but that “the large mushroom clouds visible in eyewitness videos almost certainly came from the detonation of up to four uncovered ammunition depots.”

Bronk said the delay between explosions at the base made it unlikely that missiles were responsible for all the damage. A more plausible scenario, he said, was that Ukrainian forces were close enough to fly drones, and were able to drop small ammunition or fly directly at targets, triggering larger explosions. “You can almost imagine the poor damage control,” he said.

Mark F. Cancian, a senior advisor at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said the damage to aircraft in cladding suggested they could be the target. An analysis conducted by defense intelligence provider Janes also determined that the air base was likely hit by “relatively large munitions”.

The base is more than 140 miles from the nearest front line and Cancian acknowledged that nothing known to be used by Ukraine has explained what happened at the airport. No available videos show projectiles moving towards base.

“All indicators are not leading in one direction,” Cancian told The Post. “It’s such a mystery.”

Atthar Mirza contributed to this report.


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