Satellite images show devastation at Russian air base in Crimea

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  • Ukraine remains silent on how the strike was carried out
  • Satellite images show three craters, eight planes destroyed
  • “It’s very good”, says the ex-chief of the CIA
  • Ukraine says Russian airstrikes doubled from last week

KYIV, Aug 11 (Reuters) – Satellite images released on Thursday showed the devastation at a Russian air base in Crimea hit in an attack suggesting Kyiv may have gained a new long-range strike capability that could change the course of the war.

Images released by independent satellite company Planet Labs showed three nearly identical craters where buildings at Russia’s Saki airbase had been hit with apparent precision. The base, on the southwest coast of Crimea, had suffered extensive fire damage, with the scorched hulls of at least eight destroyed fighter jets clearly visible.

Russia has denied that any planes were damaged and said the explosions seen at the base on Tuesday were accidental.

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Ukraine has not publicly claimed responsibility for the attack or explained exactly how it was carried out.

“Officially, we neither confirm nor deny anything; there are many scenarios for what could have happened (…) bearing in mind that there were several epicenters of explosions at exactly the same time. “Ukrainian presidential adviser Mykhailo Podolyak told Reuters in a message. .

Western military experts said the scale of the damage and the apparent accuracy of the strike suggested a powerful new capability with potentially significant implications.

Russia, which seized and annexed Crimea in 2014, uses the peninsula as a base for its Black Sea Fleet and a main supply route for its invading forces occupying southern Ukraine, where Kyiv plans a counter-offensive in the coming weeks.

“I’m not an intelligence analyst, but this doesn’t look good,” Mark Hertling, former commander of US ground forces in Europe, wrote on Twitter, linking to an image of the devastation at the base. Russian.

“I am. That’s fine,” replied fellow retired four-star US general, Michael Hayden, former head of the CIA and National Security Agency, on Twitter.

The Institute for the Study of War think tank said Ukrainian officials viewed the strike in Crimea as “the start of Ukraine’s counteroffensive in the south, suggesting that the Ukrainian military is ‘expects heavy fighting in August and September that could decide the outcome of the next phase of the war’.

Exactly how the attack was carried out remains a mystery. Some Ukrainian officials were quoted suggesting it could be sabotage by infiltrators. But the nearly identical impact craters and simultaneous explosions seem to indicate that it was hit by a volley of weapons capable of evading Russian defences.

The base is well beyond the range of advanced rockets that Western countries acknowledge they have sent to Ukraine so far, though within range of the more powerful versions that Kyiv has been researching. Ukraine also has anti-ship missiles that could theoretically be used to hit land targets.

NEW PHASE

After weeks in which the pace of fighting had slowed somewhat, a Ukrainian general said Russia had doubled its airstrikes on Ukrainian positions since last week.

“Enemy planes and helicopters avoid flying within the range of our air defenses, and therefore the accuracy of such strikes is low,” Brigadier General Oleksiy Hromov told a news conference.

But he added that the intensity of Russian airborne activity in the south decreased after the Crimean base was destroyed.

“As a result of the specified actions, the intensity of the use of aviation on the southern front has somewhat decreased,” he said.

Recent days have seen battles in the east in Pisky, a town on the outskirts of the separatist city of Donetsk. Russian-backed separatists claimed to have captured him; Ukraine has denied its downfall. Reuters could not verify either account.

Ukraine pushed Russian forces back from the capital Kyiv in March and from the outskirts of the second-largest city of Kharkiv in May. Russia then captured territories to the east in huge battles that killed thousands of soldiers on both sides in June.

Since then, the front lines have remained largely static, but Kyiv says it is preparing a big push to retake the southern regions of Kherson and Zaporizhzhia, the main slice of territory captured since the February 24 invasion that Moscow still holds.

Russia has reinforced these areas, but its defense depends on supply lines to stockpile forces accustomed to firing thousands of shells a day.

Kyiv hopes the arrival last month of US rocket systems capable of hitting logistical targets behind the frontline could tip the balance in its favor. But until now, the West had refrained from providing longer-range rockets that could strike deep within Russia itself or hit Moscow’s many bases in annexed Crimea.

Russia says its “special military operation” will be planned to protect Russian speakers and separatists in the south and east. Ukraine and its Western allies say Moscow aims to tighten its grip on as much territory as possible with the ultimate goal of extinguishing Ukraine as an independent nation.

Tens of thousands of people died, millions fled and cities were destroyed.

On Thursday, Russia refused an offer from Switzerland to represent Moscow’s diplomatic interests in Kyiv, saying the Swiss were no longer neutral because they had signed on to sanctions against Russia.

BOMBING RAID

Ukraine reported Russian shelling along the entire front line, from the area around Kharkiv in the northeast, in eastern Donetsk province and on the banks of the wide Dnipro river to Zaporizhzhia, Kherson and the provinces adjacent.

Dnipropetrovsk regional governor Valentyn Reznychenko said three people were killed and seven injured in Nikopol, on the right bank of the Dnipro, hit by 120 Russian Grad rockets.

UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres has called on both sides to end all fighting near the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant – the largest in Europe – owned by Russian troops and operated by Ukrainian workers, and close to the front line of the fighting.

Ukraine on Wednesday accused Russia of killing at least 13 people and wounding 10 with rockets fired from the vicinity of the plant, knowing it was too dangerous for the Ukrainians to retaliate.

“The cowardly Russians can’t do anything more so they are hitting towns that hide vilely in the Zaporizhzhia atomic power plant,” Andriy Yermak, chief of staff to President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, said on social media.

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Reports from Reuters offices; Written by Peter Graff; Editing by Hugh Lawson

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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