Russia’s Saki Air Base, safely tucked away 120 miles or more behind the front lines, lost as many as 10 warplanes and various buildings in a series of explosions on Tuesday — but how it happened remains a mystery.
Very few people seem to know what actually happened, and even those witnesses are telling conflicting stories.
Massive explosions rocked the airfield, home to aircraft from the Russian Navy’s 43rd Independent Naval Attack Aviation Regiment. The smoke could be seen from miles away. Satellite photos show that Russia lost at least half a dozen aircraft, including top-line Su-30 Flanker fighters and older Su-24 Fencer fighter/bombers.
Several buildings appear to have been destroyed or damaged, although contrary to early reports, the fuel depot and weapons storage building appear unscathed.
Several large grassy areas can be seen burnt black.
The Planesandstuff blog has satellite imagery with helpful captions if you’re interested in taking a look for yourself.
Saki (sometimes spelled Saky) was thought to be unreachable by Ukraine’s missile forces, and it’s certainly too far behind the lines to get hit by Ukraine’s artillery.
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So what happened, or might have happened, is where things get really interesting.
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Russia initially claimed that no aircraft had been destroyed, but those claims were quickly proven false by commercially available satellite imagery. Another thing that seems certain is that the attack (if it was an attack) caught Moscow by surprise. Hell, it caught everybody by surprise.
Maybe that’s why the Kremlin couldn’t get its story straight:
Russian outlets shared conflicting stories: the Russian Ministry of Defense claimed on August 9 that munitions had been detonated at a storage site at the airfield due to negligence, not an attack, and claimed that no aircraft were damaged. Russian milblogger Rybar claimed on August 10 that the explosion was likely not caused by a missile strike and hypothesized that the explosions could be due to negligence and non-compliance with safety regulations or to a small helicopter with a bomb attacking a nearby parking lot.
To their credit, Russian messaging is usually much better than that confused hash.
But if Moscow is playing it sloppy this time, Kyiv is playing it cagey.
The New York Times reported Wednesday that one “senior Ukrainian official” claimed that “the blasts were an attack carried out with the help of partisans,” without getting into particulars.
Another Ukrainian military official told the New York Times that the mystery weapons involved were “exclusively of Ukrainian manufacture.” The HIMARS-launched missiles supplied by the U.S. to Ukraine don’t have the range to reach Saki, but nothing we know of for certain in Ukraine’s inventory can either.
The Ukrainian military has not yet officially acknowledged any involvement at all.
The Kyiv Post — hardly an unbiased source — claims that Russia has moved S-300 antiaircraft missile systems into the area in response to the attack.
Again, if it was an attack and not a self-inflicted blunder.
Maybe S-300s really are being deployed there. Maybe the Kyiv Post is just trying to sow dissension among Russian forces by making them appear more vulnerable than they actually are.
So many questions. So few answers. So many explosions.
That’s what they call it the fog of war.