Crimea: Satellite images reveal destroyed Russian fighter jets after explosions rock air base

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This satellite image provided by Planet Labs shows destroyed Russian aircraft at Saki air base (AP)
This satellite image provided by Planet Labs shows destroyed Russian aircraft at Saki air base (AP)

Russian fighter jets were destroyed after a series explosions rocked an air base in Crimea, satellite images have revealed.

The images show extensive damage to the Saki air base where at least seven planes appear to have been blown up and others damaged.

Moscow has claimed that Tuesday’s blasts were caused by ammunition catching fire and exploding while Ukraine has denied it carried out an attack on the base.

But the new evidence from the US-based Planet Labs appears to point to a targeted attack, showing large areas of scorched earth and damage to the runway alongside the charred remains of military aircraft.

A Ukrainian attack on a Russian military site on the Crimean Peninsula - which the Kremlin annexed from Ukraine in 2012 - would represent a significant escalation in the war.

Last month Russia’s ex-President Dmitry Medvedev threatened that “Judgement Day will instantly await” if Ukraine targeted Crimea.

The Saki base is situated deep into Crimea and has been used by Russian warplanes to strike targets in southern Ukraine.

Rising smoke can be seen from the beach at Saky after explosions were heard from the direction of the military airbase (AP)
Rising smoke can be seen from the beach at Saky after explosions were heard from the direction of the military airbase (AP)

Ukrainian Defence Minister Oleksii Reznikov suggested that smoking cigarettes at an ammunition and air base in Russia annexed Crimea caused the massive explosions.

But analysts have said explanation does not make sense and that the Ukrainians could have used anti-ship missiles to strike the base.

Britain’s Defence secretary Ben Wallace said the fact there had been more than one explosion pointed to an attack rather than an accident.

“It’s absolutely legitimate for Ukraine to take lethal force, if necessary... in order to regain not only its territory, but also to push back its invader,” he told the BBC.

The explosions, which killed one person and wounded 14, sent tourists fleeing in panic as plumes of smoke rose over nearby beaches. Video showed shattered windows and holes in the brickwork of some buildings.

One tourist, Natalia Lipovaya, said that “the earth was gone from under my feet” after the powerful blasts.

Sergey Milochinsky, a local resident, recalled hearing a roar and seeing a mushroom cloud from his window. “Everything began to fall around, collapse,” he said.

Heavy fighting was raging around a key eastern Ukrainian town today as Russia pressed its campaign to seize all of the industrialised Donbas region.

An official with the Russia-backed Donetsk People’s Republic said the town of Pisky, just six miles northwest of provincial capital Donetsk, was under control of Russian and separatist forces.

“It’s hot in Pisky. The town is ours but there remain scattered pockets of resistance in its north and west,” the official said on Telegram.

Ukrainian officials denied that the heavily fortified town, a key to the defence of Donetsk, had fallen.