- Ukraine is silent on how to carry out the strike
- Satellite images show three craters and eight destroyed aircraft
- ‘It’s very good,’ says the former head of the CIA.
- Reported Russian bombing along the front line
Kyiv (Reuters) – Satellite images released on Thursday showed the devastated Russian air base in Crimea struck days earlier in an attack suggesting Kyiv may have acquired a long-range offensive capability with the potential to change the course of the war. .
Images released by independent satellite company Planet Labs showed three near-identical craters that hit buildings at Russia’s Saki Air Base. The base, located on the southwestern coast of Crimea, suffered extensive fire damage with charred crusts of at least eight visibly destroyed warplanes.
Russia denied hitting planes 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 do not confirm or deny anything,” Ukrainian presidential adviser Mikhailo Podolyak told Reuters in a letter. .
Western military experts said the scale of damage and the apparent accuracy of the strike indicated a powerful new capability with potentially important implications.
Russia, which annexed Crimea in 2014, uses the peninsula as a base for its Black Sea Fleet and as a major supply route for invasion forces occupying southern Ukraine, with Kyiv planning a counterattack in the coming weeks.
“I’m not an intelligence analyst, but it doesn’t look good,” Mark Hertling, former commander of US Ground Forces in Europe, wrote on Twitter, pointing to a photo of the destruction of the Russian base.
His fellow retired US General Michael Hayden, former head of the CIA and National Security Agency, replied, “I am. He’s very good.”
How exactly the attack was carried out remains a mystery. Some Ukrainian officials have been quoted as saying that the order may have been sabotage by hackers. But similar craters and simultaneous eruptions seem to indicate it has been hit by a barrage of new long-range weapons, capable of evading Russian defenses.
The base is far beyond the range of advanced missiles that Western countries admit to sending to Ukraine so far, but within the range of the more powerful versions that Kyiv has sought. Ukraine also has its own surface-to-surface missiles that could theoretically be used to strike targets on the ground.
The war in Ukraine is expected to enter a new phase in the coming weeks. Ukraine expelled Russian forces from the capital Kyiv in March and from the outskirts of Kharkiv, the second largest city, in May. Russia seized more territory in the east in fierce battles that killed thousands of soldiers on both sides in June.
Since then, the front lines have been largely static, but Kyiv says it is a major push to retake the southern regions of Kherson and Zaporizhzhya, the main part of the territory captured since the Moscow-occupied invasion on February 24.
Russia has fortified those areas, but its defense depends on the ability to control supply lines to supply its forces with thousands of shells on the day its heavy artillery used to fire them.
Kyiv hopes that the arrival last month of US missile systems capable of hitting Russian targets behind the front line could tip the scales in its favour. But the West has so far stopped providing long-range missiles that could strike deep into Russia itself or hit Moscow’s many bases in the annexed Crimea.
Russia says its “special military operation” will plan to protect Russian speakers in the south and east, where it recognizes the separatists as independent. Ukraine and its Western allies say the invasion failed in an initial attempt to overthrow the government in Kyiv, and Moscow now aims to tighten its grip on as much territory as possible with the ultimate goal of eliminating Ukraine as an independent state.
Tens of thousands have been killed, millions have fled, and cities have been destroyed since the Russian invasion on February 24.
Although little significant progress has been made on both sides in recent weeks, intense skirmishes are still underway.
Ukraine reported Russian bombing along the entire front line, from the area around Kharkov in the northeast, through the eastern Donetsk province, and on the banks of the wide Dnipro River in Zaporizhia, Kherson and adjacent provinces.
Three people were killed and seven others wounded in the shelling in Nikopol on the right bank of the Dnipro River, which was hit by 120 Grad missiles, said Valentin Reznichenko, governor of the Dnipropetrovsk region.
“The enemy is focusing its efforts on imposing complete control over the lands of the Luhansk and Donetsk regions,” the Ukrainian General Staff said in a report released early Thursday, citing more than 60 settlements and military targets.
The Russian-backed separatists claimed to have captured Pesky, a small town on the outskirts of the separatist-held city of Donetsk, which has seen fighting in recent days.
“It’s hot in Biske. The town is ours, but there are still scattered pockets of resistance in its north and west,” said Daniel Bessonov, a separatist official on Telegram.
Ukrainian officials denied the town fell. Reuters was unable to verify the battlefield accounts.
Oleksiy Aristovich, a Ukrainian presidential adviser, said in an interview posted on YouTube that the “Russian movement to Pesky” was “without success.”
Ukraine accused Russia, on Wednesday, of killing at least 13 people and wounding 10 with missiles fired from the vicinity of Europe’s largest nuclear power plant, knowing that the response of Ukrainian forces with fire would be dangerous.
“Cowardly Russians can do nothing more, so they are hitting the towns hiding at the Zaporizhzhya atomic power plant,” Andrei Yermak, Chief of Staff of President Volodymyr Zelensky, said on social media.
Ukraine says about 500 Russian soldiers are at the plant, where Ukrainian technicians continue to work. The Group of Seven leading industrialized nations on Wednesday asked Russia to hand over the plant to Ukraine, after the United Nations atomic energy agency sounded the alarm about the possibility of a nuclear disaster.
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Reporting by Reuters offices. Written by Peter Graf. Editing by Hugh Lawson
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