Saky airfield: Ukraine claims Crimea blasts responsibility after denial

Saky airfield: Ukraine claims Crimea blasts responsibility after denial

By Leo Sands
BBC News

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Watch: Crimea beachgoers run after airfield explosion

Ukraine has claimed responsibility for a series of air strikes on Crimea after a month of uncertainty over who was behind them.

One of the attacks, which took place in early August, targeted Russia’s Saky military base and killed one person.

Ukraine had refused to acknowledge its role and even blamed them on Russian soldiers’ discarded cigarettes.

It confirms a significant expansion of the conflict by Ukraine into Crimea, which was annexed by Russia in 2014.

In an article for national news agency Ukrinform, Kyiv’s top commander Valeriy Zaluzhnyi said Ukrainian rockets had targeted a number of Crimean military sites, including the Saky airbase which was rocked by multiple explosions on 9 August.

He claimed the attack – against a base used by Moscow to launch attacks against Ukraine – took 10 Russian warplanes “out of action”.

As well as damaging Russia’s military capabilities, Mr Zaluzhnyi said it was intended to challenge Russia’s overall military confidence and sense of impunity.

The strikes were part of a deliberate response to Russian efforts to try and distance its own civilians from the conflict, he said.

Saky airbase is near Novofedorivka on Crimea’s western coast, a beach area popular with Russian tourists.

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It is the first time Ukraine has attacked Crimea proper since the full-scale Russian invasion began in February.

The Russian-controlled peninsula has become subject to an increasing number of Ukrainian military threats in recent weeks.

“The weather forecast says it is going to be very hot in Crimea,” the Ukrainian army warned on Twitter on Wednesday, before suggesting Moscow’s occupying forces may be forced to swim back to Russia across the Black Sea.

Saky attacks: Who said what?

9 August: The Saky base in the west of Russian-ruled Crimea is rocked by a string of blasts.

Russia’s defence ministry says several aircraft munitions detonated, but there was not a strike at the airfield’s ammunition storage and no aircraft were damaged.

Mykhailo Podolyak, adviser to the head of the Office of the President of Ukraine, says Ukraine was not involved – but the New York Times cites a senior Ukrainian official as saying Kyiv was behind the blasts.

11 August: Satellite photos show at least eight aircraft have been damaged.

12 August: Ukrainian defence minister Oleksiy Reznikov suggests the blasts were caused by Russian soldiers smoking in dangerous places. A few days later he tweets that “a fire from cigarette butts occurred near a bowling club” in Crimea – though it is not clear whether he is referring to the Saky attack.

7 Sept: Kyiv’s top commander says the explosions were the result of Ukrainian rocket attacks.

Ukraine’s claim of its role in the August attack marks a departure from its earlier official position that it was not involved.

At one point Ukraine’s defence minister even suggested the Saky blast could have been caused by careless smoking by Russian soldiers.

“It looks as if they threw their cigarette butts away in several places at the same time,” Oleksii Reznikov told a Danish news channel media.

For its part, the Russian-installed Crimean authorities refused to directly accuse Ukraine of responsibility.

Local officials instead blamed the blasts at the Saky airbase on an unexplained ammunition detonation, before citing “acts of sabotage.”

Russia annexed Crimea from Ukraine in March 2014, after a referendum which was seen as illegitimate by the international community. The vote was hastily organised after unmarked Russian troops took control of several strategic locations around the peninsula.

On 24 February this year, Moscow launched a full-scale invasion of Ukraine, using Crimea as a springboard to move Russian troops deeper inside Ukraine.

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