Putin’s Black Sea fleet ‘significantly degraded’ by blasts at Crimea air base, says UK

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A satellite image shows destroyed Saky air base in Crimea (via REUTERS)
A satellite image shows destroyed Saky air base in Crimea (via REUTERS)

Putin’s Black Sea aviation fleet has been “significantly degraded" after explosions were reported at a Russian-operated air base in Crimea, British officials have said.

Blasts at the Saky airfield in western Crimea likely destroyed or damaged at least five Su-24 FENCER fighter-bombers and three Su-30 FLANKER H multi-role jets, the Ministry of Defence said in its latest situation update.

Russia has sought to downplay the blasts, claiming no aircraft were damaged. In a briefing, Kremlin officials said that while the damaged jets are only a fraction of the overall aviation fleet, capability would be affected since Saky is one of Russia’s primary operational bases.

 (AP)
(AP)

The original cause of the explosion has not been confirmed, with Ukraine denying responsibility in public.

However, dramatic footage of large mushroom clouds visible in eyewitness video from beaches popular with Russian tourists were almost certainly from the detonation of up to four uncovered munition storage areas, the Ministry of Defence said.

“The fleet’s naval aviation capability is now significantly degraded,” a situation update said.

“The incident will likely prompt the Russian military to revise its threat perception. Crimea has probably been seen as a secure rear-area.”

However, while Saky’s central dispersal area suffered serious damage, the airfield is thought to remain serviceable.

Russia’s defence ministry has insisted the blasts were caused by exploding ammunition, while a senior Ukrainian official previously suggested they could have been the work of partisan saboteurs.

Although not admitting responsibility for the blasts, officials have mocked Russian tourists for visiting the area, writing on social media: “Unless they want an unpleasantly hot summer break, we advise our valued Russian guests not to visit Ukrainian Crimea.

“Because no amount of sunscreen will protect them from the hazardous effects of smoking in unauthorised areas.”

The base is about 30 miles north of Sevastopol, home of Russia’s Black Sea Fleet, which Moscow leased from Kyiv for decades before seizing and annexing the entire peninsula from Ukraine.

On Wednesday, President Volodymyr Zelensky said “the occupiers” lost nine aircraft in Crimea.

“The occupiers also suffer new losses of armoured vehicles, warehouses with ammunition, logistics routes,” he said.