The unknown about the attack in Crimea: not whether, but how Ukraine carried it out

The Russian Ministry of Defense’s version of the explosion at the Saki air base in Crimea was met with skepticism by the few independent Russian and Russian-language media and by most European and American media. At least several simultaneous explosions at ammunition depots in different locations as a result of several or more simultaneous and independent base fires are unlikely.

While Moscow spoke of a munitions explosion and Ukraine’s defense minister advised Russians not to smoke in dangerous places, satellite images of the explosion site left little room for doubt: not an explosion, but an attack that destroyed eight or ten planes, the worst loss of Russian combat aviation since the beginning of the war.

This is also confirmed by Ukrainian sources of Western media but does not answer the question of how exactly the attack was carried out and why this approach of silence and public denial was chosen, after both sides tried to emphasize the defeats they inflicted on the enemy, during the war. In addition, the base is located 270 km from the nearest Kyiv-controlled territory – beyond the range of almost all weapons that Ukraine is known to possess.

Special Forces with Ukrainian weapons

This version was circulated by Ukrainian representatives to Western media, who assured that no Western weapons were used in the attack. It is not specified what kind of weapons we are talking about, but as the electronic publication “Meduza” points out, it is theoretically possible for such special units to penetrate the air base and mine it. Not likely in this case: the explosions were too powerful.

Interlocutors of the “Washington Post” from the Ukrainian government also talk about the participation of special forces, but without specifying which unit it is. There was such a confirmation for both the Guardian and the New York Times.

Earlier in Western media, there were details about known sabotage operations of special forces in the rear of the Russian troops in Ukraine, even on Russian territory. However, how would they penetrate the base without fighting, since the base is certainly guarded, asks the Russian edition of the BBC? And “there were no messages on social networks about the actions of saboteurs”. Furthermore, the number of explosives required for such explosions would be difficult to deliver unnoticed to the airport.


This version was already shared by Mykhailo Podolyak, the adviser to the chief of staff of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. He expressed astonishment (“What do we have in common?”) and suggested that local “Crimean partisans” might be behind the act.

The guerrillas are the so-called National Resistance of Ukraine, the law for which was proposed to the parliament by Zelensky in May. Technically, however, the resistance is part of Ukraine’s defense. Oleksiy Danilov, secretary of Ukraine’s National Security and Defense Council, told The Washington Post that these forces — made up of both trained personnel and sympathizers — are stepping up their activity against Russian logistics, administration, and chain of command, but their activity is ” secret” and no details about it can be revealed.


However, given the remoteness of Crimea from the territories controlled by Ukraine, it is possible that this was done with unmanned aerial vehicles, with which Kyiv has previously carried out strikes, including on the territory of Crimea. And on July 31, a drone was used: in the attack on the headquarters of the Russian Navy in Sevastopol.

A kamikaze drone could more easily be delivered to Crimea and reach the base undetected.

Neptune anti-ship missile

The upgraded version of the Soviet missile, developed in Ukraine, is capable of hitting a target at a distance of up to 280 km. According to Ukraine, the Russian cruiser “Moskva” was also attacked with it this spring. However, the Neptune is not used against ground targets: its radar will have a harder time dealing when the object is surrounded by a solid surface.

The problem with the last two versions as well: the explosions were too strong to be caused by such weapons (the Neptune warhead is no more than 150 kg).

American missiles

Ukraine insists that domestically produced weapons were used, but it has HIMARS and MLRS rocket launchers that can hit a variety of targets with high precision. Again, there is the question of range: the GMLRS missiles they use have a range of up to 70 km, although Lockheed Martin is developing new ones that can reach up to 150 km.

And this would not be enough given the distance to the base in Novofiodorovka. If the missiles were launched from a ship to compensate for the distance, they would be detected by the radars, naval aviation would be activated.

Only the ATACMS missiles (up to 300 km), which Ukraine is not known to have, but which it wants from the US, have a suitable range. Washington fears that the shelling of Russian territory, which would be possible with them, would lead to a serious escalation, and this raises doubts about how the country would agree to such delivery, even secretly. And given the numerous explosions, it is not known how the Russian air defense could miss such many missiles, continues the BBC.

US Harpoon cruise missiles are also unlikely for Neptune reasons.

In addition, a United States representative, speaking on condition of anonymity, told The Washington Post that no American weapons were used.

Something else

It is also known that since the middle of the last decade, Ukraine has been developing its own operational-tactical missile complex “Grom” (“Grim”) – an analog of the Russian “Iskander-M” – with a range of up to 500 km, but so far there is no information about its production either. nor for its use.

Why right there

Ukrainian intelligence believes that aircraft of the Black Sea Fleet’s 43rd Marine Assault Aviation Battalion are striking southern Ukraine, which is likely the main air group supporting Russian troops in the Kherson, Mykolaiv, and Zaporizhzhia regions.

The attack on one of the main air bases in the region is a logical continuation of the Ukrainian plans for a counter-offensive to retake the Kherson region, “Meduza” also writes. The Washington Post also noted that the attack could severely affect Russia’s long-term ability to maintain control over southern Ukraine and to protect itself from Ukraine in places it considered unreachable.

Confirmation is not the most important thing

It can also lead to a more serious escalation in the course of the war. Senior Ukrainians have already portrayed the attack as part of a counter-offensive, and – asked by Politico about the start of the counter-offensive – a Kyiv official said: “You could say it is.”

Zelensky said hours after the blast, without commenting on the substance, that the war that began with the annexation of Crimea would end with its recapture.

Ukraine may never confirm that it was behind the attack, nor reveal how it was carried out. Whatever the explanation, the news for Russia is bad – if only for the fact that the attack is possible, and that, as the Institute for the Study of War notes, “Russian forces at the base probably know by now what happened, but may yet not to understand how or from where exactly” the attack was carried out.

They could also be bad for Kyiv if Moscow feels compelled to retaliate.

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