Ukraine may have opened a new phase of its defense against invasion by Russia on Aug. 9, as media reported that a series of powerful explosions had rocked a military airfield in Russia-occupied Crimea.
If it is confirmed that it is Ukraine that was behind the explosions, then this will have been the first time Ukraine has attacked an enemy base in Crimea since Russia began its occupation of the Ukrainian territory in 2014.
According to a report by news agency Reuters, citing eyewitness accounts, the explosions occurred at Novofedorivka airfield, near Saky in western Crimea. Eyewitnesses said they heard at least 12 explosions within a minute, followed by another, larger blast about 30 minutes later, and saw a pillar of black smoke rising shortly afterwards.
Video of the incident shows a large mushroom cloud rising over the air base.
Russian news agency RIA Novosti later said a stream of ambulances could be seen heading towards Novofedorivka.
Several Russian “officials” also confirmed the reports of the blasts.
“So far, I can only confirm that several explosions occurred near Novofedorivka,” said Oleg Kryuchkov, an adviser to Crimean “governor” Sergey Aksyonov.
Aksyonov later made a video post from the airfield’s vicinity.
“The military airfield is behind me; paramedics are working on the site, and there are enough of them,” said Aksyonov.
“It’s too early to talk about casualties. No civilians have yet asked any hospitals for help.”
The Russian Defense Ministry said the explosions were caused by “munition detonations” at an airfield depot.
“There were no casualties; no aircraft were damaged,” the ministry said.
“Local reports suggest no enemy fire ever hit the ammo depot at the airfield.”
Social media reports, however, suggest that at least three people were injured in the incident.
Russian news agency TASS reported that civilians within 5 kilometers of Novofedorivka are being evacuated. Kryuchkov later said that around 30 civilians were evacuated so far, adding that there were no civilian casualties.
Video posted on social media showed civilian cars fleeing from the area.
Speculation as to the cause of the explosions was instantly rife on social media, with at least one weapons expert suggesting Ukraine may have hit the air base with ATACMS rockets fired by the HIMARS multiple rocket launcher.
“Spoke to artillery/weapons specialist @noclador about Ukraine's long-range strikes on occupied Crimea. His verdict: "90% it's ATACMS, 10% it's cruise missiles,” U.S. journalist Michael Weiss tweeted not long after news of the explosions broke.
Earlier, U.S. National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan at a briefing on July 22 said the United States would not supply Ukraine with ATACMS munitions for the HIMARS rocket launcher. The high-precision munitions have a range of 300 kilometers – well within the approximately 200 kilometer distance between the Novofedorivka airfield and the nearest Ukrainian-held territory.
Sullivan said U.S. President Joe Biden was reluctant to supply Ukraine with ATACMS, “because he believes that while the key goal of the United States is to do whatever is necessary to support and protect Ukraine, another key goal is to ensure that we don’t get into a situation in which we are approaching the Third World War.”
Before that, U.S. officials has said the United States did not want Ukraine to use any of the long range artillery supplied by the West to strike targets on Russian soil.
Whether this condition applies to Crimea is debatable – Russia falsely claims to have annexed the peninsula, but this annexation has not been generally recognized.
Rather, Ukraine and most other countries see Crimea as part of Ukraine under Russian military occupation.