Update(1516ET): Earlier Tuesday a large explosion at Russia's Saki air base deep within Crimea immediately set off speculation that Ukraine's military could have just launched its boldest attack yet of the six-month long war. Russia's defense ministry quickly tried to down play the incident, which it said resulted in a handful of injuries. The suggestion from the Kremlin was that it was an accidental ignition of munitions being stored on base, but Ukrainian government sources are meanwhile busy leaking that it was the result of its long-range rockets targeting the base.
A number of Western pundits were suspicious over the quick Kremlin denial of a Ukrainian army attack, and alleged Russia desired to avoid escalation, and also sought to deny allowing Kiev forces a 'victory' by covering up the strike. But now The New York Times has said Ukraine is claiming the attack:
A senior Ukrainian military official with knowledge of the situation said that Ukrainian forces were behind the attack. A spokesman for the Kremlin-installed leader of Crimea confirmed that there had been an explosion but asked residents to refrain from jumping to conclusions about its cause.
...Russian and occupation authorities did not speculate publicly about the possibility of a Ukrainian attack. The senior Ukrainian official, however, took credit for it.
"This was an air base from which planes regularly took off for attacks against our forces in the southern theater," the official said, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive military matters. The official would not disclose the type of weapon used in the attack, saying only that "a device exclusively of Ukrainian manufacture was used."
The explosion was widely filmed, and video has since hit the internet which seems to show more than one near-simultaneous impact of ordinance, strongly suggesting that it was a indeed a Ukrainian military strike.
The Russian MoD is claiming that these explosions were a result of aviation ammunition detonating, but you can see two different explosions occurring simultaneously in separate areas. https://t.co/cKlXOxgz6I— Rob Lee (@RALee85) August 9, 2022
Given what's since been tweeted out on official government social media accounts, the Ukrainians appear to now be positively bragging out it...
The Ministry of Defense of Ukraine would like to remind everyone that the presence of occupying troops on the territory of Ukrainian Crimea is not compatible with the high tourist season. pic.twitter.com/PFl6jBzKh4— Defense of Ukraine (@DefenceU) August 9, 2022
But on an official level it remains that "Ukraine is sending mixed signals about the Crimea airbase attack" and "The Ukrainian Defence Ministry isn't taking responsibility," according to military analyst Samuel Ramani. "Ukrainian officials are saying that Ukraine carried out the strike with domestically built weaponry and are confident more strikes in Crimea will follow."
But as The New York Times notes, "Ukraine possesses few weapons that can reach the peninsula, aside from aircraft that would risk being shot down immediately by Russia’s heavy air defenses in the region."
This video shot near the Novofedorivka air base in Crimea show two practically simultaneous, separate explosions. The Russian claim that there was an explosion of ammunition at the base, causing secondary explosions, is thus likely false. pic.twitter.com/Irnin3JQQY— Euan MacDonald (@Euan_MacDonald) August 9, 2022
Novofedorovka, where the Saki airbase is located, is a full 200km from the frontlines in Ukraine. If it was indeed Ukrainian forces, this signals a huge turning point in the war, and is likely to escalate things further between Russia and the West, given that Washington has providing increasingly longer-range weaponry - such as the HIMARS.
But it remains that on an official level at least of what's been disclosed in terms of Pentagon transfers to Ukraine, the range of the HIMARS is nowhere close to 200km.
Footage has emerged from Novofedorivka showing a completely destroyed Russian Su-24 pic.twitter.com/D4U6V9B2zO— OSINTtechnical (@Osinttechnical) August 9, 2022
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Update(10:16ET): Within an hour of the first videos hitting social media and widely circulating, Russia's defense ministry has said the large explosion at its Crimean Saky Airbase was not the result of an airstrike or shelling. The statement said ammunition stored at the airfield detonated, but the cause of what ignited the storage depot is still unknown and being investigated. Russian state media has published the following English-language statements of the defense ministry:
The Russian Defense Ministry has reacted to reports of explosions near the town of Novofedorovka in Crimea, saying that a detonation of several rounds of air-launched ammunition had taken place at the Saki airfield located not far from the town.
The detonated ammunition was stored at the airfield's bunded storage area, the ministry said, adding that the ensuing blasts did not result in casualties or damage to aircrafts. The resulting fire is in the process of being put out, the Defense Ministry elaborated.
The ammo's detonation did not happen due to shelling or an airstrike on the airport, the ministry underscored.
Another video of the explosion in the area of military airport in Novofedorivka, Saky region on the territory of occupied Crimea. pic.twitter.com/YrfnQ9r4Tg— Anton Gerashchenko (@Gerashchenko_en) August 9, 2022
Huge explosion at the military airport in Novofedorivka in Russian-occupied Crimea. About 200km (over 120 miles) from the frontline.pic.twitter.com/8POh6yNhmq— Ostap Yarysh (@OstapYarysh) August 9, 2022
Casualties are being reported, after initial Russian media reports there were no known casualties in the immediate aftermath of the explosion:
HEAD OF CRIMEA HEALTH DEPARTMENT: FIVE PEOPLE INCLUDING ONE CHILD INJURED BY BLAST IN CRIMEA - TASS
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A massive explosion erupted Tuesday deep inside Crimea at Russia's Saky Airbase in Novofedorivka, which lies some 200km from front line fighting in Ukraine, immediately giving rise to speculation that this could have been a Ukrainian long-range missile strike.
Few details are confirmed thus far, only that a multiple-stories high fireball and smoke was filmed from many angles engulfing the Russian military airbase.
Large explosion following reported strike at Russia’s Saky Airbase in Crimea. pic.twitter.com/PXJl02u3OF— Moshe Schwartz (@YWNReporter) August 9, 2022
Local social media reports cited eyewitness accounts which said ambulances and emergency crews are speeding toward the site of the large explosion.
Nearby beachgoers in Crimea looked on stunned, given the ongoing Ukraine war has never before reached the environs of the territory which Russia controversially formally took over in 2014 following the so-called "Crimea crisis" and referendum.
Some Ukraine war commentators were quick to speculate that given the site of the explosion apparently by unknown munitions is some 200km away from front lines, this means...
either Russia “had an accident” or Ukraine has some long range rockets.
And another angle of the explosion pic.twitter.com/w4SdrFTqiM— Michael A. Horowitz (@michaelh992) August 9, 2022
An initial Russian defense ministry statement cited no casualties...
RUSSIA'S DEFENCE MINISTRY: NO CASUALTIES AFTER BLAST AT RUSSIAN MILITARY AIRBASE AT NOVOFEDORIVKA, CRIMEA - RIA
The airbase lies deep within the Crimean peninsula.