Ukraine's attack on Russia's Crimea air base may have been more devastating than thought

The word from Ukraine’s high command this morning was that nine Russian jets were neutralized in the surprise attack on Saki airbase on the Crimean cost.

I invite you to enlarge the two photos in this tweet and compare the before and after. I count more than nine.

Looks to me like 16 aircraft visible and intact in the “before” photo and three visible in the “after” photo. The buildings on the left and upper right are just plain gone.

Here’s a color version of the “after” photo. The six jets lined up at the bottom of the “before” picture have either been moved or are in ruins. That too is evidence of the incompetence that’s characterized Russia’s prosecution of the war: Per Michael Weiss and James Rushton, what were those jets doing parked clustered together on the “apron” of the airbase instead of being sequestered in their own protective hardstands like most of the jets seen in the photo?

Not that the hardstands would have done them much good.

I see what appears to be three distinct impact craters as well. What did Ukraine use to do that?

And how did they get through Russia’s air defenses?

The fact that the operation has been attributed to Ukrainian special forces raises the possibility that ground troops infiltrated the base somehow and planted explosives. That would explain how the attack eluded enemy air defenses — but it wouldn’t explain how the hell Ukrainian saboteurs were able to penetrate a base deep inside Crimea and detonate no fewer than three strategically placed bombs.

An air attack is more plausible, and there’s a convenient explanation in that context for why Russia’s air defenses might have failed. The White House recently admitted to arming Ukraine with AGM-88s, anti-radiation missiles that are designed to zero in on air defense systems and take them out. According to one report, Ukraine did in fact destroy more than a dozen Russian radar and air defense systems in the days before the Saki strike. Maybe AGM-88s “blinded” the airbase beforehand, preparing the way for an as yet unknown weapon to take out Russian jets in the main strike.

Losing that many in a single attack would be a blow to any country but it’s especially heavy for a country that’s under onerous sanctions and can’t easily replace major military equipment. “The pictures show what appear to be three large craters and at least eight destroyed warplanes, both Su-24 and Su-30 warplanes, all parked on the air base’s western tarmac,” the Times notes. “The planes cost tens of millions of dollars each, and their loss could amount to more than half a billion dollars.”

That base was a staging area for aircraft that would have been used against Ukrainian troops during their counteroffensive in Kherson. Not anymore. And the Ukrainians are giddy at how discombobulated Russian propagandists are about their ability to reach Crimea:

Margarita Simonyan, editor in chief of state-controlled media organizations RT and Rossiya Segodnya, called for calm and continued support for Moscow’s military.

“Whatever happens, your duty is to support your country, your people and your army,” she said on Telegram. “Don’t whine. Don’t panic. Don’t criticize. Support!”

Popular television host Vladimir Solovyov expressed frustration that Ukraine, which he blamed for attacking Crimea, was being allowed to get away with such acts of aggression.

“What, are we crazy? The red lines we are trying to draw, what are they about?” he said in a clip of his show posted on Telegram on Wednesday. “I really want to understand. What is the red line now? Are they supposed to bomb Moscow?”

“Ukrainians on social media haven’t been this excited since their military sank the Moskva, the flagship cruiser of Russia’s Black Sea Fleet,” observed Weiss and Rushton. Some Ukrainian companies have even taken to tagging themselves in photos of Crimea on social media, as if to imply that they’ll be reopening their businesses there soon. That’s unlikely, but it’s a fun morale booster.

Meanwhile, tactical strikes to aid the Kherson counteroffensive are continuing. Remember the last time Ukraine shocked Russia with its capabilities, striking the Antonovsky Bridge across the Dnieper River repeatedly? The Ukrainians weren’t able to do that previously due to antiquated, inaccurate artillery but the arrival of American HIMARS systems allowed them to hit targets precisely from 50 miles away, putting the bridge within range. Ukrainian forces struck it repeatedly, rendering it unfit to support heavy weapons and complicating Russian logistics. A few hours ago they struck another bridge over the Dnieper, the Kakhovsky, hoping to render that one unfit for military equipment too. As the bridges are taken offline, Russia will be stuck using pontoon bridges to try to resupply its forces in Kherson. And pontoons are easy pickings for artillery.

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