Report: Eight explosions at Russian air base in Belarus just across the border from Ukraine

(AP Photo/ (AP Photo/Rodrigo Abd)

There’s no shocking video of beachgoers gawking at massive explosions here like there was with the strike in Crimea. In fact, this story is thinly sourced. *Something* happened at Belarus’s Zyabrovka military airport, enough to warrant an official explanation, but that’s as much as we know. Surveillance video from very far away detected a large flash on the horizon.

That was nothing more than a “technical incident” in which “the engine of a vehicle caught fire after replacement,” said the Belarusian Defense Ministry. Rumors on Telegram say otherwise, though:

Citing eyewitnesses, the Belarusian Hajun project, a social media channel that follows the Ukrainian war, tweeted there had been “at least eight explosions” overnight on Wednesday near the airfield in Ziabrovka, in the Gomel region…

Satellite images taken at the end of June have indicated the presence of Russian military equipment at Ziabrovka, which borders Ukraine’s Chernihiv region. Belarusian journalists have also tracked the movement of such equipment since spring, independent Russian-language news outlet Meduza reported.

On July 7, Ukrainian armed forces said that Belarus had transferred the airfield to Russia and “measures are being taken to equip the Russian military base” there.

If this was Ukraine’s handiwork, no long-range mystery weapon like the one that laid waste to the Saki air base in Crimea was necessary. Zyabrovka is a stone’s throw from Ukraine, north of Kiev.

If you’re looking for innocent explanations, note that Russia and Belarus had previously scheduled live-fire military exercises between August 9 and 25. Maybe the explosions heard last night were nothing more than test fire, part of the drills. But the alternative is also possible: Having just shocked Russia with a surprise attack on an air field deep in the south, maybe the Ukrainians tried to deepen the shock with a second attack way up north. Russian air assets located at the Belarusian base might soon be redeployed to Crimea to replace the jets destroyed in the Saki strike, after all. Taking them out in Belarus before they could be moved might be part of Ukraine’s plan to starve Russia of key weapons.

In fact, according to one paper, Russian cargo planes arrived at the base just yesterday, possibly to supply air defense equipment. “The Zyabrouka base reportedly hosts large amounts of Russian tanks and long-range artillery including S-400 surface-to-air missiles and short-range Iskander ballistic missiles that have been used to target northern Ukraine including Kharkiv,” the Telegraph added. That might explain the timing of the attack — a special delivery from Moscow drew an even more special delivery from Kiev.

Attacking Belarus, a country that hasn’t entered the war despite Putin’s desperate need for manpower, would also demonstrate to Moscow that Ukraine and its partners are confident enough in victory to widen the conflict, a message also sent by the attack on Crimea. Ukrainian forces are, uh, really enjoying the psy-op side of all this.

An advisor to Zelensky is also winking publicly at the possibility that the explosions in Belarus weren’t due to a “technical incident”:

So much for the north. Meanwhile in the south, experts are wondering what the Ukrainians are up to by signaling so heavy-handedly that they intend to counterattack in Kherson province and try to retake its namesake city. What’s the strategy there? Theories are circulating:

“If the Ukrainians just wanted to push the Russians out of Kherson, they wouldn’t broadcast what they’re doing,” said John Nagl, a retired U.S. Army lieutenant colonel who is now an associate professor of warfighting studies at the U.S. Army War College. “It looks like the Ukrainians are baiting the Russians, and they’re taking the bait.”…

Western military observers surmise that Ukraine’s strategy is to draw as many Russian troops as possible into Kherson to defend it, cut off their paths of exit and wear them down. The ultimate objective could be to force their surrender.

“If the Ukrainians can trap several companies worth of defenders, that would be the nightmare scenario for the Russians,” said retired U.S. Army Maj. Gen. Robert Scales…

For Ukraine, [Nagl] said, “The gamble is to capture tens of thousands of Russians in Kherson.” He said success wouldn’t end the war but would buy Ukraine’s president time. “Zelensky needs a big win.”

Maybe the main goal isn’t to retake Kherson but rather to bottle up as many Russian troops as possible in the province and then cut off their means of escape and resupply. Ben Parker notes today that if the estimates of 75,000 Russian casualties are true, not only have they lost *half* of their original invasion force but the entire Russian military of 900,000 men is close to having been decimated in the true sense of that word. “I can’t predict the future, but let me ask you this: Do you think, as the war goes on and the Ukrainians start mounting counterattacks, that the rate of Russian casualties is going to increase, decrease, or stay the same?” Parker wonders. Knowing that their western sponsors won’t be patient forever, the Ukrainians might be going for broke in Kherson by trying to take out a huge chunk of Russia’s remaining forces relatively quickly. If they can surround them and starve them out by damaging bridges and railways, maybe the troops based there will surrender.

And suddenly Putin’s manpower problem will be that much more dire, on top of the added psychological blow of seeing a meaningful segment of his army rolled up.

One more point about the Belarus strike. It’s possible that the explosions last night were caused not by an accident or by Ukraine but by Belarusian saboteurs who are eager to see their dictator, Lukashenko, ousted. Lukashenko faced massive protests a few years ago but managed to cling to power with help from his friend Vladimir and the Russian army. The Russian army isn’t coming to save him this time, though, notes Phillips O’Brien. If Belarusians want the old man gone, now’s their chance.

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