August 12, 2022

“On 9 August 2022, explosions occurred at the Russian-operated Saky military airfield in western Crimea,” the UK’s Ministry of Defence (MoD) said in this morning’s situation report. Exactly how Ukraine carried out the attack remains unknown. The open-source imagery shows damage that looks consistent with either missile strikes or sabotage, and Ukrainian officials are content to leave that ambiguity in place. “The original cause of the blasts is unclear, but the large mushroom clouds visible in eyewitness video were almost certainly from the detonation of up to four uncovered munition storage areas. At least five Su-24 FENCER fighter-bombers and three Su-30 FLANKER H multi-role jets were almost certainly destroyed or seriously damaged in the blasts,” the MoD said. “Saky’s central dispersal area has suffered serious damage, but the airfield probably remains serviceable. The loss of eight combat jets represents a minor proportion of the overall fleet of aircraft Russia has available to support the war. However, Saky was primarily used as a base for the aircraft of the Russian Navy’s Black Sea Fleet. The fleet’s naval aviation capability is now significantly degraded. The incident will likely prompt the Russian military to revise its threat perception. Crimea has probably been seen as a secure rear-area.” The MoD cautiously estimates the number of aircraft destroyed at eight, but other assessments range as high as twenty, which the Telegraph calls the “biggest loss of aircraft in a single day since [the] Second World War.”

In addition to being regarded as a secure rear area, Crimea was also seen as a tourist destination. Russian civilians in occupied Crimea haven’t been targeted, but the explosions in the Saky strike were easily visible from the peninsula’s beaches. Ukraine’s Defense Ministry has posted a video inviting Russian tourists to leave and vacation elsewhere. The Telegraph explains, “In the wake of Russia’s illegal annexation of Crimea, the peninsula was promoted, by Kremlin propaganda, as the beach break destination of choice amongst aspirational Russians.” There are reports of traffic jams on highways leading from Crimea to Russia as Russian citizens leave what they now perceive as an active theater of operations.

Ukrainian promotion of tourism has long had an odd quality. One of our staffers spent some time in the country a few years ago and recalls seeing a television ad that went something like this: “Scythians…Mongols…Vikings…Russians…Turks…Germans…Everybody has always wanted to come to Ukraine!” The listed visitors are, of course, proverbially cruel invaders, with the possible exception of the Scythians. The text was displayed over pictures of attractive Ukrainian landscapes. The ad was either hopelessly clueless or some very clever irony indeed. It’s impossible to imagine the chamber of commerce of, say, Ocean City – Maryland or New Jersey – coming up with the post-modern likes of it.

Elsewhere, Reuters reports that the Belarusian government has attributed the explosions heard yesterday at an airbase and Russian staging area near the Ukrainian border to a “technical incident.” The Belarusian Defense Ministry explained, “the engine of a vehicle caught fire after replacement. There were no casualties.” Given that there were several explosions heard, and heard at a

distance of several kilometers, one wonders what sort of engine they were working on. But the explanation is not much more plausible than the Russian attribution of the damage to the airfield at Saky to the careless disposition of a cigarette, as if a heedless troop happened to drop his lit Belomor Kanal into a fuel distribution point. Ukraine has neither confirmed nor denied its involvement in either incident, but this newly felt insecurity in the Russian communications zone did move Ukrainian presidential adviser Mykhailo Podolyak to tweet, “The epidemic of technical accidents at military airfields of Crimea and Belarus should be considered by the Russian military as a warning: forget about Ukraine, take off the uniform and leave. Neither in occupied Crimea nor in occupied Belarus will you feel safe. Karma finds you anywhere.”