In the past few days, Russian airbases located in seemingly “safe” areas of Crimea and Belarus have been rocked with explosions. This is a new development as the war is expanding beyond Ukraine’s borders.
On Thursday, the Belarus Defense Ministry said that eight explosions at the Zyabrovka military airbase shortly after midnight were caused by a “technical incident.” The airbase is located 30km or about 19 miles from the Ukrainian border.
The airbase, used by Russian aircraft conducting airstrikes against Ukraine since the war began, was rocked by a series of explosions caused by “the engine of a vehicle [catching] fire after replacement … There were no casualties,” according to the ministry.
According to the Ukrainian Defense Ministry, the airbase was supposedly transferred to Russian control a month ago.
Engine Fire or Deliberate Sabotage?
The Belarusian Hajun project, a social media site that posts about the Russian invasion, published a video that supposedly shows one of the explosions 16 miles away from the airfield that “shows a large flash” that “doesn’t look like an ‘engine fire,” it said.
The Ukrainians are trying to push the narrative that the explosions were carried out by Belarussians that are sympathetic to Ukraine’s cause.
Yuriy Ignat, the spokesperson of the Air Force Command of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, said in a statement to Belsat Television that, “We know that they are extremely kind and intelligent people who are already helping our state…extremely well.”
“And we just thank the brotherly Belarusian people, who will help Ukraine defeat the occupiers and kick them out of our land. And from yours, too,” Ignat added, according to the Hajun project.
Franak Viačorka, an adviser to Belarus opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, posted on Twitter, “So far, there is no confirmation if these explosions are connected to any military drills conducted by the Russian and Belarus armies on Belarus territory.” There are reportedly live-fire exercises slated to take place around the airbase between August 9-25.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said in his nightly address, “In just one day, the occupiers lost ten combat aircraft: nine in Crimea and one more in the direction of Zaporizhzhia.”
“The occupiers also suffer new losses of armored vehicles, warehouses with ammunition, logistics routes,” he added in the statement on Wednesday night.
Crimea Airbase Blasts Destroy Eight Aircraft:
The explosions in Belarus come on the heels of a series of daylight explosions at the Saki Russian airbase in Crimea after it was annexed by Russia in 2014. The Russians denied that any aircraft were damaged in the series of large fireballs that were posted on several social media sites.
However, satellite imagery from several sources has shown this to be untrue. Buildings that were possibly used to store weapons and ammunition were destroyed, possibly targeted by either partisans or Ukrainian special operations personnel, or an accident caused by careless Russian forces, and the resultant explosions spread to revetments that housed Su-24 or Su-30 ground attack aircraft. At least eight were destroyed and others damaged.
The airfield’s runways were not damaged, although inside the town, windows were blown out from the explosions and power was briefly lost, according to Russian state-run media agency TASS.
The Russian Ministry of Defense said in a released statement that the blasts were caused by exploding aviation ammunition, according to state media RIA Novosti. But they failed to address how the ammunition exploded.
“Around 3:20 p.m., several aviation munitions detonated on the territory of the airfield ‘Saki’ near the settlement of Novofedorivka,” the ministry said in the statement. Video of the incident shows two simultaneous explosions followed quickly by a third. Those sent huge mushroom clouds of fire and black smoke.
The damage at the Saki airbase was the largest single-day loss of aircraft that the Russians have suffered since World War II.
The explosions were not caused by the HIMARS missiles that have been furnished to Ukraine by the US and the West. The airfield is 140 miles from the front lines in southern Ukraine, far beyond the range of the missiles.
UK Defense Secretary Ben Wallace believes that because there were two separate explosions at the same time points to an attack rather than an accident. He also added that Ukraine has every right to target Russian forces in Crimea.
“It’s absolutely legitimate for Ukraine to take lethal force, if necessary… in order to regain not only its territory but also to push back its invader,” he said to the BBC.
Mykhailo Podolyak, an adviser to President Zelensky, made light of the recent spate of Russian “technical accidents” and warned Russian troops.
“The epidemic of technical accidents at military airfields of Crimea and Belarus should be considered by Russia military as a warning: forget about Ukraine, take off the uniform and leave,” Podolyak said in a post on Twitter.
Steve Balestrieri is a 1945 National Security Columnist. He served as a US Army Special Forces NCO, and Warrant Officer before injuries forced his early separation. In addition to writing for 19fortyfive.com and other military news organizations, he has covered the NFL for PatsFans.com for over 11 years. His work was regularly featured in the Millbury-Sutton Chronicle and Grafton News newspapers in Massachusetts.