Satellite images show extensive damage and several destroyed Russian warplanes at a Crimea airbase following explosions earlier this week, media reports said.
The Saky base in the west of Russian-ruled Crimea was rocked by a string of blasts on Tuesday, killing one person.
Ukraine has not claimed responsibility – but this new evidence suggests the possibility of a targeted attack.
A BBC report referred to images, from the US-based Planet Labs, showing large areas of scorched earth left from fires that erupted.
The base’s main runways seem to be intact, but at least eight aircraft appear to be damaged and destroyed, with several craters clearly visible.
Most of them are in a specific area of the base where a large number of planes were parked out in the open – away from the cover of hangars.
The before and after images from Planet Labs, which monitors hundreds of satellite feeds over Ukraine, are the first independent confirmation that the base may have been damaged. Until now, details about the extent of the explosions’ impact have been scarce, the BBC added.
However, the report does not give details of how the base was damaged. Russia insists that the explosions were caused by ammunition exploding in a store because of fire safety rules being flouted.
Ukraine has not claimed responsibility – and its defence minister suggested that careless Russian soldiers could be to blame.
“I think that Russian military guys in this airbase ruined their very simply known rule: don’t smoke in dangerous places,” said Oleksiy Reznikov. “That’s it.”
Ukraine’s air force said about a dozen Russian warplanes were destroyed, although Russia denied that any aircraft had been damaged. New images suggest otherwise.
UK’s Defence Secretary Ben Wallace suggested that the fact there were two separate explosions points to an attack rather than an accident. He also defended Ukraine’s right to target 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 told the BBC.
Any attack by Ukraine inside Crimea would be seen as an escalation of the war. Russia sounded a warning last month when ex-President Dmitry Medvedev threatened that “Judgement Day will instantly await” if Ukraine targeted Crimea.
Crimea is internationally recognised as part of Ukraine – but the Black Sea peninsula was annexed by Russia in 2014. Many Ukrainians see this as the start of their war with Russia.
Following Tuesday’s blasts, President Volodymyr Zelensky dedicated his nightly address to Crimea and suggested that he believed Ukraine must retake the peninsula before the war can end.
Russia annexed Crimea in March 2014, after the territory – which has a Russian-speaking majority – voted to join Russia in a referendum that the global community deem illegal.
On 24 February 2022 – eight years after the Crimea annexation – Moscow launched a full-scale invasion of Ukraine, using Crimea as a springboard to move Russian troops deeper inside Ukraine.