Exclusive satellite images show destroyed Russian jets and building at Crimean airbase

By Paul P. Murphy and Helen Regan, CNN

CNN  — 

Satellite images exclusively obtained by CNN show three destroyed Russian jets and damaged buildings at Belbek airbase in occupied port city of Sevastopol on Wednesday.

The hardware losses come after two days of attacks by the Ukrainians on Sevastopol in Crimea, which was illegally annexed by Russia in 2014.

In images taken by US real-time space-based intelligence company BlackSky and space technology firm Maxar, two jets can be seen burned out on the main flight line at Belbek, in addition to a third parked on a protective embankment. The satellite images also show a destroyed building nearby and another which has taken significant damage.

Mikhail Razvozhaev, the Russian-appointed governor of Sevastopol, said on Telegram Friday that the Russians “successfully repelled a massive enemy attack on Sevastopol.” Razvozhaev said “dozens” of unmanned aerial vehicles and “more than five sea drones were destroyed.” The city suffered a partial power outage due to drone debris falling on a power substation, he added.

The attack is the second time Belbek was targeted by the Ukrainians in the last 48 hours.

When questioned about a possible Ukrainian strike on Belbek, Dmytro Pletenchuk, the spokesperson for the Ukrainian army’s South, said on Thursday, “We cannot announce any details at this time because there is no verified information at this time.” CNN has reached out to the Ukrainian military for an update.

Satellite images exclusive to CNN show destroyed jets and building at Belbek Airbase in Crimea on May 15, 2024.
Satellite images exclusive to CNN show destroyed jets and building at Belbek Airbase in Crimea on May 15, 2024.

An insurgent Ukrainian group in Crimea, Atesh, claimed on Telegram after the second strike that an artillery warehouse at Belbek airfield was damaged.

“Significant damage to the airfield infrastructure as a result of secondary detonation was also recorded,” it said.

But none of the satellite images seen by CNN showed any signs that a missile or artillery weapons warehouse was hit, or that secondary detonations occurred.

While Moscow appears to have the upper hand in its ground campaign more recently, Kyiv’s forces have enjoyed sustained successes targeting Russia’s Black Sea Fleet, in either missile strikes or sea drone attacks.

In March, Ukraine says it hit two Russian naval vessels, along with a communications center and several other facilities belonging to the Black Sea Fleet, in a huge overnight attack. Ukraine said the vessels hit were two amphibious landing ships, the Yamal and the Azov.

More than 20 Russian naval vessels have now been disabled or destroyed, a third of the entire fleet. Though Ukraine has virtually no navy of its own, technological innovation, audacity and Russian incompetence have given it the upper hand in much of the Black Sea. In October last year, satellite imagery indicated that Russia relocated some of its naval ships away from Sevastopol after a series of Ukrainian attacks.

Satellite images exclusive to CNN show destroyed jets and building at Belbek Airbase in Crimea on May 15, 2024.
Satellite images exclusive to CNN show destroyed jets and building at Belbek Airbase in Crimea on May 15, 2024.

Russia advances in Ukraine

The attack at Belbek comes as Russia makes advances in northeastern Ukraine, prompting Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to postpone his participation in all international events in the coming days as his troops defend against the surprise offensive in the Kharkiv region.

The offensive is the most serious cross-border ground assault since Ukraine recaptured the Kharkiv region in the late summer of 2022. It comes as Ukrainians struggle with thinly stretched forces, artillery and inadequate air defenses as it awaits much-needed ammunition and weapons pledged as part of a long-delayed $2 billion US military financing package.

Russian forces have taken control of more than nine villages close to the border since the start of Moscow’s push. The town of Vovchansk, about 60 kilometers (37 miles) northeast of Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city, is the scene of some of the most intense battles.

However, NATO believes Russian troops don’t have the numbers necessary for a “strategic” breakthrough in Kharkiv, a senior commander of the military alliance said on Thursday.

Gen. Christopher Cavoli, Supreme Allied Commander Europe, told a press conference in Brussels that while the Russians have the “ability to make local advances,” they “don’t have the skill and the capability to do it, to operate at the scale necessary to exploit any breakthrough to strategic advantage.”

Zelensky met with senior military officials in Kharkiv earlier on Thursday. He described an “extremely difficult” outlook for Kyiv’s troops on the ground, where “we are strengthening our units.”

It comes as Russian President Vladimir Putin met Chinese leader Xi Jinping in Beijing on Thursday and the two pledged to deepen their strategic partnership in a stark show of their growing alignment.

Russia’s economy has become increasingly reliant on China since Putin’s invasion of Ukraine and a sweeping joint statement laid out their countries’ alignment on a host of issues including energy, trade, security, and geopolitics with specific references to Ukraine.

CNN’s Radina Gigova, Maria Kostenko, Alex Hardie and Simone McCarthy contributed reporting.

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