Explosions at Crimean Airbase Fuel Speculation of Ukrainian Strike: Which Missile Class Could Have Done It?

Explosions at Russia’s Saki Airbase on the Crimean Peninsula on August 9, which Russian officially claims to be the result of an accident, have fuelled speculation that Ukraine may have struck the facility with some form of previously unknown standoff ground launched missile. Ukrainian officials have claimed that the incident was the result of a successful strike, with some elaborating that an unspecified domestically developed long range weapon was responsible. Former advisor to Ukraine’s Interior Minister, Victor Andrusiv, was among those to make such claims, and had led calls for Ukrainian attacks on civilian infrastructure in Crimea. Although claims from Ukraine have proven far from reliable since the war’s outbreak, the ‘Ghost of Kiev’ fighter ace being notable early example, the possibility of such an attack cannot be ruled out entirely. 

The Crimean Peninsula was absorbed into Russia in 2014 after having formerly been a part of the Ukrainian state for 23 years, and has seen not only significant investments made in major infrastructure projects, such as the Kerch Strait Bridge which many in Kiev and the West have called for attacks on, but also militarisation as Russia has strengthened the territory’s defences. Russian officials have long warned of possible Ukrainian attacks on or even an invasion of the peninsula with NATO support multiple times, with officials in Kiev having highlighted that reclaiming the territory after over eight years in Russian hands remains an objective. Ukraine’s known ballistic missile arsenal, comprised of Tochka platforms with ranges of just 200km, is not thought to be capable of striking targets deep inside Crimea, although the country inherited longer ranged Scud missiles when the Soviet Union collapsed as well as a considerable ballistic missile industry. It also inherited a range of cruise missiles capable of very easily striking such targets, although these are air launched.

Particularly if Ukraine has received assistance from NATO member states, which remains a significant possibility considering the ongoing revelations regarding their extensive involvement in the Russian-Ukrainian War, the possibility that the country has developed standoff missile for strategic attacks on Russian positions cannot be ruled out. Rather than a ballistic missile as some sources have speculated, modifying an air launched cruise missile such as the Kh-55 or Kh-58 into a ground launched variant could be a more likely possibility, with Ukraine having inherited both high performance missile classes when the Soviet Union disintegrated. The unveiling of an expanded Ukrainian strike capability could be particularly worrisome for the Russian Military due to concerns in Moscow that Ukraine may be developing nuclear weapons.