Original OSINT reports suggested the two most significant explosions were likely at two munitions depots at considerable distance from each other:
Russia itself appeared to confirm the explosions were a "munitions detonation," and it's hard to think of much else that would result in explosions of the scale captured on videos taken from beaches around the base:
Yes, well, thank goodness the "tourists" are now deciding that their plans to visit occupied territory during a shooting war were perhaps ill-advised. But the area heavily damaged, it quickly became clear, was considerable. A "radius of several kilometers," at least.
At the end of that last video, there's what appears to be a steel structural column puncturing a car. Note that it didn't fall on the car, it flew sideways, puncturing both sides of the car while leaving the roof unscathed. Whatever building that steel beam used to be a part of isn't just gone, it ejected thousands-of-pounds-sized shrapnel in all directions.
Yeah, we're gonna presume that was a munitions depot that was hit.
What's clear from the videos is that the damage to the airfield as a whole is ... considerable. Not necessarily to the runways, which will likely require little more than some sweeping to get the, uh, thousand-pound chunks of debris cleared to the side, but the rest of the airfield's infrastructure. This isn't going to be an easy recovery.
As for the extremely valuable Russian planes stationed at the base, damage to them seemed too much to hope for. But yet another apparent failure of Russia to abide by even the most basic of operational security measures resulted in an on-the-scene video of just that:
In that brief few-seconds pan, you can see not only a completely destroyed Su-24, but apparently damaged buildings in the distance on the left, fire crews hosing down the wreckage in the center, lots of debris on the concrete, and workers attending to a pile of blackened something on the right. So we know that a Su-24 suffered catastrophic damage, the char marks and, uh, lack of wings suggest a considerable fire, and that everything in the immediate surroundings appears to be equally damaged.
Well, there's only one type of thing known to have been parked near that Su-24 at Novofedorivka on that day via satellite images, and that's those other Russian warplanes.
Ukraine is now claiming at least nine Russian planes were destroyed yesterday, and that seems plausible. A munitions depot (or two?) may have been the prioritized Ukrainian target, but Ukraine hit the jackpot in collateral damage. This one airfield hit is a genuine crisis for Russian air power in Crimea.
If Ukraine really is planning a major southern offensive aimed at cutting off and eliminating most of the Russian ground troops between them and Crimea, this one attack went a long way in temporarily limiting Russia's ability to control the skies.
Coupled with the now-known use of HARM anti-radar missiles by Ukrainian forces it hammers home the sickening truth for Russian war planners. They don't have air superiority here, they've never had it, and they're getting farther from it by the day. There's likely going to be another round of Russian military firings, because Russia is going to need a whole lot more scapegoats to blame for this one.
Claims of at least 60 dead and 100 injured in the explosions now seem quite plausible. Honestly given the damage from the shock wave alone, it might be low.
Now then, as for how Ukraine did it: We don't know, but we know a bit more about how they didn't. The odds that this was an HIMARS-based attack now seem slim. The United States isn't acknowledging sending the types of missiles capable of such long-range strikes, and there's widespread skepticism that Ukraine would send even one of the critical HIMARS vehicles close enough to the front line to get in range. We can't necessarily take U.S. denials at face value, but the sum of what we know backs up U.S. insistence that this wasn't that.
The Russian claim is the same one they've used after every munitions depot detonation in Crimea, captured Ukrainian territory, or at the Russian border: Our drunken chain-smoking troops are just so incompetent that they've been setting depots on fire on a regular basis. We lift our bombs with rigs assembled from leftover balloon string and move them from truck to building via wooden catapult. Burp.
Honestly, if that's the case then we're still gong to hand this one to Ukraine, because facing an enemy that blows its own military bases up with clockwork frequency should count as a tactical victory for somebody. But the scope of the damage done here makes the Russian claim dubious at best, and Russia's insistence on using the same excuse for every explosion, whether on land or sea, means the presumption must always be that they're lying. They're almost certainly lying.
It is theoretically possible that some completely incompetent Russian started a fire inside one of the most critical munition depots in Crimea, that the fire set off every bomb in the building, that the debris from that explosion soared so far that it hit a second munitions depot a long way away, that the resulting spark or shock blew up that depot as well, and the twin explosions wrecked everything in the general vicinity of either of them. Sure. And it's also possible a Crimean dog got into the building and licked one of the bombs until it went off.
The two most likely explanations, then: Ukrainian air strike? Or Ukrainian saboteurs?
The Washington Post cites an anonymous Ukrainian official to credit the attack to "Ukrainian special forces." That's ... actually quite possible. Ukrainian resistance fighters have waged a robust campaign in and around Kherson, with successful executions of Russian-allied leaders and a relentless barrage of publicly placed posters looking to mock and unnerve Russian forces. It's reasonable to believe that Ukrainian special forces were able to somehow spirit themselves into occupied Crimea, made their way to Novofedorivka, and got themselves into the Russian base undetected.
But that's also a claim that Ukraine would absolutely want to be making right now. There's nothing Ukraine would like more than to send Russian commanders into absolute fits with thoughts that even the crown jewel of Russia's campaign of conquest, occupied Crimea, is swarming with Ukrainian special forces. Ukraine would be sending anonymous people out to say that no matter what the truth is. The fog of war is a tool, not just a result.
The air strike scenario has also been hinted at by those in the know, like the U.S. official who told the Post the airbase strike was carried out using, says the Post, "a weapon not provided by the United States."
That's a broad statement, but Ukraine has a lot of weapons not provided by the United States. The only problem is getting them close enough.
Could one of the Russian military bases most crucial to their war effort have been temporarily taken out of operation because the entire Russian military wasn't able to detect or stop one of those flying leisurely overhead?
God only knows at this point. But from what we've seen from Ukrainian successes in taking out a certain Russian ship and countless Russian commanders, Russian air defenses may indeed consist of some guy scanning the skies with a recycled cardboard tube held to his eye.
The thought that special forces could have smuggled in a Ukrainian drone with more-than-trivial firepower, getting it close enough to strike the base and acting quickly enough that Russian air defenses couldn't respond, is still more reasonable than the Russian claim that their own troops created a multikilometer zone of debris through rank stupidity—again.
Now, as for the Russian responses? Oooof. Buckle in.
Peruse that one at your leisure, but the short version is that everything is fine, it was but a minor mishap, and all glory to the hypnotoad. Or whatever.
Oh—but what other evidence might we have that this Crimean explosion might be an explicit Ukrainian action to set the stage for further operations in Ukraine's still-occupied south?