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Russia was reported to have suffered severe losses after a yet-to-be-claimed attack last Tuesday caused severe damage to Saki Air Base in Crimea. Ukraine was coy about the strike, suggesting it was the result of an accident caused by Russian troops. Ukrainian reporter Ilia Ponomarenko, who believes Kyiv to be behind the Saki attack, argued the strike was a “devastating” blow to Vladimir Putin as it showed the weaknesses of Russian defences.
Speaking to Times Radio, Mr Ponomarenko said: “It’s a very serious success, especially fine the fact that over the last few years Russia has been turning the Crimean peninsula in one giant, super protected military base, like an aircraft carrier that cannot be sunk.
“So Russia bolstered its protection that stretches from an underwater area to open space.
“So it is a very big question and information that Ukraine managed to penetrate its air defences, its ground defences and inflict such a devastating attack.
“It’s a devastating effect in terms of the material losses, of human losses, to the Russian military.”
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He added: “But also it’s a huge blow to morale And the question behind the competence of the Russian defence.
“It’s striking the very heart of the most sensitive place of Russian defences.”
Defence Secretary Ben Wallace said he believes anyone’s “manual of war” would deem the Crimean peninsula – which was annexed by Moscow in 2014 – a “legitimate target” for Ukraine to strike.
Mr Wallace said it was “very early days” and the UK would “see what information comes out” about the incident at the Saki air base.
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He told the BBC: “We’ve pretty much dismissed most of the Russian, I think, excuses – everything from a cigarette butt, I think was one of them, that might have set off two simultaneous large explosions.
“I think when you just look at the footage of two simultaneous explosions not quite next to each other, and some of the reported damage even by the Russian authorities, I think it’s clear that that’s not something that happens by someone dropping a cigarette.”
TASS cited an unnamed Defence Ministry source as saying the key cause of the blasts seemed to be “violations of fire safety rules”.
Asked if the base was a legitimate target for the Ukrainians to strike, Mr Wallace said: “First and foremost, Russia has illegally invaded, not just in 2014, but now Ukrainian territory.
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“Ukraine, under United Nations articles, is perfectly entitled to defend its territory and take what action it needs to against an invading force.
“So, is it legitimate? It’s absolutely legitimate for Ukraine to take lethal force, if necessary, but take force in order to regain not only its territory but also to push back its invader.
“And that air force base has been used by Russian air forces to bomb Ukrainian targets. So I think in anybody’s sort of manual of war it would be a legitimate target.”
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