Satellite images appear to show extensive damage and several destroyed Russian warplanes at a Crimea airbase following explosions earlier this week.
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.
The images, from the US-based Planet Labs, show 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.
Before and after satellite images:
Image source, Planet Labs PBC
Image source, Planet Labs PBC
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.
But it is still not clear how the base was damaged or by what.
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. These new images suggest that is not true.
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The 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.
The vote was hastily organised after unmarked Russian troops took control of several strategic sites around the peninsula.
Russia’s annexation came after Ukraine’s Russian-backed president was ousted following months of pro-European protests.
On 24 February this year – 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.
In other developments:
Donald Trump to Be Allowed Back Onto Facebook and Instagram
Donald Trump will be allowed back on to Facebook and Instagram, after Meta announced it would be ending its two-year suspension of his accounts.
The suspension will end “in the coming weeks”, the social media giant said.
In a statement, Nick Clegg, Meta’s president of global affairs, said the public “should be able to hear what their politicians are saying”.
The then-US president was indefinitely suspended from Facebook and Instagram after the Capitol riot in 2021.
The firm had taken action following Mr Trump’s “praise for people engaged in violence at the Capitol”, Mr Clegg said.
“The suspension was an extraordinary decision taken in extraordinary circumstances,” he added.
He said a review found that Mr Trump’s accounts no longer represented a serious risk to public safety.
But because of Mr Trump’s past “violations” he would now face heightened penalties for repeat offences.
Republicans have been pressing for Mr Trump to be allowed back on Facebook as he prepares to run for the presidency again next year.
Mr Trump posted on his own social media company, Truth Social, in response on Wednesday, saying that Facebook had “lost Billions” after banning “your favorite President, me”.
“Such a thing should never again happen to a sitting President, or anybody else who is not deserving of retribution!” he wrote.
Donald Trump now has a decision to make.
Truth Social, a social media platform he set up in 2021, has vastly fewer users than Facebook
Facebook has three billion users.
Truth Social may have as many as five million accounts – though it’s likely it has far fewer active users.
However, Mr Trump has an exclusivity agreement with Truth Social – that means he is legally required to post first on the platform – six hours before any other platform.
It means if he posts on Facebook or Twitter – there is a chance he could get sued.
Analysts also warn that if Mr Trump were to stop using Truth Social, or post content elsewhere, the platform would struggle to survive.
He could simply ignore that exclusivity agreement – and start posting content straight away.
However, that could open him up to legal problems.
What is also possible is that he simply waits until June, when the agreement times out.
Or, he could take the decision never to go back to platforms that he has criticised consistently.
However, if he is going to have a tilt at the White House, being on Facebook – the world’s biggest social media platform – would make a lot of sense.
Whatever happens next, the ball is firmly in Mr Trump’s court now.
If he does decide to come back, though, he will have to follow Meta’s rules. The company has left the door open for another suspension if he flouts them.
It means Mr Tump will have to hold his tongue (to a certain extent) on Facebook, in a way that he doesn’t currently have to on Truth Social.
News of Mr Trump’s re-instatement was quickly criticised by Democrats and some activist organisations who expressed concern that the former president could again use the platform to repeat false claims that he won the 2020 election.
“Trump incited an insurrection,” California Democratic Representative Adam Schiff wrote on Twitter. “Giving him back access to a social media platform to spread his lies and demagoguery is dangerous.”
Derrick Johnson, the president of the NAACP, a civil rights organisation, told the Associated Press that he sees the move as a “grave mistake” that is a “a prime example of putting profits above people’s safety”.
“It’s quite astonishing that one can spew hatred, fuel conspiracies, and incite a violent insurrection at our nation’s Capitol building, and Mark Zuckerberg still believes that is not enough to remove someone from his platforms,” he said.
Twitter had also banned the former president following the 6 January 2021 US Capitol riot, saying he had broken its rules on the glorification of violence.
But in November, Twitter’s owner Elon Musk said Mr Trump’s account ban had been lifted, after running a poll in which users narrowly backed the move.
Mr Trump has not yet returned to Twitter, having earlier said: “I don’t see any reason for it.”
Julian Sands: New Air Search for Actor Missing in California
Police in California say they have resumed a search from the air for the missing British actor Julian Sands.
Previous efforts were hampered by adverse weather conditions as the US state has been hit by deadly storms.
There has been no sign of the 65-year-old since he disappeared on 13 January.
Mr Sands had been hiking in the Baldy Bowl area of the San Gabriel Mountains, north of Los Angeles, when he went missing.
The San Bernardino County Sheriff’s department tweeted that it would use a helicopter from the California Highway Patrol which carries a device that can detect matching “reflective material, electronics, and in some cases, credit cards”.
It added that using the RECCO machine could help police “pinpoint an area where we can focus our search efforts”.
UPDATE: The search for Julian Sands continues by air only. The California Highway Patrol –Valley Division Air Ops from Auburn, California, is currently assisting us in the search using a RECCO device RECCO – Be Searchable. RECCO technology can detect RECCO reflective material,
On Wednesday, the sheriff’s department said a second hiker who had gone missing in the same area was found alive.
He was named by local media as 75-year-old Los Angeles resident Jin Chung.
Mr Chung was missing for about 48 hours, during which time he suffered some “weather-related injuries and a leg injury”, said the sheriff’s department.
For the past several weeks, local authorities have frequently put out statements urging hikers to avoid hazardous mountainous areas “regardless of precautions taken” saying that the conditions have made it “difficult to deploy resources to that area when a hiker goes missing”.
Avalanches in the area last week held back ground search and rescue efforts for Mr Sands.
One of his brothers, Nick Sands, said he had already said his “goodbyes”.
“I have come to terms with the fact he’s gone and for me that’s how I’ve dealt with it,” said Mr Sands, who lives in the English county of North Yorkshire where he, Julian and their three other brothers grew up.
Image source, Nick Sands
His family have thanked the US authorities for their efforts in trying to find the actor, who has appeared in dozens of films and TV shows, including the lead role in the 1985 romance A Room With A View.
In a statement, the family praised the “heroic search teams” who are working through the difficult weather conditions “on the ground and in the air to bring Julian home”.
Mr Sands lives in the North Hollywood neighbourhood of Los Angeles with his wife, writer Evgenia Citkowitz. They have two children.
He was previously married to Sarah Sands, former editor of BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, with whom he has a son.
Original Article: bbc.co.uk
Why Germany Delayed Sending Leopard 2 Tanks to Ukraine
Ukraine’s argument for wanting battle tanks is clear.
It insists they can make all the difference – helping to push Russia back from Ukrainian territory and handing Kyiv the initiative.
Germany produces the vast majority of modern heavy tanks in Europe – the Leopard 2s. Around 2,000 of them are spread out amongst European allies. And Germany owns all the export licenses for them.
This meant that while it dithered, others like Poland – desperate to deliver tanks to Ukraine as soon as possible – were prevented from doing so. They lacked the green re-export light from Berlin.
Ukrainian soldiers still need to be trained in how to use the vehicles, of course, and it’s unclear how many and how soon they might arrive for use in Ukraine.
But Berlin’s prolonged hesitance, even as Russia committed human rights abuse after human rights abuse in Ukraine, led to huge pressure amongst Western allies who, up until now, had been oh so keen to display a determined sense of unity in the face of Russian aggression.
Chancellor Scholz’s indecision divided his country too, including his governing coalition and even his own Social Democrat Party. “Free the Leopards!” was the slogan shouted at regular demonstrations outside the German parliament, while inside the debate to send, or not to send tanks, raged amongst German MPs.
What was it then, causing Olaf Scholz so much consternation?
Of huge significance is the weight of history felt by German modern-day leaders. It can’t be over-emphasised.
This Friday is Holocaust Memorial Day. A huge sign proclaiming “We Will Not Forget” hangs at the Reichstag in Berlin.
As the aggressor in two world wars, many Germans are wary of being the main provider of battle tanks in Ukraine.
The “Zeitenwende” or “turning point” in Germany, announced by Chancellor Scholz soon after Russia invaded Ukraine, is hugely significant. For Germany itself but also Europe as a whole.
Berlin promised to massively invest in its depleted, outdated military and to take a far more assertive role in European defence. A real break with Berlin’s post World War Two timidity and preference for allies to lead in security matters.
This “transformation” has been peppered by setbacks and is by no means complete but it is certainly under way and that is a big change for Germany.
Since World War Two, Berlin has been reluctant to take the lead, but as the Europe’s biggest economy, that’s exactly what allies often look to Germany to do.
Image source, Reuters
Other issues with sending tanks
Returning to the tank debate, another sensitivity for Germany to overcome is that their Leopard 2s would be used against Russian soldiers.
Germany feels deep responsibility for the slaughter of millions of Russians during World War One and Two.
A further, not entirely separate issue, is that large sections of German society – particularly in the formerly communist east of the country, where many express a disappointment in how western society functions – feel traditionally close to Russia.
NGOs monitoring Russian disinformation in Europe. report that many Germans are fallible.
That said, the overwhelming majority of Germans sympathise with ordinary Ukrainians caught up in the current conflict.
But in a survey shortly before Christmas, 40% of Germans who took part said they understood the Kremlin’s blaming of the West for its invasion of Ukraine – because of the eastward expansion of the Nato military alliance.
Olaf Scholz is an avowed transatlanticist but his SPD party historically – though far from entirely, these days – looks east to Moscow, with many party members a bit suspicious of the US and its Nato dominance.
For all these reasons – and a few more I’ll illustrate – Chancellor Scholz didn’t want Germany to go it alone, nor be the central facilitator on the battle-tanks-to-Ukraine front.
Another German concern has been that, while European countries including the UK, Poland and the Netherlands, say it’s clearly the Kremlin that is escalating this conflict, many in Germany say they fear delivering heavy tanks and other offensive weaponry to Ukraine could push Vladimir Putin to even wilder extremes. Even the use of nuclear weapons.
It’s thought one of the reasons Chancellor Scholz has pushed so hard for Washington to also send tanks to Ukraine is so Europe can feel that nuclear power US on board and by its side.
Overall, Olaf Scholz didn’t want Germany to stand out and alone in being the main provider of heavy tanks to Ukraine.
His sudden U-turn could well be because he realised if he continued to hold those tanks back, he could find himself isolated amongst his own allies.
Something else to bear in mind is that, despite the current and previous controversies over foot-dragging by Chancellor Scholz in providing and enabling the delivery of other military equipment, Germany is amongst the top three single donors of military aid and one of the main providers of humanitarian aid to Ukraine.
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