Crimea

August 17, 2022

Ukrainian special forces blew up an ammunition depot in Russian-occupied Crimea on Tuesday and may have been responsible for contemporaneous attacks on an air base and transformer substation, Ukrainian officials told The New York Times and The Washington Post.  Ukraine's government has not claimed credit for Tuesday's massive explosions in Crimea or last week's blasts at a different Russian air base that destroyed several Russian warplanes. But Ukrainian officials have publicly suggested that these were Ukrainian attacks — a president adviser coyly referred to the blasts as "demilitarization in action" — and Russia's defense ministry called Tuesday's explosions near the Crimean village of Mayskoye an "act of sabotage," conceding that Moscow's war in Ukraine has spread to areas recently believed to be out of harm's way. The attacks on Crimea, "transformed by eight years of occupation into a fortress," are a profound embarrassment to Russian President Vladimir Putin, whose near-bloodless seizure of Crimea from Ukraine in 2014 was wildly popular in Russia and "cemented his image as a leader resurrecting Russia as a great power," the Times reports. "Until this month, Crimea appeared well protected from Ukrainian attacks," and Russians were flocking to its beaches. But war observers also say the strikes on Crimea are degrading Russia's ability to fend off Ukraine's telegraphed counteroffensive in Kherson, the strategically important coastal region north of the Crimean peninsula. "Russian supply lines from Crimea directly support Russian forces in mainland Ukraine including those in western Kherson Oblast," the U.S.-based Institute for the Study of War (ISW) think tank assessed on Tuesday. "Russia's possibilities on the battlefield are being limited" by Ukraine's strikes in Crimea, independent Russian military analyst Pavel Luzin tells the Times. "Crimea is the only way to support the grouping of troops in the Kherson and Zaporizka regions. Otherwise, this grouping of troops does not exist." The "attacks on Russian positions in and around Crimea are likely part of a coherent Ukrainian counteroffensive to regain control" of Kherson city, ISW's analysts write. "Ukraine's targeting of Russian ground lines of communication and logistic and support assets in Crimea is consistent with the Ukrainian counteroffensive effort that has also targeted bridges over the Dnipro River and Russian logistical support elements in occupied Kherson Oblast." "Ukraine lacks the heavy weaponry" to take Kherson by force right now, Mykola Bielieskov, a research fellow at Ukraine's National Institute for Strategic Studies, tells Politico. But forcing Moscow to redeploy forces to Kherson, now vulnerable to supply line cutoffs and Ukrainian artillery strikes, is "quite an achievement."

August 17, 2022

Ukrainian special forces blew up an ammunition depot in Russian-occupied Crimea on Tuesday and may have been responsible for contemporaneous attacks on an air base and transformer substation, Ukrainian officials told The New York Times and The Washington Post.  Ukraine's government has not claimed credit for Tuesday's massive explosions in Crimea or last week's blasts at a different Russian air base that destroyed several Russian warplanes. But Ukrainian officials have publicly suggested that these were Ukrainian attacks — a president adviser coyly referred to the blasts as "demilitarization in action" — and Russia's defense ministry called Tuesday's explosions near the Crimean village of Mayskoye an "act of sabotage," conceding that Moscow's war in Ukraine has spread to areas recently believed to be out of harm's way. The attacks on Crimea, "transformed by eight years of occupation into a fortress," are a profound embarrassment to Russian President Vladimir Putin, whose near-bloodless seizure of Crimea from Ukraine in 2014 was wildly popular in Russia and "cemented his image as a leader resurrecting Russia as a great power," the Times reports. "Until this month, Crimea appeared well protected from Ukrainian attacks," and Russians were flocking to its beaches. But war observers also say the strikes on Crimea are degrading Russia's ability to fend off Ukraine's telegraphed counteroffensive in Kherson, the strategically important coastal region north of the Crimean peninsula. "Russian supply lines from Crimea directly support Russian forces in mainland Ukraine including those in western Kherson Oblast," the U.S.-based Institute for the Study of War (ISW) think tank assessed on Tuesday. "Russia's possibilities on the battlefield are being limited" by Ukraine's strikes in Crimea, independent Russian military analyst Pavel Luzin tells the Times. "Crimea is the only way to support the grouping of troops in the Kherson and Zaporizka regions. Otherwise, this grouping of troops does not exist." The "attacks on Russian positions in and around Crimea are likely part of a coherent Ukrainian counteroffensive to regain control" of Kherson city, ISW's analysts write. "Ukraine's targeting of Russian ground lines of communication and logistic and support assets in Crimea is consistent with the Ukrainian counteroffensive effort that has also targeted bridges over the Dnipro River and Russian logistical support elements in occupied Kherson Oblast." "Ukraine lacks the heavy weaponry" to take Kherson by force right now, Mykola Bielieskov, a research fellow at Ukraine's National Institute for Strategic Studies, tells Politico. But forcing Moscow to redeploy forces to Kherson, now vulnerable to supply line cutoffs and Ukrainian artillery strikes, is "quite an achievement."

August 11, 2022

Explosions at a Russian air base in Crimea could escalate or prolong the war in Ukraine. Here's everything you need to know: What happened in Crimea? A series of explosions rocked a Russian air base on the Crimean peninsula on Tuesday, killing at least one civilian and injuring 13 people, including two children, Russia claimed. Bystanders reported around 12 blasts. According to The Washington Post, the Saki Air Base, which has been used to launch missile strikes against Ukraine, was located "in a coastal area presumed by the Russians to be so safe that videos showed startled beachgoers at a nearby resort scrambling for cover." Ukraine's air force reported that nine Russian military aircraft were destroyed. Local authorities responded by raising the base's alert level as an "exclusively prophylactic" measure, Russian-installed Crimean leader Sergei Aksyonov said. Aksyonov also said very few people were evacuated following the explosions, but the U.S.-based Institute for the Study of War contradicted his claim, reporting that "social media footage showed long traffic jams ... and the departure of several minibusses, reportedly with evacuees." Explosions were also reported at a Russian ammunition depot near Novooleksiivka, deep behind Russian lines in southern Ukraine, but information about the blasts remains scarce. Who was behind the Crimea explosions? According to Russia, no one. Officials blamed a potential "violation of safety requirements" for the detonation of what they said was air force ordnance stored on the base. Ukraine denied responsibility, with the country's Defense Ministry quipping on Facebook that the explosions reveal the importance of "fire safety and the prohibition of smoking in unspecified places." On Wednesday, a Ukrainian government official broke with the official narrative, telling The Washington Post that Ukrainian special forces were responsible for the attack. In recent months, irregular Ukrainian partisan forces have pulled off a number of operations, including bombings and assassinations, in Russian-held Ukrainian territory. This admission, however, suggests "an increasingly important role for covert forces operating deep behind enemy lines as the country expands efforts to expel Russian troops," the Post reported. It's unlikely that Ukraine could have carried out the attack without help from covert assets behind Russian lines. Ukraine "possesses few weapons that can reach the peninsula, aside from aircraft that would risk being shot down immediately by Russia's heavy air defenses in the region," The New York Times reported. The ISW points out that Ukraine does not have long-range army tactical missile systems (ATACMS) but that the country's military "could have modified its Neptune [anti-ship] missiles for land-attack use." The Saki Air Base is located about 100 miles from Crimea's border with Kherson Oblast and about 150 miles from the nearest Ukrainian-controlled territory. What did Zelensky say? Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky did not mention the attack on Crimea in his daily video address, but he did say that it was fitting for Ukrainians to focus on Crimea. "Crimea is Ukrainian and we will never give it up," he said. "We will not forget that the Russian war against Ukraine began with the occupation of Crimea." Russia annexed Crimea in 2014 after protests in Ukraine forced pro-Russian President Viktor Yanukovych from office. In less than three weeks, Russian troops entered Crimea, installed a friendly government, and held a referendum — dismissed by most of the international community as fraudulent — in which Crimeans voted overwhelmingly to join with Russia. Occupying Russian forces are expected to hold similar referenda in the Donbas and southern Ukraine as early as next month. Despite Zelensky's insistence on total victory, retaking Crimea would be very difficult to achieve. First, Ukrainian forces would have to liberate vast swaths of Russian-held territory in southern Ukraine. Then, they would need to launch an offensive larger than any they've attempted since the war began. And finally, an attack on Crimea would risk massive retaliation. The Kremlin would consider an attack on Crimea to be an invasion of Russia, a move former Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said would trigger "Judgment Day." If Zelensky insists on continuing to fight until Crimea is back in Ukrainian hands, the war could either stretch on for years — or end in blood and fire on a scale not seen since the Second World War. Has Ukraine struck behind Russian lines before? Maybe. On April 1, Russian Gov. Vyacheslav Gladkov blamed explosions at a fuel depot in Belgorod, Russia, on "an airstrike coming from two helicopters of the Ukrainian armed forces." Several other incidents followed, damaging or destroying storage depots, a chemical plant, and a defense research site inside Russia. Ukraine never claimed responsibility for any of the attacks, but Ukrainian presidential adviser Mykhailo Podolyak did suggest on Twitter that the explosions could be "karma for the murder of [Ukrainian] children." Analysts have suggested that the true cause could involve either sabotage or Russian negligence.  BBC Monitoring's Vitaliy Shevchenko wrote in April that neither side would benefit if it came to be widely known or believed that Ukraine was behind the attacks. "Ukrainian attacks on Russian territory would be an embarrassment to the Kremlin" as well as "a major escalation" for Ukraine.

August 11, 2022

Explosions at a Russian air base in Crimea could escalate or prolong the war in Ukraine. Here's everything you need to know: What happened in Crimea? A series of explosions rocked a Russian air base on the Crimean peninsula on Tuesday, killing at least one civilian and injuring 13 people, including two children, Russia claimed. Bystanders reported around 12 blasts. According to The Washington Post, the Saki Air Base, which has been used to launch missile strikes against Ukraine, was located "in a coastal area presumed by the Russians to be so safe that videos showed startled beachgoers at a nearby resort scrambling for cover." Ukraine's air force reported that nine Russian military aircraft were destroyed. Local authorities responded by raising the base's alert level as an "exclusively prophylactic" measure, Russian-installed Crimean leader Sergei Aksyonov said. Aksyonov also said very few people were evacuated following the explosions, but the U.S.-based Institute for the Study of War contradicted his claim, reporting that "social media footage showed long traffic jams ... and the departure of several minibusses, reportedly with evacuees." Explosions were also reported at a Russian ammunition depot near Novooleksiivka, deep behind Russian lines in southern Ukraine, but information about the blasts remains scarce. Who was behind the Crimea explosions? According to Russia, no one. Officials blamed a potential "violation of safety requirements" for the detonation of what they said was air force ordnance stored on the base. Ukraine denied responsibility, with the country's Defense Ministry quipping on Facebook that the explosions reveal the importance of "fire safety and the prohibition of smoking in unspecified places." On Wednesday, a Ukrainian government official broke with the official narrative, telling The Washington Post that Ukrainian special forces were responsible for the attack. In recent months, irregular Ukrainian partisan forces have pulled off a number of operations, including bombings and assassinations, in Russian-held Ukrainian territory. This admission, however, suggests "an increasingly important role for covert forces operating deep behind enemy lines as the country expands efforts to expel Russian troops," the Post reported. It's unlikely that Ukraine could have carried out the attack without help from covert assets behind Russian lines. Ukraine "possesses few weapons that can reach the peninsula, aside from aircraft that would risk being shot down immediately by Russia's heavy air defenses in the region," The New York Times reported. The ISW points out that Ukraine does not have long-range army tactical missile systems (ATACMS) but that the country's military "could have modified its Neptune [anti-ship] missiles for land-attack use." The Saki Air Base is located about 100 miles from Crimea's border with Kherson Oblast and about 150 miles from the nearest Ukrainian-controlled territory. What did Zelensky say? Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky did not mention the attack on Crimea in his daily video address, but he did say that it was fitting for Ukrainians to focus on Crimea. "Crimea is Ukrainian and we will never give it up," he said. "We will not forget that the Russian war against Ukraine began with the occupation of Crimea." Russia annexed Crimea in 2014 after protests in Ukraine forced pro-Russian President Viktor Yanukovych from office. In less than three weeks, Russian troops entered Crimea, installed a friendly government, and held a referendum — dismissed by most of the international community as fraudulent — in which Crimeans voted overwhelmingly to join with Russia. Occupying Russian forces are expected to hold similar referenda in the Donbas and southern Ukraine as early as next month. Despite Zelensky's insistence on total victory, retaking Crimea would be very difficult to achieve. First, Ukrainian forces would have to liberate vast swaths of Russian-held territory in southern Ukraine. Then, they would need to launch an offensive larger than any they've attempted since the war began. And finally, an attack on Crimea would risk massive retaliation. The Kremlin would consider an attack on Crimea to be an invasion of Russia, a move former Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said would trigger "Judgment Day." If Zelensky insists on continuing to fight until Crimea is back in Ukrainian hands, the war could either stretch on for years — or end in blood and fire on a scale not seen since the Second World War. Has Ukraine struck behind Russian lines before? Maybe. On April 1, Russian Gov. Vyacheslav Gladkov blamed explosions at a fuel depot in Belgorod, Russia, on "an airstrike coming from two helicopters of the Ukrainian armed forces." Several other incidents followed, damaging or destroying storage depots, a chemical plant, and a defense research site inside Russia. Ukraine never claimed responsibility for any of the attacks, but Ukrainian presidential adviser Mykhailo Podolyak did suggest on Twitter that the explosions could be "karma for the murder of [Ukrainian] children." Analysts have suggested that the true cause could involve either sabotage or Russian negligence.  BBC Monitoring's Vitaliy Shevchenko wrote in April that neither side would benefit if it came to be widely known or believed that Ukraine was behind the attacks. "Ukrainian attacks on Russian territory would be an embarrassment to the Kremlin" as well as "a major escalation" for Ukraine.

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