Yeah, well, a lot of things that should happen don’t happen because they prove infeasible. Ukraine has yet to liberate Kherson or Luhansk, never mind Crimea. Even if they’re able to push the Russians back to the pre-February battle lines, I can’t imagine Zelensky’s partners in the U.S. and Europe urging him to extend the war by making a play for Crimea instead of declaring victory and ordering a ceasefire.
But I understand why he’s eager to capitalize on yesterday’s earth-shaking (literally and figuratively) attack on Russia’s Saki airbase on the Crimean coast. The Kremlin is stunned and Zelensky is naturally eager to exploit the paranoia they’re suddenly feeling about their new vulnerability.
'Crimea is Ukrainian,' Zelensky says after airbase blast | AFP
Source: AFP News Agency pic.twitter.com/KX67XTFGYF
— Wittgenstein (@backtolife_2023) August 10, 2022
The symbolic value of the airbase attack is plain. The conquest of Crimea was Putin’s great victory in the 2014 war; fighting in the Donbas has raged for eight years but Crimea is sufficiently secure that Russians have treated it as a vacation getaway. No more.
THREAD This video shows a Russian occupant who leaves Crimea after yesterday's attack. She says: "I don't want to leave Crimea, Alushta. It is so amazing here. We got used to living here. We lived like it is our own. We felt like at home here". /1 pic.twitter.com/Z4ShZPkp9D
— Sergej Sumlenny (@sumlenny) August 10, 2022
— Radek Sikorski MEP (@radeksikorski) August 10, 2022
The military damage from the attack appears extensive, with Ukraine claiming that nine Russian jets were liquidated…
One of the Su-24s just north of the smaller of the two munitions storage sites after today's explosions.
Depending on exactly where the explosions happened, it is entirely possible that Russia lost 6 Su-24s and 3 Su-30s in today's explosions.
— Oliver Alexander (@OAlexanderDK) August 9, 2022
Incredible amounts of damage at Novofedorivka airbase in Crimea. pic.twitter.com/ymFh7HUxDX
— OSINTtechnical (@Osinttechnical) August 9, 2022
…but the heavier blow was psychological. “His 2014 annexation of the Black Sea peninsula from Ukraine pushed Putin’s popularity with Russians to unprecedented heights,” Bloomberg explains. “He repeatedly declares Crimea an inseparable part of Russia, even as the international community rejects that.” The attack on the base forcing beachgoing Russian locals to scurry in fear is therefore an “intolerable humiliation,” something that communicates to Moscow in a way few other strikes could that they’ve bitten off more than they can chew by invading. I compared it yesterday to the Doolittle Raid and that analogy seems more apt a day later. The war has suddenly come home to the aggressor, to its shock.
It’s a completely different thing to lose Crimea– they may not be able to find it on a map, but every Russian, no matter their views on Putin, will inform you that Crimea is Russian. It’s Putin’s claim to fame (or competency as a leader) and his kryptonite.
— Professor Olga Chyzh (@olga_chyzh) August 9, 2022
Losing Crimea would pit Putin against both camps within his inner circle. On one hand, the hardliners have been long calling for total mobilization. On the other hand, the less hawkish elements have been advocating for calling it a victory after taking Donbas.
— Professor Olga Chyzh (@olga_chyzh) August 9, 2022
Russia failing to conquer Ukraine is one thing. Russia losing territory to Ukraine is unthinkable; Putin presumably wouldn’t survive it. The Saki attack is a little tremor suggesting that it’s not as unthinkable as everyone assumed. That might seed some doubt about the war inside — and outside — the Kremlin, a blow to Russian morale.
Even if it doesn’t, the fact that Crimea is now vulnerable to long-range Ukrainian strikes means Russia will need to redeploy scarce military assets to defend the peninsula, which means those assets won’t be put to use defending Kherson or Luhansk. Ukrainian sources told Politico that the airbase attack is the unofficial launch of their southern counteroffensive.
A second Ukrainian official, who also spoke anonymously because they were not authorized to speak to the media, told POLITICO that August and September will be “very important” months from a military perspective, which would likely shape the ultimate outcome of the war.
The official warned that the intensity of the fighting in August and September could “look like February” but declined to elaborate on that assessment, citing military secrecy.
The official said that the airfield blasts were a message to Russia that they “are safe nowhere.”
“Let them know how it feels,” the official added, referring to the fear and uncertainty that has spread across Ukraine, where Russia has fired more than 3,000 missiles since February 24.
The attack was reportedly carried out by Ukrainian special forces — but how? Ukraine has been coy about what weapon was used. The U.S. denies adamantly that we supplied any long-range missiles to Kiev, but is that just BS designed to keep our fingerprints off a provocative attack or could it be true? Has Kiev developed a capability for long-range strikes independent of its western patrons?
Maybe. Some analysts speculate that the Saki strike was carried out by modified Neptune anti-ship missiles. But the Warzone wonders if the weapon responsible might have a sort of hybrid provenance, developed natively by Ukraine and then given a little extra push over the finish line by Uncle Sam. A Ukrainian weapons firm has been working on a short-range ballistic missile capable of being fired by mobile launchers for nearly 20 years, it turns out. If the missile, known as “Grim,” is now in the field, its completion may have been a timely collaborative effort.
There is also the potential that Ukraine has received assistance from one or more of its international partners, especially the United States, since the conflict began to help field a more robust, if still small operational force armed with Grim-2/Hrim-2s or similar missiles. There is already substantial evidence that the U.S. military quietly helped integrate the AGM-88 High-speed Anti-Radiation Missiles (HARM), primarily designed to home in on and destroy enemy air defense radars, onto Ukrainian aircraft, as you can read more about here. American authorities at least facilitated some kind of similar integration of 70mm laser-guided Advanced Precision Kill Weapon System II (APKWS II) rockets onto ground and/or aerial platforms. Other countries, such as the United Kingdom, have helped the Ukrainian Armed Forces field additional non-ballistic ground-based surface-to-surface missile systems, as well…
The U.S. government has not been willing to supply such a capability in the form of land-attack cruise missiles or ATACMS ballistic missiles due to the risk of escalating and broadening the conflict. But, helping Ukraine build its own weapons would be a different story, and Ukraine had just such a weapon relatively deeply in development, as well as others.
Since the start of the war, the Pentagon has helped Ukraine aim at the Russians by providing intelligence and helped them fire at the Russians by providing weapons systems, most notably HIMARS. Having crossed those lines, the logical next step would be to assist the Ukrainians in fielding locally developed weapons systems that needed some refining before deployment. Especially long-range weapons with potentially game-changing impact on Russian strategy and Russian morale.