Ukraine has unleashed a series of drone and missile strikes across Crimea and southern Russia over the past days as part of what appears to be a new strategy to pressure Russia through long-range strikes on military targets and critical infrastructure. The strikes came after months of Ukrainian requests for long-range weapons from Western allies to hit Russian assets that have been used to bombard Ukrainian territory.
Wave of Ukrainian Strikes Across Crimea
In the early hours of January 5th, Ukrainian forces launched another wave of strikes across Russian-occupied Crimea, targeting military bases and infrastructure. Explosions and emergency response activity was reported in multiple locations, including near the headquarters of Russia’s Black Sea Fleet in Sevastopol.
The targets struck included:
- A Russian military command post near Sevastopol
- Russian air defense sites in Yevpatoriya and Dzhankoy
- Other military infrastructure near Gvardeyskoye Air Base
The strikes appear to have been conducted using a combination of missiles and unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), according to Ukrainian officials. Photos circulated on social media showed the wreckage of alleged Shahed-136 “kamizake” drones of Iranian origin which Ukraine says Russia has been using to attack critical infrastructure.
This follows other waves of strikes across Crimea earlier this week, including a strike on a military airfield in central Crimea and explosions at a military base near Simferopol.
Russia Confirms Casualties and Damage
Russian authorities have acknowledged casualties and damage from this latest wave of Ukrainian strikes:
- The Moscow-appointed governor of Sevastopol, Mikhail Razvozzhayev, said a drone attack was intercepted over the city but falling debris still damaged a building roof. No casualties were reported.
- The governor of Russia’s Belgorod region bordering northeast Ukraine, Vyacheslav Gladkov, said that remnants of two shot down missiles damaged a residential building, but without casualties.
Additionally, a senior Russian lawmaker confirmed that Ukrainian strikes earlier this week killed and wounded dozens of Russian servicemen based in Crimea:
- Russian MP Oleg Morozov told Russian state television that precision strikes hit a facility housing servicemen, saying “Unfortunately, there are killed and wounded, but not in large quantities.”
Sources in both Ukraine’s military intelligence and Russian official channels place the death toll from that single strike at over 100 Russian soldiers killed.
Ukraine Utilizing New Long-Range Capabilities
The intensification of strikes deeper into Russian-occupied territories aligns with Ukraine’s public requests for long-range strike capabilities to hit Russian military assets that have been used to bombard Ukrainian cities.
In recent months, Ukraine has taken deliveries of new Western rocket systems with ranges over 80-150km, putting more Russian positions in range:
|US-provided multiple rocket launch system
|Over 80km with certain munitions
|NASAMS air defense
|US-provided medium range air defense system
|Over 100km range
|Harpoon anti-ship missiles
|Converted to be ground launched by Ukraine
US officials have also indicated that a future aid package may include the MGM-140 ATACMS missile for HIMARS, with a range over 300km that could hit deeper targets in Crimea.
Attacks Part of Ukraine’s “Strategy of Active Defense”
Ukraine has not publicly claimed responsibility for all of the recent strikes deeper into Russian-occupied territories. However, presidential advisor Mykhailo Podolyak indicated the attacks are part of Ukraine’s new “strategy of active defense” to undermine Russia’s capacity to attack Ukraine’s infrastructure and terrorize civilians.
In his nightly address after the late December strikes in Crimea and southern Russia, President Volodymyr Zelenskyy stated that “the less opportunities the terrorist state will have to do evil and kill Ukrainians, the sooner this war will end.”
Further Strikes Likely as Ukraine Pressures Russia
With these continued strikes utilizing newly-acquired long range capabilities, Ukraine appears poised to continue pressuring Russian military assets based deeper in occupied territories like Crimea and near Ukraine’s borders.
In addition to the direct damage inflicted, the strikes appear aimed at undermining Russia’s ability to safely base forces and equipment in occupied areas like Crimea that have been utilized to launch missile and drone attacks on Ukrainian cities.
Barring any negotiations between the sides, military analysts expect Ukraine will continue periodic strikes on Russian military targets within range. However, Russia is also likely to retaliate with further missile bombardments of Ukraine’s critical infrastructure.
Both sides are defiant, with Ukraine insisting that Crimea and all occupied territories must be returned. However Russia maintains that Crimea is a part of Russia, and President Putin just recently vowed to achieve his war aims by force. So the prospects for de-escalation and peace talks remain dim in the near term.
International Response Mixed as Conflict Enters Risky New Phase
Ukraine’s allies have thus far declined to criticize Ukraine’s strikes on legitimate Russian military targets, even in the occupied Crimean peninsula.
However there are rising concerns that the conflict is entering a new high-stakes phase defined by attacks deeper into what Russia considers its territory. This risks further escalation by Russia, including potentially extreme measures like declaring full war mobilization or even deploying battlefied nuclear weapons on its own territory against advancing Ukrainian forces.
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg affirmed NATO’s continued backing for Ukraine while calling for “restraint and wisdom” on both sides. Meanwhile, United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres expressed concerns over the latest developments, emphasizing that “the logic of escalation is leading to levels of destruction that will make recovery and reconstruction much more difficult.”
So while Ukraine’s western backers largely accept its right to strike Russian military assets, they are cautioning Ukraine against crossing undefined “red lines” with Russia regarding strikes on infrastructure deep inside Russia itself, rather than occupied Ukrainian territory. This will be a tension to watch as Russia and Ukraine continue exchanging long range strikes in the early months of 2024.
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