Between 23 August and 22 September 2023, the Ukrainian Armed Forces executed a meticulously planned kinetic campaign against Russian positions in occupied Crimea. This campaign culminated with the sinking of two Russian warships at bay and the bombing of the Russian Black Sea Fleet headquarters (HQ) in Sevastopol. Ukraine’s kinetic operations in Crimea will likely continue and even escalate with new targeting cycles. These operations serve Ukraine’s long-term strategic objective of expelling Russian forces from Crimea by rendering their presence there untenable.
MAJOR STRIKE ROUNDUP
- 23AUG: The Ukrainian military used Neptune anti-ship cruise missiles in land-attack mode to strike a Russian S-400 battery at Cape Tarkhankut. The operation was aided by Ukrainian Special Operations Forces (SOF), which may have engaged in sabotage, stand-in attacks, and forward air control (lasing targets).
- 11SEP: Ukrainian SOFs conducted a daring raid, capturing the Boyko gas drilling platforms in the western Black Sea. This operation possibly aimed to disable the Neva-B surface radars deployed there. The Boyko towers can be used as a springboard for follow-on SOF raids into Crimea.
- 13SEP: StormShadow/SCLAP strikes resulted in the destruction of a Russian Ropucha-class landing ship and a Kilo-class submarine, both in dry dock.
- 14SEP: Another S-400 battery, this time near Yevpatoria, was successfully targeted. This repetitive action indicated a clear trend of suppressing and destroying Russia’s air defenses in Crimea.
- 20SEP: A StormShadow strike targeted a critical Command, Control, and Communications (C3) post north of Sevastopol.
- 22SEP: The culmination of the campaign saw a devastating StormShadow strike on Russia’s Black Sea Fleet HQ in Sevastopol. Ukraine claims it targeted a command staff meeting in Sevastopol, resulting in several high-ranking generals wounded or dead, including the commander of Russian forces in Zaporizhzha, Col. Gen. Aleksandr Romanchuk, and the commander of the Russian Black Sea Fleet, Admiral Viktor Sokolov. If this is confirmed, the attack was more than just a demonstrative act.
UKRAINE IS ABLE TO RENDER CRIMEA UNTENABLE FOR RUSSIA’S OCCUPATION
- Ukraine has demonstrated that it has the ability and determination to dismantle Russia’s military build in Crimea. Once upheld as an impenetrable fortress, Ukraine exposed Russia’s military infrastructure in Crimea vulnerable to strategic attack.
- The recent campaign showed Kyiv’s ability to conduct complex, coordinated multi-domain operations involving air, land, and sea assets converging on joint objectives. While prosecuting this campaign, Ukraine conducted suppression/destruction of air defenses, anti-surface warfare, and counter-C4 strikes.
- While these actions aid Ukraine’s immediate counteroffensive goals, they primarily serve a more long-term objective: making the Russian occupation of Crimea unsustainable. By degrading key military assets and infrastructure, Ukraine aims to erode Russia’s ability to maintain control over the region.
CONTINUED WESTERN SUPPORT NEEDED
- The United Kingdom and France should continue to backfill and, if possible, expand Ukraine’s dwindling stockpile of StormShadow/SCALP long-range land attack cruise missiles (LACMs).
- Diversifying Ukraine’s inventory of long-range missiles with the addition KEPD350 Taurus and the MGM-140 ATACMS is another desirable outcome.
- The U.S. and NATO broadly should continue and, where possible, expand intelligence sharing with Ukraine.
- At the political level, Western governments must reject the myth that Russia considers Crimea an inviolable “red line” that would trigger nuclear escalation. This narrative is a key element of a significant Russian psychological campaign aimed at instilling fear in Western capitals, with the intent of limiting military support to Ukraine and obstructing Kyiv’s strategic objectives
by Vlad Sutea
This report first appeared on Linkedin on 24 September 2023
Cover image: StormShadow (©British Ministry of Defense)