On Tuesday, there were reports of at least two large explosions in occupied Crimea, well beyond the range of Ukrainian artillery or of any HIMARS ammunition known to be in Ukrainian hands. This time the primary target appears to have been a stockpile of ammunition and equipment near a railway, and if that description makes it seem less significant than previous strikes on warehouses and buildings, videos of the site indicate otherwise. Russia appears to have a lot—a lot—of materiel, from ammunition to vehicles, sitting right beside the tracks at a site near of the city of Dzhankoi.
A second explosion appears to have taken out an electrical substation in the same area. The railway leading south into Crimea is electrified, so taking out this electrical station may have been targeted at preventing trains from moving in a large section of Crimea.
The distance of these explosions from the nearest area of Ukrainian control, like a previous strike in Crimea, generated immediate speculation on just how Ukraine accomplished this blow. Russian-related sources initially attributed the explosion to a drone attack. Others immediately jumped to the conclusion that Ukraine is in possession of longer-range HIMARS rockets. At roughly 200 kilometers from the nearest areas under solid control by Ukraine, this new explosion is twice as far inside Russian territory as a previous explosion which devastated a Russian air base at Novofedorivka last week. This would still be in the range of the ATACMS (Army Tactical Missile System), which can be fired from HIMARS, but despite widespread speculation, there is still no evidence that Ukraine has been sent any of these missiles.
If this was a drone strike this far into Russian territory, the major signal it sends is simple: Russian air defenses are ****ed. Good luck to Vladimir Putin in his recently announced initiative to sell more Russian weapons systems if this is the level of protection they provide.
However, The New York Times is quoting a Ukrainian official in giving a cause that should be even more frightening to both the Russian military and all Russians in occupied territories. According to the unnamed official, the explosions were generated by “an elite Ukrainian military unit operating behind enemy lines.” Russia’s state news agency seems to agree, as they’ve now labeled the explosion “an act of sabotage.”
If Ukrainian military units are operating deep in Crimea, striking Russian infrastructure, supply depots, and even bases … then exactly what does that say about the area supposedly under Russian control? Crimea was Russia’s primary target back in 2014, and was immediately annexed by Putin following that previous invasion. But these attacks make it seem as if Russia not only can’t halt partisan attacks in areas like occupied Kherson, they can’t even secure the territory they’ve claimed for the last eight years as part of Russia.
There is no way of looking at this which isn’t bad for Russia.
For nearly a month now, Ukraine has been engaged in a campaign of striking Russian supply depots, command centers, and transportation hubs. They’ve engaged a number of different systems—HIMARS, drones, artillery, and even Ukraine’s miraculously still operating air force—to hit high-value targets in Russian territory.
These attacks have not only generated some highly significant losses for Russia, like most of an air wing, but they’ve also created shortages and logistical issues that have measurably slowed Russia’s advance in the Donbas and limited its ability to attack elsewhere. Russia has responded to Ukraine’s strategic actions by flinging more missiles into civilian areas of Ukrainian cities, which has absolutely increased the death, destruction, and general misery affecting the people of Ukraine. However, this doesn’t seem to have altered Ukraine’s ongoing campaign to disrupt Russian operations.
It seems that wherever Russia tries to stack more than a few boxes of shells, or park a few vehicles, Ukraine is capable of finding them. And destroying them. No matter how far they are in Russian occupied territory. Make that “Russian occupied territory,” because Russia’s control over these regions seems a lot less solid than it did a few weeks ago.
Which is why, south of the latest explosions at the Crimean city of Simeropol, Russians seem to have decided that this is a very good time to end their summer holidays. Though, with that electrical station down, it’s not clear how long they’ll be waiting for a train.
However, if any of them are trying to get out of the region using a car or the bus, that also brings with it some special hazards.
In the last few minutes, there have been reports of what appears to be another explosion or series of explosions. If accurate, this would be even deeper in supposed Russian territory than the attack at Dzankhoi. According to sources on Telegram, multiple explosions were heard from the Russian air base in Gvardeyskoe, west of the city of Simferopol. Again, the initial attacks report a drone as the source of the attack, but there are likely to be competing claims within the hour.
It’s been over two weeks since the last update of the Daily Kos Ukraine maps, and the biggest news is that seeing the difference between that last take and current conditions in most areas requires a microscope. Russia has made some advances along the line between Bakhmut and Siversk, and active fighting is underway east of both towns.
But the biggest thing happening in Ukraine right now isn’t likely to be capturing any particular town or village—it’s the effort to gut Russian efforts well away from the line of combat. By attacking concentrations of planes, equipment, ammo, and commanders, Ukraine is exacting much higher costs from Russia than they can in hammering it out at the line. And they’re showing Russia that the idea of “safe areas” is an illusion.
Every now and then in this conflict, I run into a little “I didn’t even know they had those” moment when it comes to weapons systems. Here is one of those at work.
The DM22 HEAT “directional mine” looks something like a tiny machine gun emplacement. It can be set up off to the side of a roadway and dangles a 40 meter thread of nearly invisible fiber optic line waiting for something to pass. When something hits that line, the “off route mine” fires a high explosive anti-tank shell. Watch for the little puff of smoke on the left side of the road right before this Russian truck slews to a halt.
Reinforcing the idea that these attacks are part of a larger plan, directed at not just taking away Russia’s resources, but limiting their logistical options.