Ukraine on Wednesday launched a huge missile strike on a Russian naval facility in occupied Crimea.
The cruise missile attack on the shipyard in Sevastopol left two of Moscow's vessels damaged.
A former US Army general said the strikes are a key to making Crimea indefensible for Russia.
Ukrainian forces carried out a massive missile attack on a strategic Russian naval shipyard in the occupied Crimean peninsula early Wednesday morning, damaging two vessels in what an official in Kyiv called a "professional and meaningful" statement.
The strikes on the Black Sea port city of Sevastopol, which were the results of long-range cruise missiles, marked the latest Ukrainian attacks on Russian positions and assets in and around Crimea, which Kyiv has vowed to liberate from nearly a decade of Russian occupation. These operations are part of a lengthy pressure campaign designed to isolate Crimea and make it "untenable" for Russian forces to stay there, a retired US Army general said.
"This is all orchestrated as part of a sophisticated, multi-domain counteroffensive," Ben Hodges, a retired lieutenant general and former commander of US Army Europe, told Insider.
Ukrainian aircraft fired 10 cruise missiles at the Russian shipyard in Sevastopol, located on the southwestern edge of Crimea, in the pre-dawn attack on Wednesday, according to a statement from Russia's defense ministry that was published to Telegram. It said air-defense systems managed to shoot down seven of the missiles, but the ones that got through inflicted damage on two ships — reportedly a landing vessel and a submarine — that were under repair.
Sevastopol is the headquarters of Russia's Black Sea Fleet, and the shipyard there is crucial in helping Moscow build and maintain its vessels. After the massive attack — which some observers speculated was the result of UK-provided Storm Shadow or French-provided SCALP-EG long-range cruise missiles — Ukraine's air force thanked its pilots for what it called "excellent combat work" and alluded to more strikes in the future.
"The demilitarization of the #Russian Black Sea fleet is a real long-term guarantee of security for regional trade routes and the 'grain corridor,'" Mykhailo Podolyak, an advisor to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, posted to social media on Wednesday.
His remarks were an apparent reference to increasing tensions around the Black Sea and Russia's threats to civilian merchant vessels after Moscow withdrew from the crucial Black Sea grain deal. Podolyak said attacks on the Black Sea fleet are a critical way to respond to Russian aggression in the region.
"The way to do this is to build up the capacity of the Armed Forces of #Ukraine, including by expanding the range of weapons," he added. "We can already see the results of this in #Sevastopol. A professional and meaningful 'statement.'"
Wednesday's missile strikes on Sevastopol are the latest in a string of high-profile Ukrainian attacks putting pressure on Russia in and around the Crimean peninsula.
Last month, Ukraine's military intelligence agency said it destroyed one of Russia's prized S-400 air-defense systems on the westernmost point of the peninsula, and the following day, it said that its forces carried out a daring amphibious raid in the same area, which is where Russia has stationed some sophisticated radar systems. Weeks before that, exploding drone boats attacked a key Russian bridge to Crimea on the eastern side.
And earlier this week, Kyiv announced that its special forces recently retook control of the Boika Towers, oil drilling platforms located off the Crimean coast that were seized by Russia in 2015 after it illegally annexed the peninsula the year before. The Ukrainian defense ministry said the platforms had been used for "military purposes" ever since they were captured.
These recent operations around Crimea, including the latest Sevastopol strikes, are not random, Hodges, the retired US Army general, told Insider, but rather part of Ukraine's larger counteroffensive effort.
The three-month-long offensive has consisted of attempts by Kyiv to advance past Russia's formidable defensive lines and fortifications, built along the sprawling front line that stretches across Russian-occupied territory in eastern and southern Ukraine. These defensive lines include minefields, anti-vehicle ditches, dragon's teeth obstacles to prevent heavy armor from advancing, and trenches. While this fighting has been a defining aspect of the counteroffensive, the bigger picture here is a multi-faceted campaign playing out across several different domains — including in Crimea.
"The counteroffensive is not just Ukrainian ground forces trying to break through Russian trenches and minefields. That's only a part of it," Hodges said. "The counteroffensive is intended to first isolate ... Crimea and then make it untenable for Russian forces."
Ukraine has been leveraging its long-range precision strike capabilities — which consists of a limited arsenal of Storm Shadow/SCALP-EG missiles — and innovative drone usage to launch attacks against targets deep in Russian-held territory. Unmanned attacks on Moscow have greatly increased in frequency, and Kyiv has also managed to carry out several high-profile hits on airbases within Russia's internationally recognized territory, damaging and destroying various Russian aircraft, including airlifters and bombers.
"What we're seeing is pressure being applied against the very fragile Russian General Staff," Hodges said.
Increasingly regular Ukrainian attacks on Russian territory, inside occupied land, and around the Black Sea has exposed serious shortcomings in Moscow's force protection and air-defense capabilities, raising questions about its ability to actually safeguard its most vulnerable bases and assets. According to Western intelligence, Russia has sought out several alternative solutions to this problem, like building civilian volunteer patrols or tinkering with its network of air-defense systems. Russia has also been spotted putting tires on its aircraft.
Meanwhile, officials in Kyiv have continued to press their Western military backers for more long-range weapons, including the US-made Army Tactical Missile System, or ATACMS. Washington is reportedly considering sending Ukraine these missiles, which would give Kyiv a significant firepower boost and threaten Russia's vulnerable positions far beyond the front lines.
And while the long-term impact of the Sevastopol strikes remain to be seen, Hodges noted that it's important for Ukraine to keep up the pressure on Russia's Black Sea fleet, which is responsible for missile strikes on Ukrainian cities and infrastructure that have killed and injured scores of civilians. By doing this — and stripping Moscow of maintenance or refueling facilities — Kyiv will force Russian commanders to rethink keeping their ships in Crimea. Ukraine has also been taking aim at ships operating in the Black Sea, stepping up the pressure further.
"It's showing how vulnerable the Russians are in Crimea," Hodges said of the Sevastopol strikes. "People should believe that the Ukrainians are going to keep coming after Crimea because it is the decisive terrain of this war, and it's not something that can just be traded away 'for the sake of peace.' They're not going to stop."
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