A deception and a surprise: the Ukrainian counteroffensive in Crimea at the hands of the partisans

Quiet on the Crimean peninsula is over. The consequences of the attack on the Russian Novofedorivka air base on August 9 caused an avalanche of Russian tourists to flee to their territory. (UGC via AP)

Ukrainian forces had launched a counteroffensive to recapture the strategic city of Kherson, which has been in Russian hands since the beginning of the February invasion. They had to stop her. Vladimir Putin’s soldiers managed to regroup and strengthened the defense. The Ukrainians recalculated and decided to go directly through the supply lines. If they cut them off, next time the Russians won’t be able to reinforce their flanks like they did in the last few days. They launched a combination of strategic hits on the Crimean partisans with precise drone strikes. A surprise. He attacked on the peninsula that Moscow invaded and annexed in 2014. A territory that until now seemed out of this war film but that ended up being one of those resources that directors save to surprise the audience before the end. A movie hoax.

Ukraine’s conventional forces lack the weapons and ammunition needed to launch a large-scale ground offensive to recapture territory invaded by the Russians, Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov said in an interview with the Washington Post. And he clarified that, meanwhile, Ukraine seeks to erode Russia‘s capabilities by attacking its most sensitive military installations from within. “We are using a strategy to ruin their stocks, to ruin their warehouses, to ruin their headquarters, the commanders’ headquarters,” he said. “It’s our response to your meat grinder tactics,” he said in reference to the massive Russian bombardment.

For this new strategy, Ukraine is activating a “resistance force” under the command of special forces with the aim of carrying out attacks far from Russian lines. In simple Ukrainian, they are organizing the partisans that they had launched a series of attacks against Russian targets without any command or coordination with the Ukrainian army. This is how the well-aimed attacks on an air base and an ammunition depot on the Crimean peninsula took place. caused enormous damage and disorientation among the invaders. Crimea is the main supply route for the Kremlin forces for arms and ammunition reaching the southern Ukrainian front line. Bases for fighter-bombers launching missile attacks on Ukrainian cities are also there.

Satellite photo showing the severe damage done to the Russian Novofedorivka air base.  Dozens of planes and helicopters were destroyed.  Maxar Technologies/Handout via REUTERS
Satellite photo showing the severe damage done to the Russian Novofedorivka air base. Dozens of planes and helicopters were destroyed. Maxar Technologies/Handout via REUTERS (MAXAR TECHNOLOGIES/)

Until last week, Russian troops – and even the many Russian tourists who went to the fantastic beaches of the peninsula – they had assumed they were safe in Crimea because that territory was out of reach of the existing Ukrainian arsenal. They did not count on the cunning of the resistance of the partisans who now received weapons and reinforcements, as well as the work of spy drones and those that launch rockets. They also did not believe that with the precise information of the coordinates, the missiles launched by the American Himars system could have the precision and destructive power that they are having.

Ukrainian forces were advancing on Kherson earlier this month, retaking a number of towns and destroying three strategic bridges over the nearby Dnipro River that they constitute the only supply routes for the Russian troops in the city. Fearing being cut off, the Russians slowed down their offensive in the east so they could move men and material into the Kherson area. The Institute for the Study of War (ISW) estimates that There are already 20,000 Russian combatants in the area when until three weeks ago there were less than half. And they managed to set up two pontoon crossing points for resupply. “If a few weeks ago there was an opportunity to hit the Russians in this Kherson region, I think it has already passed,” explained analyst Konrad Muzyka, from the Rochan specialized agency. “But it wasn’t a failure at all. They managed to stop any Russian advance. They were forced to have to take care of what they already had before the possibility that they would lose everything”.

On Tuesday, several explosions destroyed a Russian ammunition depot and a power plant in Crimea. The images of what happened were published by the Ukrainian partisans on the @breakingmash Telegram channel. A few days earlier, another act of sabotage ended with dozens of planes and the disabling of the runways at the Saki air base.

Russians fleeing Crimea.  August 2022.

“We are using a strategy to ruin their reserves, to ruin their warehouses, to ruin their headquarters, the headquarters of the commanders. It’s our response to your meat grinder tactics.” assured Minister Oleksii Reznikov.

Robert Bell, a former NATO official and professor at Georgia Tech University, believes that the Ukrainian central command never really intended to retake control of Kherson because they knew it would cost them too much in lives and weapons. “They let the information spread that they were preparing to reconquer that southern area, and when everyone was distracted, they dealt a heavy blow to the Russians in Crimea, which they believed was already secured forever,” Bell commented. “It was brilliant, because with almost nothing they achieved a lot and put doubt in the minds of the Russian generals. Now, they will also have to reinforce the positions in Crimea and that will make the advance in the Ukrainian Donbas much slower.”

After capturing the Luhansk region of eastern Ukraine in early July, Russian forces continued to advance towards the strategic cities of Kramatorsk and Sloviansk. Nevertheless, the pace of the march is very slow and with few significant territorial gains. You also have to keep in mind that the possibilities of rotating and refreshing your troops are exhausted. It is estimated that more than 35,000 Russians have been killed and another 50,000 wounded since the beginning of the invasion. Dara Massicot, a researcher at the RAND think tank and a former Pentagon analyst, commented on CNN that “an exhausted Russian army spread over multiple fronts calls into question the viability of the Kremlin’s goal of ‘liberating’ Donbas. It is not clear to me that the forces remaining in Russia can meet the Kremlin’s revised and more limited goals of occupying and potentially annexing the southern and eastern regions of Ukraine.”

The loss of confidence in the security of Crimea after the recent Ukrainian attacks produced changes in the military leadership. Vice Admiral Viktor Sokolov replaced Admiral Igor Osipov as commander of the Black Sea Fleet (BSF) which is based in Sevastopol, the Crimean capital. The surprise attacks that included the BSF headquarters “put the Kremlin forces on high alert and caused the restructuring of the composition of the forces, the logistics and the leadership of the Russian grouping in Crimea to mitigate the impact of new attacks”, says a confidential report from the British Ministry of Defense. And he adds that “the Main Directorate of Military Intelligence of Ukraine are relocating dozens of planes and helicopters stationed at airfields from Crimea to deeper areas of the peninsula and mainland Russia.”

Fire at a base in Crimea
Explosions caused by Ukrainian partisans caused panic among Russians living on that occupied peninsula in 2014. (Telegram)

Russian intelligence also resorted to old diversionary tactics to hide failure and try to transfer the nickname of “terrorists” to the enemies. The military chief of occupied Crimea, Sergey Askenov, stated on August 17 that the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) had neutralized cells of the Hizb ut-Tahrir organization – a fundamentalist Islamist political organization historically active in Central Asia and with ties to the historic Tatar community on the Ukrainian peninsula – in the cities of Dzhankoi and Yalta. Aksenov accused the Ukrainian government of coordinating Hizb ut-Tahrir’s operations in Crimea.

This is Washington’s ISW reading of the intelligence operation: “Russian officials are increasingly likely to link attacks by Ukrainian partisans against occupied territories with operations carried out by organizations affiliated with Islamist extremismin an attempt to alienate the Ukrainian partisan movement from the international community and undermining Ukraine’s calls to officially designate Russia as a State Sponsor of Terrorism. Attacks against legitimate Russian military targets fall within the scope of the lawful use of force and are not acts of terrorism, nor is there evidence to suggest that Islamic extremists carried out these attacks”.

The greatest fear on the part of the Kremlin is that the scenes of thousands of russian tourist cars escaping as happened last week when they experienced the explosions at their military bases up close while spending a few days on the beach. The images were broadcast on Russian television despite the strict censorship control they suffer and caused a severe impact. They hope not to have to live through a massive departure of the Russians from that territory that Putin decreed to be part of his country eight years ago. But they will not be able to restore the peace of the summer Crimea that was lived until now on the peninsula. It was broken forever.


Ukrainian attacks in Crimea put half of Russian Black Sea fighter jets out of action