In Other News – Explosions in Crimea Shake Russia’s Confidence – 8/11/2022

August 11, 2022

Explosions in annexed Crimea shake Russia’s confidence, hint at a broader Ukrainian counteroffensive. Satellite imagery from earlier this week revealed that multiple Russian warplanes stationed at the Saki airbase in Crimea were damaged or destroyed on Tuesday. Moscow is still trying to get its story straight on what happened– the Russian defense ministry claimed that the airbase explosions were caused by detonated aviation ammunition, while state propagandists furiously spouted-off that Russians are under attack by Ukraine. Kyiv has not officially claimed responsibility for the destruction of the Russian planes, but a senior Ukrainian Ministry of Defense official confirmed Kyiv’s role in the attack to the media and further indicated that more operations of a similar nature are in the works. President Zelenskyy also publicly and emphatically restated the goal of liberating Crimea from Russian control.

If Ukraine was indeed responsible for the explosions, which took place at a notable distance from Ukrainian lines, the attack would be the first significant attack in Crimea since the onset of the war. It would also mark the single biggest day of Russian air force losses since February. Based on the range of the attacks, there’s active speculation about the nature of the attack, be it the use of advanced weaponry or the handiwork of Ukrainian special forces. Regardless of the specific mechanism, if Crimea is now deemed as susceptible to attack, Russia will need to reallocate resources to protect its forces in the area and might have to pull from its frontlines. It also might choose to move planes out of the area to less desirable air bases farther away.

Further, in addition to causing logistical woes for Moscow, the explosions likely jolted any sense of security held by Russian air force members. Social media images depicting Russians who were vacationing in Crimea scrambling to avoid the explosions could also have a psychological impact on the Russian populace. Adding to the uncertainty, this week there were also unconfirmed social media reports regarding explosions at a Belarusian military airbase used by Moscow and close to the Ukrainian border. The Ministry of Defense of Belarus dismissed the reports and said that a car engine had caught fire at the location, but Zelenskyy’s advisor remarked that Russians shouldn’t feel safe in either Crimea or occupied Belarus, noting that these so-called technical incidents should serve as a warning.

For its part, Ukraine has pledged to force Russian troops out of Kherson and Zaporizhzhia in the coming weeks via an increased counteroffensive. Already, Ukrainian forces are targeting military bases and ammunition hubs around Kherson and in the wider Kherson province, including a possible attack on a strategic road and rail link earlier this week. It’s still uncertain if these attacks will allow Ukraine to make any territorial advances in the region, but time is certainly of the essence. Ukrainian officials have remarked that the longer Ukrainians are stuck under Russian occupation, the greater the risk of losing them, and officials further believe that Russia will try to hold illegal referendums in the captured areas in early September.