Recent attacks on the illegally-annexed peninsula might suggest that Kyiv is entering the latest phase in the war against Russia
By Dominic Nicholls, DEFENCE AND SECURITY EDITOR 26 August 2022
Military planners love naming the different “phases” of their operations. Phase one, the break-in. Phase two, the assault. Phase three, the reorganisation. Phase four, the consolidation. And so on until one’s head spins.
The “phase” term is chucked around like Russian ammunition after a Himars strike, but at least the numbering convention can, generally, be understood by the layman.
One phase, though, pushes the bounds of credulity to breaking point and sounds like something from a Stephen King novel: phase zero, the shaping.
The term “shaping the battlefield” is used by military planners to describe the manoeuvres in a campaign prior to the main fight breaking out.
Shaping does not necessarily mean an absence of engagement between forces and can be an incredibly violent period.
The shaping phases of both recent interventions by US-led coalitions into Iraq lasted weeks, as air defence systems and headquarters were targeted for destruction.
What seems to be happening now in Crimea could well be the shaping phase of the anticipated Ukrainian counter-offensive in the Kherson region.
On Tuesday alone, three sites of significant military advantage to Russia appear to have been destroyed in Crimea: an airbase near Gvardeyskoye village in the centre of the peninsula, an electricity sub-station near the vital rail line at Dzhankoi in the north and an ammunition storage site nearby.
Moscow’s defence ministry is reported by state media to have blamed the sub-station attack on “sabotage”.
Whatever the causes, the blasts will limit Russia’s ability to reinforce its forces in the south of Ukraine just as Kyiv is thought to be planning a major counter-offensive.
Why, and how, are they happening now? Ukrainian forces would have welcomed the destruction of such sites at any point over the past six months.
However, watching them all go up in smoke over the narrow period of a few days lends to Ukraine a sense of momentum and invincibility. It has also instilled fear into the thousands of Russian civilians now flocking to escape the illegally-annexed peninsula.
They will be flooding social media channels with images of war, challenging Moscow’s increasingly unsupportable explanation that this is a “special military operation”. It will be interesting to watch how Vladimir Putin spins that one.
The “how” demands a more speculative answer. So shocked were the inhabitants of the beach resort near the Saky airfield, the target of last week’s attack, that images from many different angles and timeframes have been shared publicly.
In none of these can be seen the tell-tale signs of ballistic missiles or kamikaze drones heading towards their targets. The same can be said, so far, for the images of the strikes that occurred on Tuesday.
If not from the air, where then did the attacks come from?
The idea of partisan activity, however romantic, is unlikely. If these attacks are part of a co-ordinated campaign supported with explosives from Kyiv, that speaks of a level of capability beyond even the most committed civilians.
The planning and soldiering skills required to carry out such raids need years, not weeks, of training.
Russian forces said to be withdrawing west of Dnipro River around Kherson
Which leaves us with the increasingly plausible suggestion that credit for the destruction can be laid at the door of Ukraine’s special forces.
If so, they are unlikely to have been there from the start of the campaign. Hiding in plain sight in civilian attire or
camouflaged in rural areas for such a length of time is incredibly risky.
More likely they would have been inserted in recent weeks, slowly building up caches of explosives and weapons – in multiple sites to guard against compromise by Russian forces – and finalising attack plans.
Given the destruction of military equipment and the level of fear inculcated in civilians and soldiers alike, their mission may be complete.
Whether this was phase zero, the shaping actions ahead of a wider Ukrainian assault in the Kherson region should be revealed in the next couple of weeks.
If someone can give me a plausible explanation why there are at least three craters at the Saki airbase where there should be none if the strike was done by human hands and why the main ammo dump and fuel depots were not destroyed, and how the men got there and how they retreated and why none of the explosive devices were discovered, then I might believe in a special ops operation.
I thinkit was missiles, but this is were it gets interesting. If muscovy claim it was long range US missiles, they are admitting their air defences are useless, and not even India would buy the junk.
Yes, that’s a very good reason for them to keep tight-lipped about anything coming through the air.