Ukraine has found Russia’s Achilles’ heel in Crimea

Mark Galeotti

16 August 2022

Another day, another Russian arms depot up in smoke. The latest attack, this time on an ammunition storage site near Mayskoye on the Crimean peninsula, highlights three particular aspects of this phase of the war, and the degree to which Kyiv is adapting quicker and more effectively than Moscow.

The first is that the long-heralded Ukrainian counter-attack is, so far, less about a melee on the ground and more about a methodical attempt to target Russian supply lines. Until now, this has been through missile and rocket strikes, although Moscow’s claim that the Mayskoye attack was carried out by ‘saboteurs’ would – if true – represent an interesting new approach. (And a serious embarrassment for the Russian security forces, given that the alleged attackers apparently also managed to disappear.)

The old adage that ‘amateurs study tactics, but professionals study logistics’ is especially true in light of modern militaries’ dependence on a constant supply of fuel, ammunition, and all the other consumables of mechanised warfare.

This is a particular Achilles’ heel of the Russians. They have tended to rely on a few, larger supply hubs as close to the front line as possible, to minimise the distances their limited fleet of trucks must travel. Now that the Ukrainians are using not just the much-vaunted new American HIMARS launchers with highly-accurate GMLRS rockets but also a range of other Nato-supplied artillery and rocket launch systems, Kyiv’s claim that it can hit near enough all Russia’s supply lines in the south are distinctly credible.Ukrainians are adapting more quickly and effectively than their enemy

With dozens of their fuel and ammunition stores having been destroyed, the Russians are having to rely on more, smaller ones, based further from the lines.

This is not the only reason why recent weeks have seen a dramatic decrease in the amount of artillery fire across the front line, but it certainly is one of the main ones. Given that the Russians have relied on massive bombardments for what advances they have made, this seriously degrades their offensive capabilities and their ability to disrupt any Ukrainian counter-attacks.

The second is how far the accuracy of the western weapons systems being supplied to Ukraine is being used to best effect thanks to first-rate intelligence that allows for rapid or even real-time targeting.

In some cases, it seems that this is thanks to western assistance, with information from spy satellites and technical intelligence-gathering quietly fed to Kyiv. At others, it is through good use of drones, stealthy scouts on the ground, or informants amongst the population now behind Russia’s front line.

However, it is also thanks to inspired use of open source intelligence in the panopticon age. Despite their efforts to confiscate their soldiers’ mobile phones and otherwise prevent the leakage of actionable information, the Russians are swimming against the tide.

A recent missile strike on a Wagner mercenary force HQ in Popasna, for example, was delivered thanks to the incautious social media posting of a pro-Russian journalist. When he uploaded a photo on Telegram showing the base and a street sign, he inadvertently gave the Ukrainians the clues to identify its location, so that it could be targeted using GPS coordinates. 

Finally, the attack underlines the message of last week’s strike on the Saki airbase: that Crimea is well and truly in play. There is no real sense that a direct Ukrainian assault on the heavily-defended peninsula is possible in the foreseeable future. However, the relative impunity it – and the numerous bases, airfields and supply hubs there – enjoyed until recently is now a thing of the past.

None of this is to suggest that a Ukrainian victory is in any way inevitable – it is always dangerous to write Russia off as spent. However, what it does underline is the degree to the which the Ukrainians are adapting more quickly and effectively than their enemy, taking the huge amounts of western military assistance and using it in ways that maximises their own strengths and denies the Russians their own.

This is not just a matter of sheer numbers of soldiers or weight of bombardment, nor even tactics and generalship. It is a war of imagination and adaptation, and there the Ukrainians have again demonstrated their edge.

WRITTEN BY Mark Galeotti

Professor Mark Galeotti is the author of 24 books about Russia. The latest is ‘A Short History of Russia’ (2021)


  1. Ukrainians will be highly welcome teachers and guests in the better military academies, I’m sure.

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