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Crimea becomes death trap for Kremlin troops – The Economist

Monday, 3 June 2024, 09:58
Crimea becomes death trap for Kremlin troops – The Economist

The receipt of American ATACMS ballistic missiles with a range of 300 km means that Ukraine can now hit any target in Russian-occupied Crimea with deadly force, writes The Economist.

Source: The Economist

Quote: "(US President Joe − ed.) Biden has still to lift his ban on hitting targets elsewhere in Russia. What Ukraine could have achieved if it no longer had to fight with its hand tied behind its back is evidenced by the effectiveness of its campaign in Crimea.


According to Ben Hodges, a former commander of American forces in Europe and a senior adviser to NATO on logistics, the Ukrainians are ‘systematically in the process of making Ukraine uninhabitable for Russian forces’."

Details: The Economist emphasises that Kremlin leader Vladimir Putin has invested huge amounts of money in military infrastructure in Crimea, and now it is under threat. 

UK strategist Professor Sir Lawrence Freedman says Crimea is a weak point for Russia − it has too much to defend there, so this is "the best way for Ukraine to put real pressure on Mr Putin in order to extract concessions in the future."


Nico Lange, a former adviser to the German defence ministry, agrees with Freedman's thoughts, pointing out that Crimea is "Russia’s most vital asset, but it is also very vulnerable."

The Economist emphasises that Ukraine is trying to make Crimea a liability for Putin, not an asset. The goal is to isolate the peninsula, "strangle" it as a logistics centre, and thus drive Russian air and sea forces away from the south of Ukraine.

The Economist notes that Ukraine has already demonstrated the ability of Franco-British Storm Shadow/SCALP cruise missiles, as well as its own naval drones, to target Russian warships, in particular the large Ropucha landing ships, which are used as military transport vessels and most of which have been destroyed.

The Economist also emphasises that Ukrainian drones and missiles may have disabled up to half of the once formidable Black Sea Fleet. The rest of the Russian fleet has been forced to relocate from Sevastopol to the port of Novorossiysk, located more than 300 km away on the Russian mainland. Novorossiysk itself was attacked by sea and air drones on 17 May. At that time, a railway station, power plant, and the naval base were damaged.

"But now Ukraine is using a deadly combination of ATACMS and increasingly sophisticated drones to systematically degrade Russian air defences in Crimea, hit air-bases from which Russian interceptors fly and strike critical logistics and economic targets. Sir Lawrence says that the focus on crippling Russia’s air-defence network may also be part of the preparation for the imminent arrival of the first batches of f-16 fighter jets from Europe," writes The Economist.

The publication mentions the strikes on Dzhankoi airbase in the north-east of Crimea on 17 April, when helicopters, an S-400 battery and a command-and-control centre were damaged, and on Belbek airfield near Sevastopol on 15 May, when Ukrainian forces destroyed four aircraft, as well as an S-400 air defence radar and at least two launchers.

"The following evening Belbek was hit again, an indication that Ukraine has at its disposal rather more than the 100 or so ATACMS thought to have been donated," the Economist writes.

On 30 May, two Russian patrol boats were destroyed and two transport ferries near the Crimean (Kerch) Bridge were damaged as a result of separate drone strikes.

"Significantly, Russia’s much-vaunted and very expensive S-400 air-defence system has been found wanting. Mr Lange says the Ukrainians are using decoy drones to make the Russians light up their radars and reveal their positions. The targeting data is immediately fed to the ATACMS launch crews. Within six minutes the missiles, virtually undetectable because of their speed and low radar cross-section, are hitting their targets. General Hodges notes that the S-400s are also vulnerable to sabotage by Ukrainian special forces operating inside Crimea.  Each battery costs about US$200 million, and they are not easily replaceable," the publication writes.

General Hodges says Russian troops have "no place to hide". With the help of satellite and aerial reconnaissance provided by NATO allies, their in-depth knowledge of the territory and covert forces on the ground, nothing can move in Crimea without the Ukrainians having knowledge of it. With the arrival of the ATACMS system and the improvements in its own drones, every square metre of the peninsula is within reach, including time-sensitive targets such as convoys of aircraft and equipment moving along roads or railways.

General Hodges is also confident that the Ukrainians will "take down the Kerch Bridge when they are ready."

However, destroying a new, improved railway line running along the Azov Sea from Russia’s Rostov through the southern Ukrainian cities of Mariupol and Berdiansk to Crimea could be potentially more difficult.

Dmytro Pletenchuk, spokesperson for the Defence Forces of Ukraine's South, believes that the railway along the land corridor is a recognition from the Russian occupiers that the Crimean (Kerch) Bridge is destined to be destroyed.

"They are looking for a way to hedge their bets because they are aware that sooner or later, they will have a problem," Pletenchuk said.

The Economist notes that the first test of the strategic success of the Ukrainian campaign in Crimea may be this summer, when Russian holidaymakers usually go through the Crimean (Kerch) Bridge to the peninsula's resorts. If holidaymakers decide not to go to the peninsula, it will be a bad sign for Putin.

This is because Crimea depends mainly on the tourism industry, and last year, the number of bookings decreased by almost half.

"Crimea has been turned from being a prestige project to a drain on Russian resources," says Ben Barry of the International Institute for Strategic Studies.

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