Attacks in Crimea reveal Ukraine’s new strategy: Defense Minister

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KYIV – Ukraine hopes a new strategy of attacking key military targets deep in Russian-occupied territory will undermine Moscow’s ability to hold the front lines ahead of a possible Ukrainian counteroffensive to reclaim territory, Ukrainian Defense Minister said on Wednesday.

Ukrainian conventional forces lack the weapons and ammunition needed to launch a full-scale ground offensive to retake territory from the Russians, Oleksii Reznikov said in an interview. He said he expected sufficient quantities to eventually be delivered in line with commitments already made by Ukraine’s western partners.

In the meantime, Ukraine seeks to erode Russia’s military capabilities by attacking its most sensitive military installations from within.

“We use a strategy to ruin their stocks, ruin their depots, ruin their headquarters, the commander’s quarters,” he said. “It’s our response to their meat grinder tactics.”

To that end, Ukraine is activating a “resistance force” under the command of Ukrainian special forces to carry out attacks far behind Russian lines, Reznikov said. The force was formed in January under a law passed last year and has been activated in recent weeks on Russian-held Ukrainian territory.

Some spectacular explosions in the Russian-occupied Crimean Peninsula over the past week drew attention to the emerging strategy and the role of Ukrainian special forces in implementing it. Ukrainian officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, told the Washington Post that those forces were responsible for explosions in Crimea, at a Russian air base last week and at an ammunition depot and air base on Tuesday.

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Reznikov reiterated the Ukrainian government’s official position that he can neither confirm nor deny Ukraine’s involvement in the Crimean attacks. But hitting such targets is part of Ukraine’s current military strategy, and Ukraine lacks weapons systems with the range needed to hit targets in Crimea from Ukrainian-held territory, he said. declared.

Crimea is Russia’s main supply route for arms and ammunition reaching the front lines through the strip of southern Ukraine that was occupied by Russian troops in the early days of the invasion. It is also used as a base for warplanes launching missile attacks on Ukrainian cities, making it a valid military target, he said.

“They have their depots full of ammunition in Crimea and they deliver it to southern Ukraine, on the mainland. So we have to destroy them, as we did in the Kyiv campaign, to cut their logistical lines,” he said. He was referring to how Ukrainian forces disrupted Russian supply lines and eventually forced Russia to withdraw from the Kyiv region in the first weeks of the war.

Until last week, Russian troops – and even beach tourists – had assumed they were safe in Crimea, which was occupied and annexed by Russia in 2014, because it was beyond the reach of the existing arsenal of Ukraine. Ukraine was seeking longer-range weapons from the United States, but US officials balked, fearing Ukraine could use them to attack Russian territory and possibly start a wider war.

But Ukraine is not using US-supplied weapons in the attacks, mitigating potential fears in Washington that Ukrainian attacks on Crimea, which Russia considers Russian territory, could lead to a escalation.

“For our American partners, this is quite a convenient situation, because we did not use American weapons,” Reznikov said.

However, Ukraine’s Western allies were involved in training the special forces responsible for the attacks, said Mikhail Podolyak, an adviser to the Defense Ministry. NATO partners provided trainers to show Ukrainians how to operate behind Russian lines, he said.

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He and other officials call the new strategy “disoccupation.” Podolyak said his aim was to counter the Russian “shock fist” strategy of slow advances on the ground, using artillery to pulverize towns and villages, then advancing only after soldiers and civilians were forced to flee.

The main targets, he said, are ammunition and fuel warehouses and headquarters housing Russian officers who command frontline troops. By hitting them, he said, “we break active operational support and bleed the Russian army”.

Podolyak said the strategy also includes the US High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems (HIMARS) delivered by the United States beginning in late June. They are used to hit similar targets but are limited by their maximum range of 50 miles.

They nevertheless played a major role in recent weeks, blunting Russian advances in the eastern Donbass region which is currently at the center of the Russian military offensive. Since their arrival, the HIMARS have been used to destroy ammunition depots and command and control headquarters positioned behind Russian lines that were previously out of reach.

Fighting in Crimea will further hamper Russia’s ability to sustain military operations in the south of the country, and especially in the Kherson region, which Ukraine has indicated will be the first target of a counter-offensive. , said Reznikov. The HIMARS have already managed to disrupt Russian supply lines to the city of Kherson, which depend on just three bridges over the Dnieper that have been heavily bombarded by high-precision rocket systems in recent weeks.

During Wednesday’s attack, Ukrainian media reported that at least 10 Russian soldiers were killed in an attack on a Russian command post in Nova Kakhovka, a town located on one of the key bridges. The reports do not specify which weapon was used.

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