Ukraine Situation Report: Huge Storm’s Impact On Russian Defenses

A massive cyclonic storm that hit the Black Sea area Monday is a vivid illustration of how weather effects combat operations. With wind speeds of up to 90 mph, it was the equivalent of a Category 1 hurricane. The storm’s impact could allow Ukraine to exploit gaps that emerge, even if temporarily, in air and port defenses, sea surveillance, among others. Major logistical disruptions to the war effort are also a given.

Roman Vilfand, the head of Russia’s national meteorological service, told RIA Novosti that a similar storm hit the region in November 1854 during the Crimean War and sank at least 30 ships, The Associated Press reported

Another immediate concern for Russia is that the storm apparently wiped out trenches and other defensive lines it has been building up in Crimea. The full extent of the damage, however, won’t be known until after the storm subsides.

Official Russian governmental Telegram channels have discussed widespread damage only to civilian facilities across Crimea and southern Russia. However, given the ferocity of the winds and the damage seen in Sevastopol and other regions of Crimea, there have to be concerns as well about the air defenses and radars set up across the peninsula in addition to the defensive lines created. These systems can be relocated and some are hardened to a degree, but gaps will likely exist in the immediate aftermath of such a severe weather event, if not over a longer term. Ukraine has been attacking these assets repeatedly to improve the success of its long-range missile and drones strikes for months prior to the storm

While the storm has also affected Ukrainian logistics, the Kremlin-connected Rybar Telegram channel on Monday raised another worry for Russia.

“In Ukraine, dozens of roads in the Odessa, Kyiv, Kherson and Nikolaev regions were blocked due to a large amount of snow, which will affect the logistics capabilities of the Ukrainian Armed Forces,” Rybar noted. “However, the consequences of the natural disaster will also affect Russian defense: the enemy will try to attack Crimea with surface drones, since the booms could have been damaged by a strong storm.”

As we have noted in the past, Sevastopol, home of the Black Sea Fleet, increased its defenses dramatically after repeated seaborne attacks. Russia has constructed multiple boom obstacles across the mouth of Sevastopol harbor as part of a layered sea, land, and air defense concept. You can see that in action in this video below from the aforementioned USV attack in March.

Russia also installed a system of sunken barges to protect the Kerch Bridge, hit by Sea Baby uncrewed surface vessels (USVs) on July 17 (more on that later).

Satellite imagery appears to show that due to recent storms that hit Crimea, these defenses have been removed or washed away.

It is unknown at the moment the status of the Russian maritime defenses in either Sevastopol or near the Kerch Bridge.

The resort city of Sochi, where Russian President Vladimir Putin often visits, was also slammed by the storm as giant waves pushed in from the Black Sea.

The storm also damaged the rail lines there, causing delays in passenger and freight train traffic. That’s at least a temporary hit to Russian logistics, which relies heavily on rail transportation, especially during the winter months when many roads become harder to navigate.

The wide scale destruction caused by this storm will likely cost Russia billions of dollars and months, if not years, to repair. This is a boon for Ukraine in several ways. Russian defensive lines, installations and equipment have likely been damaged or at least adversely affected in a temporary manner. Visual evidence, as we noted above, as already emerged of the effect on Russian logistics in terms of damaged rail lines.

We’ll know more in the coming days as the weather settles and satellites capture the results of this storm and more imagery emerged online. But clearly, this is good news for Ukraine.

Before we head into the latest updates from Ukraine, The War Zone readers can catch up on our previous rolling coverage here.

The Latest

On the battlefield, the Russians continue to strike around Avdiivka in Donetsk Oblast. The Ukrainian Defense Ministry (MoD) said that Russians conducted 24 unsuccessful assaults in the area Monday. The Russian MoD did not specifically address Avdiivka.

The Russian losses from its assaults there continue to mount, as you can see in this video below showing nearly two dozen destroyed vehicles in a crater-pocked hellscape near the embattled Donetsk Oblast city.

A Bradley Fighting Vehicle was seen in this video below operating near the Avdiivka Coke Plant, a key tactical strongpoint given its buildings, walls and other structures.

Elsewhere on the battlefield, here are some key takeaways from the latest Institute for the Study of War assessment:

  • Russian forces reportedly complained about the vulnerability of Russian ground lines of communication (GLOCs) in the east (left) bank of Kherson Oblast amid continued complaints about weak Russian capabilities on the east bank.
  • Russian forces continued attacks along the Kupyansk-Svatove-Kreminna line, near Bakhmut, near Avdiivka, west and southwest of Donetsk City, in the Donetsk-Zaporizhia Oblast border area, and in western Zaporizhia Oblast and advanced in some areas.

Mother Nature wasn’t the only force raining havoc on power supplies in Russian-occupied portions of Ukraine.

A large-scale Ukrainian attack damaged the Starobeshevo Thermal Power Plant in Donetsk Oblast, the Ateo Breaking news outlet reported on Telegram. The attack damaged the region’s power grid, head of the so-called Donetsk People’s Republic (DNR), Denis Pushilin, said on Telegram Sunday.

“At night, the enemy tried to damage the region’s power grid,” he said. “Unfortunately, due to the massiveness of the attacks, not everything was shot down. Damage is recorded, as a result of which part of the territory of the Donetsk People’s Republic was de-energized. Some cities and regions of the Republic were left without electricity. As a result, a number of boiler houses are not supplying heat, and emergency crews are working. The government has been instructed to carry out work at headquarters level.”

The situation “is not easy, but by this time the power engineers had already restored power supply in a number of settlements, work continues, everything possible is being done to return light and heat to our citizens as soon as possible,” Pushilin added.

A day after Russia launched its largest drone attack against Ukraine, Kyiv struck back with a “mass attack by drones” inside Russia on Sunday, according to Moscow Mayor Sergey Sobyanin, per the official Russian RIA Novosti news outlet’s Telegram channel.

“According to him, drones flying towards Moscow were shot down in the Naro-Fominsk area and the Odintsovo urban district of the Moscow region, and air defense intercepted and destroyed several drones in the Bryansk, Tula and Kaluga regions,” RIA Novosti reported. “According to preliminary data, there were no casualties or serious damage.”

Moscow Region Governor Andrey Vorobyov offered an updated take on his Telegram.

“Tonight, five UAVs were intercepted by air defense forces of the Ministry of Defense over four municipalities of the Moscow region: in Naro-Fominsk, Odintsovo, Ramensky and Podolsk urban districts,” he said. “In three cases there was damage to buildings on the ground; fortunately, there were no deaths or injuries. On the ground, municipal leaders will head operational headquarters and provide assistance to residents where necessary. I ask everyone to remain calm.”

There was also a reported Ukrainian drone attack in Tula, about 100 miles south of Moscow.

“A Ukrainian Armed Forces drone crashed into a residential high-rise building in Tula,” the Russian MASH media outlet reported on Telegram. “According to our information, ite flew into an apartment on the 12th floor of a building on Khvorostukhina Street. One person was injured – he had a foot injury. The children living on the floor below also asked for help – they were scared. Emergency services are on the scene. All residents are being evacuated from the building right now.”

As we previously noted, there had been a months-long lull in high-volume, long-range Ukrainian drone strikes into Russia. That peculiar move was possibly due to Ukraine conserving its assets to conduct counter attacks after Russia opened up its long-range drone campaign against Ukrainian power infrastructure during the cold winter months. Following the first major onslaught on over the weekend by Russia, that pause has seemingly ended.

Repeated attacks by Ukraine on Russia’s advanced S-400 air defense systems appears to be causing Moscow to move systems from its Kaliningrad enclave, according to the U.K. Defense Ministry.

“Exceptional Russian air transport movements through November 2023 suggest that Russia has likely moved strategic air defense systems from its Baltic coast enclave of Kaliningrad, to backfill recent losses on the Ukraine front,” the U.K. MoD stated. “This follows an uptick in losses of SA-21 [S-400] air defense systems in Russian-occupied Ukraine in late October 2023.”

Moving these systems from Kaliningrad, bordered on three sides by NATO member states, “highlights the overstretch the war has caused for some of Russia’s key, modern capabilities,” the U.K. MoD said.

Turkish exports of goods to Russia that Moscow uses for military production have spiked in 2023, exacerbating concerns about sanctions circumvention, the Financial Times reported Monday.

Turkey recorded $158 million in exports of 45 goods like microchips, marked by the U.S. as “high priority,” to Russia and five “former Soviet countries” suspected of serving as intermediaries for Moscow over the first nine months of 2023, the outlet noted.

This was three times the number recorded over the same period last year. The average figure for 2015-21 was $28 million, according to the Times’ analysis.

In a documentary released Friday, the head of Ukraine’s SBU security service Vasyl Maliuk released new details about the July 17 attack on the Kerch Bridge using Sea Baby uncrewed surface vessels. You can read more about them in our report here.

Maliuk said the drones were designed to take out the bridge pillars. There were five Sea Baby USVs involved, with two leading as scouts. The drones were to approach the bridge at 2 a.m., a strategic time given the shorter stretch of darkness in July. There was also an attempt to hit a target of opportunity, the Admiral Grigorovich class frigate Admiral Essen, which was considered high value. However, the Admiral Essen slipped into port before it could be attacked and the three Sea Baby USVs self-destructed near Yalta.

The two drones that hit the bridge damaged six to eight struts, Maliuk said.

The documentary also revealed the general route, a roughly 400 mile trek across the Black Sea starting south of Odessa.

A new documentary laid out the route Ukrainian Sea Baby unscrewed surface vessels took to attack the Kerch Bridge July 17.

The documentary brought up other details about Ukrainian operations as well. For instance, the SBU relies heavily on Russians taking videos and still images of military facilities and equipment in Crimea that is then used to help target those things, the SBU said.

You can watch the entire documentary in this video below.

Russia’s long focus on electronic warfare (EW) is paying off, The Economist reports.

The Russians, according to the publication, are downing 2,000 Ukrainian drones a week via EW, the publication reported.

“Russia, says Seth Jones of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a think-tank in Washington, has for many years placed a ‘huge focus’ on using its military-industrial complex to produce and develop an impressive range of EW capabilities to counter NATO’s highly networked systems,” the publication nation reported Monday. “But Ukraine, according to its commander-in-chief, General Valery Zaluzhny, found itself at the beginning of the war with mainly Soviet-era EW systems. Initially the discrepancy had only limited impact, but as relatively static lines of contact have emerged Russia has been able to position its formidable EW assets where they can have the greatest effect.”

Speaking of EW, the Russians say they recently conducted a demonstration of a jamming system installed on one of its T-80BV tanks that prevented drones from working within a five-meter range. That range is unlike to effect drones that drop munitions from much further away. They could, however, affect First Person View (FPV) drones, already degraded at low altitude, as they try to strike moving targets.

You can see the dangers Ukrainian drones present to Russian equipment, and how little five meters would matter, in this video highlight reel compiled by the 93rd Mechanized Brigade.

The AZOV brigade also showcased its FPV drone efforts against a Russian truck and two armored vehicles – a Typhoon-K armored car and a Tiger combat vehicle.

Ukrainian paratroopers showed off one of their French-donated 155mm CAESAR wheeled self-propelled howitzers, flexing their muscles as one of the shells heads downrange, all set to the soundtrack from Good Morning, Vietnam.

More images of the U.S.-donated M1 Abrams main battle tank reportedly in Ukraine have emerged on social media. All 31 Abrams promised by the U.S. arrived in Ukraine last month, the Pentagon said.

It is unclear from these two images below when or where they were taken or even if they were the same tank. However, given the appearance of the ground and trees in each, it seems like they could have been taken in different locations.

Ukrainian tanks, carrying troops aboard, are seen rumbling through the snow through an unidentified location in this video below. Though the video is undated, the presence of snow would indicate that it is fairly recent.

More than a year ago, Russia announced plans to “modernize” 800 T-62M tanks for service in Ukraine. An image of at least one of those, in Russian-occupied Luhansk Oblast, has emerged for the first time on social media. It reportedly features Relikt Explosive Reactive Armor (ERA) and PNM-T/Sosna-U gunner’s sight among its improvements.

The Russian soldier seen in this video below complained that 120mm mortars received from a factory in Russia did not have enough explosive charges to reach their maximum 9 km range. While previous deliveries of those mortars each had nine propellant charges, about 200 from this particular factory had only four.

And finally, ancient Scythian artifacts from museums in Russian-occupied Crimea have been returned to Ukraine after a legal dispute over ownership rights, the Guardian reported. During that time, the artifacts spent almost a decade in the Netherlands, a Ukrainian museum has said.

More than a thousand artifacts, including a solid gold Scythian helmet and golden neck ornament, were on loan to Amsterdam’s Allard Pierson Museum when Russian troops seized and annexed the peninsula in 2014. Both Ukraine and the museums located on the Moscow-controlled territory claimed ownership rights when the exhibition ended.

That’s it for now. We’ll update this story when there’s more news to report about Ukraine.

Contact the author:

Howard Altman Avatar

Howard Altman

Senior Staff Writer

Howard is a Senior Staff Writer for The War Zone, and a former Senior Managing Editor for Military Times. Prior to this, he covered military affairs for the Tampa Bay Times as a Senior Writer. Howard’s work has appeared in various publications including Yahoo News, RealClearDefense, and Air Force Times.