While reports are still coming in, there are claims that Ukrainian forces have recaptured a cluster of highly important oil and gas drilling platforms in the northwestern Black Sea. According to the Ukrainian intelligence services, the so-called Boika Towers are now back under Ukrainian control, although, at this stage, this cannot be independently verified.
According to Ukrainian state broadcaster Suspilne, citing the Ukrainian intelligence services, a special operation succeeded in retaking the Boika Towers. The platforms have been in Russian hands since 2015 — soon after the annexation of Crimea and long before the full-scale invasion of Ukraine launched in February 2022.
However, since the full-scale invasion, the towers, which sit between Crimea and Snake Island, were put to use by Russia for military purposes, including as landing pads for helicopters and to station radio communications and surveillance equipment. The position of the platforms makes them ideal for monitoring maritime activity off western Ukraine. This has become even more important to Russia as it enacts a blockade on Ukrainian shipping and has to keep an eye out for approaching threats from Ukrainian shores in the form of frogmen in small boats and kamikaze drone boats.
The raid on the Boika Towers is said to have been carried out by the units of the Main Directorate of Intelligence of the Ministry of Defense of Ukraine. As well as recapturing the towers themselves, the operation is said to have yielded a stock of helicopter-launched rockets and an example of the Neva radar system used to track naval movements in the northwestern Black Sea.
An official video released by Ukrainian military intelligence shows Ukrainian special forces aboard small, high-speed rigid-hull inflatable boats (RHIBs), at least one of them armed with a pair of heavy machine guns, racing toward the platforms, which are then scaled. There is no obvious resistance, at least in the video, which also includes footage apparently taken by an aerial drone.
With its tiny navy, the apparent Ukrainian success in this operation is all the more remarkable. There are even accounts that Russia employed Su-30SM Flanker multirole fighters against the Ukrainian special forces boats, but still failed to stop them, with one of the Russian jets claimed as damaged. Again, these reports cannot be independently verified, but we will watch further developments concerning them with great interest.
More formally known as the Chornomorneftegaz drilling rigs, these are located about 43 miles south of Odesa and were purchased by Ukraine in 2011–2012, in what was a widely-derided deal. The rigs became known as the Boika Towers after the former Energy Minister Yuriy Boika.
As we reported at the time, the platforms came under previous attack, in June of last year, with at least one being reported as damaged. Ukrainian sources said aircraft were responsible for the attack, while Russian media reported that the attack was carried out by long-range fires.
Back then, Russian officials promised that the defenses for the platforms would be reinforced. “Protection of important facilities in Crimea after an attack by Ukraine on the drilling rigs of Chornomorneftegaz will be strengthened,” said Olga Kovitidi, the senator from occupied Crimea, according to the Telegram channel of Russian state media outlet TASS.
Whatever the details of the reported capture of the platforms, there is no doubt that the waters around Crimea, and in the wider Black Sea, have become a critical crucible in the conflict, with an increasingly complex campaign being waged now not only involving special operators, warships, and aircraft, but also explosives-laden drones both in the air and at sea.
Before we head into the latest news from Ukraine, The War Zone readers can catch up on our previous rolling coverage here.
In a further sign of the deepening relationship between Moscow and Pyongyang that is being played out on the sidelines of the war in Ukraine, it was confirmed today that North Korean leader Kim Jong Un will visit Russia for a meeting with President Vladimir Putin “in the coming days.” The announcement came in a joint statement from the Kremlin and North Korean state news and there are suggestions that Kim is already underway to Russia.
Citing unidentified government sources in Seoul, reports in the South Korean media indicate that Kim’s armored train may have already departed Pyongyang. A train fitting this description is said to have crossed North Korea’s north-eastern border today and is now likely headed to the port city of Vladivostok in the Russian Far East. Putin is already in Vladivostok to take part in the Eastern Economic Forum (EEF).
Reuters reports that there is currently a higher-than-usual police presence in Vladivostok but, as yet no sign of the North Korean flags that would confirm a state visit.
King Jong Un has only visited Russia once before — also spending time in Vladivostok — back in 2019.
News of the visit follows an earlier report from the White House suggesting that a secret deal under which artillery ammunition will be delivered from North Korea to Russia is “actively advancing.” The supply of much-needed ammunition for the Russian offensive in Ukraine appears to have been negotiated during a previous visit to North Korea by Russian Minister of Defense Sergei Shoigu visited North Korea last month to “try to convince Pyongyang to sell artillery ammunition to Russia,” Kirby said.
White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby told reporters late last month that Putin and Kim “have exchanged letters, pledging to increase their bilateral cooperation.”
U.S. officials have previously accused North Korea of covertly providing Russia with arms, including artillery shells supplied to the Russian mercenary group Wagner. Russian and North Korean officials have repeatedly denied such claims.
At this stage, it’s unclear what topics Kim and Putin will discuss, although the artillery ammunition transfer will likely be at the top of the agenda, with the possibility that Moscow may also seek to secure other weapons and military support from what is fast becoming a closer military ally.
Whether directly related or not, in Ukraine today, Andriy Yermak, head of the office of the Ukrainian presidency, took to social media channels with an impassioned call for stricter sanctions against Russia, to help prevent further arms deliveries.
Yermak posted the following on Telegram:
“Our task is to make these zombies [Russian soldiers] fight with spears against modern weapons. The more [they] spend efforts on killing, the stronger the sanctions should be against the military industry, energy, and all sectors that provide the enemy with missiles and attack UAVs. Quantity is always destroyed by quality.”
Meanwhile, South Korea has said it’s stepping up its own support to Ukraine. Yesterday, South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol said that the country would provide an additional $2 billion in aid to Kyiv starting in 2025. Seoul had previously pledged $300 million to Ukraine for 2024.
The drone war continues unabated over both Ukrainian and Russian territory.
According to the Russian Ministry of Defense, its air defense units shot down a single Ukrainian drone over the Kursk region of western Russia. This development was first reported by Russia’s state-run RIA Novosti news agency.
To the immediate south of the Kursk region, Belgorod oblast was apparently also targeted by Ukrainian drones. Here, the Russian Ministry of Defense claims it shot down two such drones in the early hours of Monday. Vyacheslav Gladkov, the governor of the Belgorod region, said in a statement on Telegram that there were no injuries.
Meanwhile, Ukraine’s Dnipropetrovsk oblast came under Russian attack overnight, according to regional governor Serhiy Lysak, on Telegram. There were no casualties in the region, Lysak said, although some residential buildings and gas pipes had been damaged. “The enemy attacked the Dnipropetrovsk region with attack drones, guided missiles from tactical aircraft, and artillery,” he added. The same source claimed that Ukrainian air defense units had shot down 11 Iranian-designed Shahed drones over the region.
In the Ukrainian capital and the surrounding region yesterday, authorities claimed that local air defenses had shot down 25 out of 32 Shahed drones launched by Russia in the latest wave of drones directed against Kyiv and its environs. Reuters reports that witnesses heard at least five blasts across Kyiv yesterday, while videos on social media showed damage to cars in the capital. “Drones came on to the capital in groups and from different directions,” Serhiy Popko, the head of Kyiv’s city military administration, said on Telegram.
Once again, there have been reports that the ongoing drone war has spilled over into neighboring countries, in this case, NATO member Romania.
Local authorities report that fragments of a Russian drone were found on Romanian territory, after an apparent failed attack on a target in Ukraine. The Romanian Foreign Ministry has made a complaint to the head of Russia’s mission in Bucharest. Romanian government minister Iulian Fota described the incident as a violation of Romania’s airspace — the second of its kind in the space of just a week.
On the ground, the Kherson oblast in southern Ukraine is seeing extensive fighting at present. The city of Kherson itself, as well as coastal areas of the region, have come under Russian artillery attack, according to Ukrainian state broadcaster Suspilne, citing Ukrainian officials.
With Russian forces occupying a strategic position on the left bank of the Dnipro River, they are able to strike the city of Kherson and surrounding areas. Sandwiched between Ukrainian-held and Russian-occupied portions of the region, the city is regularly shaken by explosions and an air raid alert was declared there today.
Further to the east, in the Russian-occupied region of Donetsk, there are reports that Ukrainian forces have transferred considerable amounts of military equipment to the city of Avdiivka, in the center of the region, just north of the city of Donetsk itself.
Yan Gagin, adviser to the acting head of the Russian-controlled Donetsk region, told the Russian state-run news agency TASS that “A large amount of NATO equipment, heavy weapons, and a large number of Ukrainian Armed Forces personnel have now been transferred there. The enemy is preparing attacks in the Donetsk direction.”
Gagin added that the intensity of fighting in this sector has already increased.
While the location of the following video is unconfirmed, it provides a remarkably visceral example of the intensity of the combat in the counter-offensive. It records an improbable escape for one Ukrainian soldier from a projectile fired by a Russian BMP-3 series tracked infantry fighting vehicle. The unusual main gun of the BMP-3 is a 100mm caliber 2A70, a low-pressure rifled cannon that can fire high-explosive fragmentation projectiles as well as anti-tank guided missiles. Whatever round was involved, it was certainly terrifyingly close.
Another unusual armored fighting vehicle involved in the conflict is the French-made AMX-10RC, a wheeled reconnaissance vehicle that is sometimes described as a ‘wheeled gun’ or even a ‘light tank,’ on account of its 105mm main gun. Regardless, the following video shows a Ukrainian-operated AMX-10RC in action, although the date and location are presently unknown.
Overall, there are again some differing accounts of Ukraine’s progress in the ongoing counteroffensive in the south and east of the country.
Speaking to the BBC, Gen. Mark Milley, Chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, said the next hurdle for Ukraine may well be the changing weather. America’s highest-ranking military officer predicted there are “probably about 30 to 45 days’ worth of fighting weather left” before winter starts to set in and the terrain becomes much harder to deal with.
Gen Milley said: “That offensive kicked off about 90 days ago. It has gone slower than the planners anticipated. But that is a difference between what Clausewitz called war on paper and real war. So these are real people in real vehicles that are fighting through real minefields, and there’s real death and destruction, and there’s real friction.”
Some more confident words were recently issued by Kyrylo Budanov, Ukraine’s head of military intelligence. Speaking at the Yalta European Strategy Forum in Kyiv yesterday, Budanov notes that Ukrainian forces still have an advantage over their adversary, in terms of tactics: “In terms of creativity and flexibility, we still have an edge over them, they are rather outdated. But they are adapting, they are trying to change tactics, to alter the way they use forces, they miserably fail with their strategy, but their tactics do have some improvements.”
In one example of Russian tactics backfiring badly, this video — and accompanying radio conversations — purport to show a unit of the Russian Armed Forces opening fire with artillery on their own positions, from back in July.
Meanwhile, U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Victoria Nuland has said that she has been “impressed” by the advances made in the Ukrainian counteroffensive so far.
Reflecting on the challenge of confronting Russia’s highly entrenched and well-protected defensive positions, Nuland said: “We need to understand what Ukraine needs to clear these defenses, and we cannot do that until Ukraine confronts the defenses.”
What Ukraine may well need is more heavy weapons, something that the country’s newly appointed minister of defense, Rustem Umerov referred to in a speech over the weekend.
“We are grateful for all the support provided [but] we need more heavy weapons,” Umerov said.
With Umerov’s comments on heavy weapons in mind, there was some good news for Ukraine today from Berlin.
Germany is set to double the number of Marder tracked infantry fighting vehicles that it has committed to Ukraine after defense contractor Rheinmetall reached an agreement to deliver another 40 examples.
Rheinmetall is acting on behalf of the German government and although the precise value of the order has not been announced, the company says it’s worth “a high double-digit million-euro amount.”
An official German Armed Forces video showing its Marder IFVs in action:
After overhauling these vehicles, which have already been removed from German service, the latest batch of Marders is planned for delivery starting before the end of the year.
In March 2023, Rheinmetall shipped to Ukraine the first batch of 20 Marders ordered by the German government. A follow-on order for another 20 of the IFVs was placed in June 2023. These are currently being overhauled and delivered.
All of the vehicles being sent are Marder 1A3 versions, Rheinmetall says. The company describes the Marder as “among the most reliable weapons systems of its kind anywhere. Steadily modernized, the vehicle has undergone repeated combat upgrades in the course of its career.”
You can read more about the Marder in this previous War Zone feature.
Prior to the full-scale Russian invasion of Ukraine, Rheinmetall was reported to still have stocks of around 250 Marder 1A3 vehicles available for sale — and upgrade.
The development coincided with German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock’s surprise visit to Kyiv this morning. Baerbock reiterated her support for Ukraine joining the European Union in the future and said that the country can “rely on us and on our understanding of EU enlargement as a necessary geopolitical consequence of Russia’s war.”
Now on to heavy weapons from the Russian side. Below is our best look so far at the new anti-drone measures incorporated in the latest modification of the T-80BV main battle tank, namely the Obr. 2023 version. As well as adding the Volnorez counter-drone electronic warfare system, the modification appears to be similar to the type of more sophisticated ‘cope cages’ that were a prominent feature at the Army-2023 defense exhibition, held outside Moscow, earlier this summer, and which you can read more about here.
Almost every available surface of the turret is meanwhile fitted with explosive reactive armor (ERA) bricks. While the cope cage provides a physical barrier, ERA works by detonating, creating a counter-blast that can defend against attacks by armor-penetrating weapons, before the incoming weapon can penetrate the tank. You can read more about this development here. Suffice it to say, the detonation of any one of the ERA bricks could also result in the Volnorez system (as well as turret-mounted smoke grenade launchers) being put out of action.
A Russian armor modification of another kind, now, with a video of a truly bizarre adaptation of the MT-LB tracked multi-purpose armored vehicle, in this case, armed with a pair of 25mm cannons, of a type usually installed on warships in a 2M-3 gun mount. Exhibiting serious stability issues as a result of the vibration, it remains very unclear to what degree this ‘Frankenstein vehicle’ might actually be an effective weapon against targets beyond wide area suppressive fire.
Tanks have, of course, been extensively employed by both sides in the conflict, but the number of tank-versus-tank encounters that have been seen in available videos has been fairly limited. This is a reflection of the kind of armored warfare being waged, with tanks frequently being used more for breakthrough operations in close support of infantry and even as mobile artillery against a range of other targets. In this next example, however, we get a good look at a German-made Leopard 2A6 main battle tank engaging a pair of Russian tanks, at what is said to be a range of around 1 mile or more.
To finish the latest update from Ukraine, another example of the kind of low-level flying that has become a trademark of the high-intensity air war, one in which tactical jets and helicopters frequently have to run the gauntlet of some fearsome ground-based air defense systems. In this case, a pair of rocket-armed Ukrainian Army Aviation Mi-24 Hind assault helicopters are seen popping flares during a low-level attack run, purportedly in the Zaporizhzhia oblast in southeast Ukraine. At several points in the video, the rotorcraft are so low that their infrared decoys barely have time to serve their purpose before they hit the ground.
That’s it for now. We’ll update this story when there’s more news to report about Ukraine.
Contact the author: email@example.com