Ukraine Situation Report: Zelensky Vows To Up The Pressure On And Around Crimea

With drones in the air and on the sea, cruise missiles, sabotage teams, and now ATACMS, Russian-occupied Crimea remains in Kyiv’s crosshairs.

byThomas Newdick|
Zelensky President of Ukraine, speaks during a live broadcast at the 6th German-Ukrainian Business Forum of the DIHK, the Committee on Eastern European Economic Relations and the German-Ukrainian Chamber of Industry and Commerce, 2023
Photo by Kay Nietfeld/picture alliance via Getty Images
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The Ukrainian president, Volodymyr Zelensky, today warned Moscow that his forces would continue to put pressure on Russian-occupied Crimea. The peninsula has come under repeated attack by Ukraine, using a wide variety of methods, including drones, missiles, and sabotage. In recent weeks, several high-profile targets have been struck, including the Black Sea Fleet headquarters, the vital Kerch Bridge, Russian airbases, and vessels of the Black Sea Fleet itself.

“The Russian [Black Sea] Fleet is no longer able to operate in the western part of the Black Sea and is gradually fleeing from Crimea. And this is a historic achievement,” the Ukrainian president said, describing Russia’s supposed domination of Crimea and the Black Sea as an “illusion.”

“We have not yet gained full fire control over Crimea and surrounding waters, but we will,” Zelensky added. “This is a question of time.”

Zelensky’s comments came during a video address to the Crimea Platform, a security conference in Prague.

There are suggestions that Zelensky’s address to the conference was interrupted by hackers, with various technical glitches interrupting his speech. At one point, for example, his voice was modulated to a higher pitch. Meanwhile, a spokesperson for the Czech parliamentary speaker said the website for the event “had come under a hacking attack.” The culprits have not been identified.

Meanwhile, in Crimea, Russian officials say that the Black Sea Fleet was today involved in “repelling” a Ukrainian attack on Sevastopol, said to be using uncrewed surface vessels — USVs, or drone boats.

The Russian Ministry of Defense stated that its naval forces destroyed three Ukrainian USVs in the northern part of the Black Sea, off the Crimean peninsula.

“Anti-sabotage missiles and bombs hit the area where the unmanned boats were detected,” the ministry said on the Telegram messaging app. The ministry added that an anti-mining and an “anti-sabotage” operation was being carried out off the port of Sevastopol port, home to the Black Sea Fleet in Crimea and a prime target for Ukrainian operations.

Mikhail Razvozhayev, the Moscow-installed governor of Sevastopol, said it was likely a Ukrainian “underwater sabotage” attack, suggesting that uncrewed underwater vehicles, rather than USVs, may have been employed.

These Russian claims have so far not been verified and the level of damage or number of casualties is not presently clear.

Before getting into the rest of the latest news from Ukraine, The War Zone readers can get caught up with our previous rolling coverage here.

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Elsewhere, fighting continues around the eastern Ukrainian city of Avdiivka, where Russia launched a major new offensive earlier this month. While Russia has suffered heavy losses in terms of manpower and equipment, it has also committed even more personnel to the offensive.

One result appears to be the successful operation to capture a waste heap near the town. Despite the bleak optics, the success has been heralded by Russian military bloggers, reflecting the limited nature of the Russian gains in this area so far. A video showed a Russian flag atop the waste heap, together with the banner of the 114th Brigade, with the area otherwise seemingly deserted.

There is growing evidence that Russia is increasingly relying upon convicts to wage its war in Ukraine. According to an analysis from the U.K. Ministry of Defense, the Kremlin is now having “extreme difficulty” in filling the ranks of its combat infantry.

In its latest intelligence update, the ministry said that Russia is relying, to a significant degree, on penal units, known as Shtorm-Z, for local offensive operations in Ukraine.

“These company-sized groups were likely first fielded in 2022. There is a realistic possibility that Russia originally envisioned them as relatively elite organizations which could seize the tactical initiative,” the U.K. Ministry of Defense posted on X, formerly Twitter.

“However, since at least spring 2023, Shtorm-Z have effectively become penal battalions, manned with convicts and regular troops on disciplinary charges. Multiple accounts suggest the units are given the lowest priority for logistical and medical support, while repeatedly being ordered to attack.”

“Russian troops have often conducted an effective defense. However, the existence of Shtorm-Z highlights the extreme difficulty Russia has in generating combat infantry capable of conducting effective offensive operations.”

In recent weeks, we have reported on Russian efforts to boost combat personnel by using Redut, a purported private military company, now recruiting mercenaries to fight in Ukraine, as well as Serbian fighters, who are being recruited against the wishes of the government in Belgrade.

Footage of Ukrainian military aircraft in action has been widely circulated since the start of the current conflict. But videos showing any kind of guided munitions being delivered are far rarer. This makes the following all the more interesting. It shows a Ukrainian Air Force Su-27 Flanker fighter launching a radar-killing AGM-88 High-speed Anti-Radiation Missile (HARM) at a very low altitude.

Ukraine has teamed up with the German Rheinmetall arms manufacturer, creating a joint venture that will service and repair Western-made weapons provided to Kyiv. The development was announced by Ukraine’s Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal, at a German-Ukrainian Business Forum in Berlin. Most interestingly, the joint venture will also launch local production of certain key components made by Rheinmetall.

The joint venture between Rheinmetall and the state-owned Ukrainian Defense Industry JSC will bring “cooperation between our countries to a qualitatively new level and will allow us to build together the arsenal of the free world,” Shmyhal told the forum, according to Reuters.

“The first project will be repairing of German equipment, tanks, heavy armored vehicles, Panzerhaubitzers, and other German equipment. All other production projects — it’s not public information, but we have some plans what to produce in Ukraine, but the companies will announce it by themselves when the time will come,” Shmyhal added.

The plans to undertake local production should help Ukraine meet the growing demands of the war as well as establish a modern arms-manufacturing base.

One area in which Ukrainian arms producers are keeping especially busy is the manufacture of drones, including those of the kamikaze type, intended for one-way missions to strike Russian targets. So far, most of these have been airborne or naval, but the Ukrainian Ministry of Digital Transformation has released a video showing a ground-based kamikaze drone, known as the Ratel S.

According to the ministry, the Ratel S has successfully passed field tests and has now entered quantity production. The drone is reportedly capable of carrying anti-tank mines and can travel atv a speed of 15 miles per hour over a distance of 3.7 miles. The Ratel S has been developed to blow up targets including tanks and dugouts.

Ground warfare on another scale can be seen in some dramatic footage from the Kupyansk area, in the Kharkiv region of eastern Ukraine. It shows the kind of close-quarters combat that main battle tanks have been getting involved in. In this case, we see a Ukrainian T-80BV opening fire with its 125mm main gun while moving very close to the Russian positions on the treeline in front of it.

Another interesting drone video shows the apparent use of a Ukrainian first-person view (FPV) type drone, during an attack on a Russian tank. The drone in question seems to be carrying an incendiary device, which can be seen to prematurely ignite before the drone operator seems to be able to recover it and then press home an attack.

There have been various steps made to protect tanks and other armored vehicles against drone strikes, by both sides, including the so-called ‘cope cages.’ One of the less common vehicles to now sport this kind of protection against attacks from above is this Russian Armed Forces 2S9 Nona-S, a self-propelled artillery piece that carries a 120mm mortar.

The Russian foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, has met Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi in Tehran. The meeting has been seen as an important symbol of the increasing proximity between Russia and Iran, one which the United States has described as a “burgeoning defense partnership.”

Russia is increasingly reliant upon Iran to arm its forces in Ukraine and it is perhaps significant that Lavrov’s trip to Tehran came soon after he visited China and North Korea — the latter, in particular, is becoming a major supplier of arms to Russia for use against Ukraine.

Iran has supplied Shahed kamikaze drones to Russia, which have been used extensively against Ukrainian cities and infrastructure. There are also concerns that Iran may also start to deliver ballistic missiles to Russia for the same purpose.

The governor of the Kherson region, in southern Ukraine, has said that two people have been killed there due to Russian shelling, and another 14 injured.

The governor, Oleksandr Prokudin, posted to Telegram to say that Russia had launched 101 attacks against the region, firing 597 shells over the past day alone.

Prokudin said: “The Russian military targeted the residential quarters of the populated areas of the region; a critical infrastructure facility and plant in Beryslav; the territory of the park in Kherson.”

“As a result of the Russian aggression, two people died, another 14 were injured, including one child,” he added.

According to the regional military administration in the Kherson region, more than 50 windows, the roof, and the doors of a hospital were damaged in overnight shelling. It added that two women, aged 63 and 66, sustained injuries. A fire station was said to be damaged, too.

An interesting addition to the Swedish-made CV9040 infantry fighting vehicles used by Ukraine is the Barracuda multi-spectral camouflage, developed by Saab. All the CV9040s of the 93rd Mechanized Brigade seen in the video below carry Barracuda camouflage, which is designed to defeat hostile sensors and target acquisition systems by reducing the vehicle’s internal temperature. At the same time, the kit also helps cool the personnel and onboard electronic equipment.

The Ukrainian Ministry of Defense has released its latest figures on the number of Russian personnel killed since the launch of the full-scale invasion in February 2022. The invasion has taken the lives almost 300,000 Russian personnel, Ukraine claims.

In addition to 295,510 personnel killed, an increase of 810 since Monday, the Ukrainian Ministry of Defense claims that Russia has also lost 5,105 tanks, 7,081 pieces of artillery, 320 aircraft, and 9,447 vehicles and fuel tanks. It should be noted that these figures cannot currently be independently verified.

More details are coming to light about the damage to a telecommunications cable running under the Baltic Sea between Sweden and Estonia earlier this month. Sweden’s prime minister, Ulf Kristersson, has said that the damage was “purposeful”, although he stopped short of naming any culprit.

“We will not be more precise than that as of today,” Kristersson told a press conference, explaining that Swedish divers had investigated the seabed, according to the Associated Press.

A Swedish Navy spokesperson, Jimmie Adamsson, told the Swedish public broadcaster SVT that “we see seabed tracks nearby, but we don’t know if it’s deliberate or an accident.”

Sweden first reported the damage to the cable on October 17. Authorities there believe that the damage occurred at the same time as damage to an undersea gas pipeline and telecommunications cable connecting Finland and Estonia.

As to the latter damage, Finnish police say they have retrieved a large anchor from the seabed near the location where the gas pipeline ruptured. According to Reuters, investigators there think the anchor may have come from a Chinese container vessel, the NewNew Polar Bear.

The Finnish police have already concluded that said damage to the Balticconnector gas pipeline and two telecoms cables were caused by some kind of external mechanical force. However, they have not said whether they consider this to be deliberate sabotage or caused by accident.

Finland’s National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) confirmed last week that the NewNew Polar Bear had traveled above the pipeline and the cables at the time of the damage, and they now also say that the vessel has lost one of its front anchors.

The military implications are clear and the situation has alerted NATO. The alliance’s secretary general, Jens Stoltenberg, told a press conference today that member countries had:

“Tens of thousands of kilometers of internet cables, of gas pipelines over power cables, all the oil pipelines crossing the Baltic Sea, the North Sea, the Atlantic, the Mediterranean, and of course, these types of undersea critical infrastructure [are] vulnerable.”

The BM-21 Grad multiple launch rocket system (MLRS) has been widely deployed by both sides during the conflict, although Ukraine has now migrated some of the tubes from that weapon onto a much more mobile platform: the U.S.-designed HMMWV, or Humvee. The HMMWV has nine tubes for the 122mm artillery rockets mounted on a turntable at the rear.

For comparison, here is a standard Ukrainian Armed Forces BM-21, purportedly one of those donated by Poland:

Finally, while the claim cannot be verified at this stage, Russian state media is reporting that a poisoned cake was delivered to a reunion event for Russian aviators recently. The story seems to have first emerged as a rumor on the Telegram channel and claims that the cake was brought to a reunion party for a Russian aviation school by a Ukrainian man. Exactly how the hazardous nature of the cake came to light is unclear, but the report suggests that 77 Russian pilots and officers avoided being poisoned.

That is all for now. This story will be updated when there’s more news to report about Ukraine.

Contact the author: thomas@thedrive.com

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