David Axe


Aug 19, 2022

Explosions erupted across Russia and Russian-occupied Ukraine on Thursday night as Ukrainian forces escalated their weeks-long campaign of deep strikes on Russian logistics and airfields.

The blasts, targeting ammunition dumps, airfields and other facilities, could disrupt supply lines and air operations and further isolate Russian troops in Ukraine—especially in the south, where Kyiv has been struggling to organize a counteroffensive aimed at liberating the port of Kherson from Russian occupiers.

The strikes began around sunset. An ammo dump exploded in Timonovo, in Russia’s Belgorod Oblast 20 miles from the border with northeast Ukraine. A fire also broke out at Stary Oskol airfield in Belgorod.

Meanwhile something exploded in Nova Kakhovka on the bank of the Dnipro River 30 miles east of Kherson. It was the second time in 24 hours the Ukrainians had struck Russian facilities in the town.

Around the same time, Russian air-defenses reportedly opened fire around Belbek airport in western Crimea and near the Kerch Strait on the eastern side of the peninsula.

It’s not totally clear all the explosions were the results of Ukrainian attacks, but the locations of the blazes are consistent with Kyiv’s ongoing campaign of deep strikes. That campaign has focused on shaping the battlefield in southern Ukraine while also plucking at Russian supply hubs and airfields around Kharkiv, Ukraine’s most vulnerable free city just 25 miles from the border with Russia in the northeast.

The southern strikes coincide with a Ukrainian counteroffensive on the ground. Ukrainian battalions back in May forced their way across the Inhulets River, a natural defensive line that, for months, had separated the Russians and Ukrainians north of Kherson.

But the Ukrainians apparently didn’t advance very far beyond their river lodgments. The Russian 49th Combined Arms Army with its dozen battalions stood between the counterattackers and Kherson. And more Russian battalions arrived in July and August as the Kremlin recognized the danger to its position in the south.

While Ukraine’s tankers and infantry idled just across the Inhulets, Ukrainian gunners, rocketeers, missile crews and drone operators launched coordinated strikes on the 49th CAA’s supply lines as well as on air bases directly supporting the southern army.

Ukrainian artillery—possibly 227-millimeter rockets from High-Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems or 155-millimeter guns firing Excalibur GPS-guided shells—in late July and early August temporarily knocked out all three bridges spanning the Dnipro and Inhulets near Kherson.

Two weeks later in mid-August, the Ukrainians added airfields to their target list. An Aug. 9 attack on Saki air base in Crimea destroyed potentially dozens of Su-24 and Su-30 warplanes belonging to the Russian Black Sea Fleet. That raid bore the hallmarks of a ballistic-missile strike. Namely, wide, deep craters.

But Saki’s distance from the front—120 miles—pointed to a new kind of Ukrainian missile. The Tochka ballistic missiles that comprise the bulk of the Ukrainian army’s long-range rocket inventory normally fly no farther than 70 miles or so.

Kyiv was developing several new, longer-range rocket types when Russia widened its war on Ukraine back in late February. It’s possible some of those new rockets finally have entered service.

Commandos and partisans reportedly are responsible for some of the Ukrainian deep strikes. It’s apparent drones account for the balance. A Ukrainian unmanned aerial vehicle apparently blew up an ammunition dump at a Russian airfield near Hvardiiske in Crimea on Tuesday.

While the Ukrainian air force and navy both operate Turkish-made TB-2 armed drones, Kyvi’s robotic weapon of choice seems to be custom-made “suicide” drones hauling high-explosives. Their operators either fly them into their targets—or land them on the targets before detonating their payloads.

The Russians are keenly aware of the threat. The intensive air-defense fire on Thursday night is proof of that.

It’s obvious why Ukraine is determined to strike Russian supply lines and air bases. Russia for all its heavy losses in six months of fighting still has a numerical advantage over Ukraine when it comes to infantry, tanks, artillery and warplanes.

The Ukrainians cannot hope to match the Russians company for company, battalion for battalion, brigade for brigade—at least not when the Russian formations are adequately supported and supplied.

But if the Ukrainians can cut off the 49th CAA and other Russian armies from their supplies and air support, they could starve and weaken these units before launching a major ground assault.

That attempted strangulation got a lot tighter on Thursday night as Russian base after Russian base exploded and burned.