Aug 23, 2023
After capturing Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula in February 2014, the Russian armed forces established a major missile base on Cape Tarkhankut in western Crimea.
There, the Russians deployed an S-400 surface-to-air missile battery, a battery armed with Bastion anti-ship cruise missiles and a suite of radars including a Podlet K1 and potentially others.
Assisted by the Podlet, the S-400 battery could threaten aerial targets as far away as 250 miles—covering the entire western Black Sea—while the Bastion could hit ships at a distance of 190 miles or so. A Bastion also can strike targets on land.
It’s not unfair to call the Cape Tarkhankut site the linchpin of Russian air and naval defenses across the Black Sea and Crimea. Which is why, on Wednesday, the Ukrainian armed forces blew it up.
We don’t know exactly what happened, but we do know this: around 10:00 A.M. on Wednesday, local time, a series of explosions rocked the cape. It’s possible the Ukrainian air force hit the Russian base with Storm Shadow cruise missiles or S-200 ballistic missiles. It also is possible drones or saboteurs were responsible.
Petro Andriushchenko, advisor to the exiled Ukrainian mayor of Russian-occupied Mariupol, claimed the Bastion battery was hit. Ukrainian intelligence added that the S-400 battery and its crew was wiped out, too. It’s hard to imagine the Podlet K1 and other large radars on the peninsula escaped attention.
“This is a painful blow to the air-defense system of the occupiers, which will have a serious impact on further events in the occupied Crimea,” the intelligence agency stated.
It’s the clear objective of Ukraine’s 10-week-old counteroffensive to drive the 50 miles from the front line to the Black Sea in occupied southern Ukraine and sever the land links between Russia and Crimea, leaving the Russian occupiers on the peninsula dependent on vulnerable ships and aircraft for resupply.
In cutting off the garrison, the Ukrainians could begin starving it—setting favorable conditions for the eventual liberation of Crimea. Ideally, Ukraine would liberate Crimea “without a fight,” Ukrainian defense minister Oleksii Reznikov has said.
But that only would be possible with a virtual blockade of the Russian garrison—a blockade Russia’s air and naval defenses on the peninsula are supposed to prevent. With the destruction of a key missile and radar site, the blockade becomes more feasible.
Ukrainian strikes on Russian positions in Crimea are escalating, with explosives-laden drone boats swarming Russian naval bases and aerial drones, Storm Shadows and S-200s plucking at Russian air bases, logistical facilities and bridges.
Expect these raids to escalate even further as Russian air and naval defenses—themselves targets of Ukraine’s drones and missiles—unravel.