While the battle at the front is at a standstill, Ukraine remains determined to hit the Russian army behind the lines. The claimed ‘destruction’ of the ultra-modern warship Askold is the latest success of the Ukrainian campaign against the Russian occupation of Crimea.
It was the commander of the Ukrainian Air Force, General Mykola Oleshchuk, who thanked his pilots on Telegram on Saturday “for the successful attacks with cruise missiles on the infrastructure of the Zaliv shipyard in Kerch, where one of the most modern ships of the Russian Navy was stationed ”. “I hope that the next ship follows the fate of the Moskva!”, he said in a reference to the flagship of the Russian Black Sea Fleet that sank in April 2022 after a Ukrainian missile attack.
Oleshchuk’s claim was supported by images that residents captured of rockets flying overhead, and later of a fire near the shipyard. Russia confirmed an attack had taken place and said Ukraine had fired 15 cruise missiles, of which it said 13 could be shot down. Moscow did not provide any further information about the extent of the damage at the shipyard.
A day after the attack, satellite images emerged showing an impact on a ship. However, the exact extent of the damage only became clear on Monday evening, when surveillance camera footage emerged showing a total of three different rocket hits on a ship moored at the quay. A photo of the completely destroyed side of a vessel was also shared by both Russian and Ukrainian war bloggers. Although the ship did not sink, it was in any case severely damaged.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky confirmed the success of the attack in a video message on Monday evening. “I thank everyone who contributed to the destruction of the Russian vessel in the Kerch shipyard,” he stated during his daily message on social media. According to Zelensky, the affected ship is the Askold, a brand new corvette that was only launched in September 2021 and would not officially enter service with the Russian Black Sea Fleet until this fall. The relatively small warship of 67 meters long was built to, among other things, fire Kalibr cruise missiles from the sea.
Air raid campaign
Crimea was illegally annexed by Russia in 2014, but President Zelensky has repeatedly said he is determined to regain the territory. By land, that ambition still seems too high for the time being given the limited territorial gains achieved by the Ukrainian counter-offensive in recent months.
But that does not mean that Ukraine will leave the peninsula untouched. For months, the country has been conducting an airstrike campaign to eliminate key Russian military targets. For example, this summer the air force was able to hit the headquarters of the Russian Black Sea Fleet in Sevastopol, as well as a submarine and landing ship in the dry docks of the port city. Ukraine also managed to disable several S400 anti-aircraft systems – the most modern in Russian service – with a combination of drone and missile attacks. At the same time, Ukrainian special forces landed on the western coast of Crimea to carry out secret missions there.
For Ukraine, these attacks have multiple goals, even if they do not directly affect developments at the front elsewhere in the country. They weaken the Russian military’s ability to hit Ukrainian cities with cruise missiles it launches from its warships in the Black Sea. Russia was also forced to move several ships further east, including towards the port of Novorossiysk. That, in turn, allowed Ukraine to once again operate cargo and grain ships in the Black Sea to and from its ports without fear of Russian attacks.
Air Force Commander Oleshchuk gave a clear hint in his Telegram message on Saturday as to which weapon his pilots had used in the attack. According to him, the Russians had “suffered the Scalp”, referring to the French Scalp EC long-range missiles with a range of 550 kilometers that Ukraine has been using for several months. On Tuesday morning, the Ukrainian Ministry of Defense confirmed the deployment of the Scalp EG on X. The United Kingdom also supplied these missiles that are fired by aircraft, but under the English name Storm Shadow.
With the latest hit, the Ukrainian army seems to want to send another important signal to Russia: the front may be stuck, but that does not in any way mean that Ukraine is giving up. Even more: thanks to long-range weapons from the West, the country is able to hit the entire territory of Crimea.
The Kerch shipyard is located in the far east of the region, more than 250 kilometers from the front, and it is the first time that Ukraine has been able to carry out a missile attack so far into Crimea. The shipyard is also only 10 kilometers from the Kerch Bridge towards the Russian mainland. That bridge – the most important prestige project for Russian President Putin in the region since the annexation – has already been hit twice by explosives, but never before by rockets.