From Jamie Peipon: Sometimes writing these updates feels like writing the same story over and over again. Other days entire paradigms seem to shift in a moment. This morning, a paradigm seems to have been so radically altered that it can’t even be described as a “shift.” I’ve written about the war’s southern theater, the counteroffensive in Kherson, and how attention seems to be largely shifting from the eastern region to the south. Today, Ukraine appears to have successfully attacked a military airport a bit further south than anyone expected: Crimea. Details have been trickling in all day and lots of details remain unclear… but it seems likely that that smoke you see rising in the picture above is the result of the greatest single-day loss in the history of the Russian air force.
A brief review: Crimea is Ukraine. It was invaded eight years ago at the beginning of this war and was officially annexed by Russia not long after. The international community, however, still recognizes that Crimea belongs to Ukraine. The exceptions are the usual suspects (e.g. North Korea, Cuba, Syria, Afghanistan, and other such beacons of freedom and champions of international order, peace, and cooperation). The peninsula is startingly beautiful: sandy beaches, pebble beaches, blue water, mountains, resort cities, remote areas. Crimea is where Dasha and I celebrated our honeymoon. Crimea is Ukraine.
A satellite happened to be drifting by, orbiting over the airport near the Crimean city of Saki which captured aerial images available to the public. Those pictures were taken hours before the attack. Open-source intelligence acquired them and has counted approximately 37 jets and 6 helicopters being present. Some were spread out, and others were bunched together. We still don’t know exactly how many of these planes were damaged, but the explosions were significant enough that windows were blown out of buildings about a kilometer away. With that being the case, and with additional images of destroyed Russian planes from the tarmac being released it seems likely that many of those planes will not be flying anytime soon.
The reason, however, that this alters the complexion of the war so fundamentally is not because of the planes damaged. We don’t actually have full confirmation on all of that damage. The bigger news is actually that the target of the attack is over 200 kilometers from the closest Ukrainian-held territory.
This was a region that was considered “safe” but is suddenly no longer so. This area was considered so secure that much of the footage of the clouds of smoke was released by panicked Russian vacationers out on the beach. There are now huge sections of occupied territory in which no Russian soldier will sleep well tonight.
Seeing this precision and success from this range is a not only a new reality for the war, it is also a psychological blow to soldiers and civilians alike. The famous “Crimean Bridge” that Russia built on the eastern side of the peninsula is reportedly backed up for miles as the last taste of summer holidays has been suddenly cut short and people are abandoning the area as quickly as possible (pictured above).
There is a great deal of speculation about how this was accomplished. At this point, there is no confirmed information. The NY Times quoted a Ukrainian source saying that it was “a device exclusively of Ukrainian manufacture.” Many others assume it was the long-range HIMARS ammunition Ukraine has been asking for. Russian officials have basically said, “Nothing to see here,” and have said no planes were damaged (contrary to clear photographic evidence). The general propaganda line is that someone must have gone out for a smoke near something combustible.
In President Zelenskyy’s statement this evening, he said, “Russia’s war against Ukraine began with the occupation of Crimea, and it will end with liberation of Crimea.” Today was a huge step in what has seemed to be that very improbable direction.
“Too long have I had my dwelling
among those who hate peace.
I am for peace,
but when I speak, they are for war!”