avatarBarry Gander

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Ukrainian Drone Strike Heralds Crunch Time For Russian Army

In an attack lasting one-and-a-half hours a large number of Ukrainian drones attacked an aircraft manufacturing factory in Russia. While good in itself, it is a harbinger of far greater destruction to Russia’s Ukrainian invasion.

It also marks the visible ending of one of the fundamental conflicts that has snagged European attention for centuries: how to contain the power of Russia behind the Bosphorus Straits.

Residents of the city of Taganrog reported the sounds of explosions and problems with electricity as air defenses began firing. People heard at least five explosions. According to eyewitnesses, drones flew in from the sea.

Officially there should not have been any explosions, according to the Russians, because they reported that 47 drones were downed. “Our air defense forces repelled a massive drone attack in Taganrog,” stated Governor Golubev.

Subsequently, Golubev reported another drone attack, stating, “Air defense units repelled another attack in the sky over the Rostov region. Several drones were destroyed on approach to Morozovsk.”

However, reports on Russian Telegram channels belied that assurance, suggesting in fact that the Beriev aircraft factory in Taganrog may indeed have been affected by the attack.

The Beriev Aircraft Company, a cornerstone of the Russian aviation industry, specializes in the design and production of amphibious aircraft. Over the decades, it has evolved to serve both civilian and military needs, producing more than 20 different aircraft models, including the A-50. Additionally, the new A-100 aircraft, offering extended airborne early-warning capabilities, is being attempted to be built there.

This latest assault, carried out by a swarm of Ukrainian Liutyi UAVs, reportedly led to the destruction of the facility. The operation signifies a notable intensification in Ukraine’s military strategy, employing kamikaze drones to inflict considerable damage on Russian military infrastructure.

The bold move by Ukrainian forces represents a significant escalation in their operational tactics, demonstrating a capacity and willingness to strike deep within Russian territory.

It is also reported that drones attacked Tagmet, a Taganrog metallurgical plant.

Smoke from the attack emerges at the metallurgical plant.

Rumor has it that the Ukrainians are using a new type of drone, with a bigger payload and lower altitude. Impervious to small arms.

There are also videos taken by local residents that show explosions; their sound in impressive.

Explosions rock the seaside port.

Golubev said that an emergency crewperson was injured while engaged in eliminating the consequences of the drone raid. What the “consequences” were, he did not elaborate.

The speaker of the Ukrainian Volunteer Army–South, chairman of the Public Council at the Odesa Regional Administration Serhii Bratchuk said that the Ukrainian special services had conducted a successful special operation in Taganrog: “Tonight, the Ukrainian special services carried out a successful operation with the use of UAVs, and were struck by the PJSC Beriev Aircraft Company in the city of Taganrog.”

The distance from Ukraine to Taganrog is about 290 km, well within range of Ukrainian drones.

An interesting aspect of the Ukrainian attack is the Russian claim that the drones came in by sea.

The Sea of Azov is a strange body of water. Its salinity is so low that parts of it freeze during the winter, necessitating the use of icebreakers for harbor access. It is shallow, so winds can create waves that can reach 3 metres, and in fact create “standing waves” of a metre in height for an hour or more. It is a harder body of water to navigate than a glance at a map would have you believe.

Ukraine’s drones have been rolling up the Russian naval lines for months, advancing their attacks from the south coast of Ukraine in the Black Sea to the Kerch Strait, which links the Black Sea and the more northerly Sea of Azov. In the latest reported strike, Ukrainian naval drones actually attacked the Sergei Kotov patrol ship in the Strait itself. The strike evidently killed seven members of the Russian crew and injured six others, while 52 were rescued.

This marks another successful use of Ukraine’s domestically produced Magura drones, the uncrewed boats that have become a death-knell for the Russian navy. They have taken out some 20% of the Russian navy in the Black Sea. Just last month, the drones sank Russia’s Caesar Kunikov amphibious landing ship and the Ivanovets missile corvette. The Russian military hasn’t acknowledged those losses, either, but they have been reported by Russian military bloggers.

The aerial drones must have been carried by sea drones, which would mark another first for Ukraine. Another possibility is the use of rockets from the Ukrainian drone boats. We know that this capability exists because a group of Russian naval vessels came out on one occasion to chase away the Ukrainian sea drones, and were instead fired on by rockets.

The Sea Baby drones from Ukraine are also armed with unguided RPV-16 thermobaric rocket launchers.

The Taganrog attack marks another level in Ukraine’s capability and Russia’s weakness.

The strikes have forced the Russian navy to take precautions that have affected its operations, including relocating some of its ships from ports in Crimea farther east to Novorossiysk to better protect them. Russian military bloggers reported that the head of the Black Sea fleet, Adm. Viktor Sokolov, was dismissed last month following the latest losses of warships.

For the first time, Ukrainian drones have navigated what was hitherto a ‘Russian lake’, and have struck a target at the upper end of that sea.

This was obviously bad news for the target, but even worse news for the overall Russian campaign.

Russia has been assuming all along that it could supply its armies in the south.

This is where we have to take a bit of a side-trip to Robotyne.

Ukrainian drones could close off Russian supply lines from Robetyne (Red) or from the flanks at the Sea of Azov or the Ukraine land lines from Robetyne to Krynky (Blue).

Russian military traffic to supply all the armies south of Mariupol where the Sea of Azov prevents a direct road connection from the East, is restricted to the corridor the Russians captured in their surprise assault two years ago. It has a width of less than 100 km across. The only other access is by bridge over the Kerch Strait, which is already under constant threat of demolition by Ukraine. Earlier this week it was closed again, for example, with the reassuring message “those on the bridge and in the inspection area are asked to remain calm and follow the instructions of transport security officers.” Not to worry. We got this. We’re Russians…

Ukrainian drones could close down Russia’s entire military operation in the southern two-thirds of the occupied territories, including Ukraine, now that they are in the Sea of Azov.

The bleakness of the Western commentariat’s recent output is striking — Ukraine’s counteroffensive has made little progress, they say. Major US news outlets cite intelligence agencies opining that things are “grim” and that hopes are fading that Ukraine can reach its (supposed) objective of Melitopol, more than 50 miles away.

This is simply wrong. Military planners apply military math and see something very different. They know that to crush the Russian army and strangle the troops in frontline fortifications, they don’t need to advance 50 miles. The line at Robotyne and matching access from the coast anywhere from Mariupol south will do it.

That way, they can bring Russia’s ground line of communication (GLOC) under their control and ultimately turn it off.

In this regard, back in August 2023, the liberation by Ukraine’s troops of Robotyne, some 90km (around 55 miles) from the Sea of Azov, was a major accomplishment given the enormous efforts of the Russian invaders to fortify and hold it.

If Ukraine can interdict these road and rail links, it’s very hard to see how the Russian army can continue to fight. And if the drones are able to use the Sea of Azov as they wide-open launch-pads, then they cannot be stopped.

On the Robotyne flank the Ukrainian M142 High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS) and the M270 Multiple Launch Rocket Systems (MLRS), whose reach is about 80km-90km, and later its 155 mm artillery with a range of over 40km, can achieve indirect control as well.

Russia’s GLOC does not run along the sands of the Azov Sea’s shores but rather inland and, therefore, an increasingly narrow corridor that is vulnerable Ukraine’s technological advances with drone innovation.

Russia knows this and has continuously attacked Robotyne, with increasingly desperate measures. The latest attack yesterday used quad bikes, which were supposed to be able to rush quickly over the broken ground. They were slaughtered.

Ukraine knows the value of this village.

The attack on the Russian supply lines from the land and sea will take time to become effective; it will not result in an immediate withdrawal of Russian troops. But their condition will become increasingly desperate, and their ability to withstand Ukrainian assaults will be drained away.

There will come a time when they will in fact collapse suddenly, or Russia will ask for a settlement.

Because all of its forces south of Mariupol are hostages eating their way to their own surrender.

And fate has signalled its possibility by flagging the Ukrainian drone strike on Taganrog.

That coast is yours no longer, Putin.

It — and your entire southern army — belongs to Ukraine.

If that sounds unbelievable, remember how unreal it was when the Russians pulled back from Kiev at the start of the war. And the abandonment of the Kharkiv region. War is defined by moments of unbelievable development.

What this Ukrainian “squeeze” capability means, is that the more troops Russia has in and below that ‘windpipe’ along the Sea of Azov throat, the faster its surrender will occur. Hundreds of thousands of troops are a hostage if they are starving.

Satellite technology gives Ukraine an edge in this kind of ‘positioning’ war. A supply line for only a few troops is easy to hide, but for half-a-million soldiers you need huge convoys and large trains. The Ukrainian drone operators will have a field day.

Remains of a drone in Taganrog.

If the Russian troops in the southern half of their conquered territory are forced to abandon the field because of drones hiding in the sea, it will certainly be a military first.

These weapons are automated, and still need human control over the final part of their mission (usually).

But with the rise of AI, you could certainly see a day when robots, hiding in the ground or underwater, could force the surrender of large armies and the collapse of nations.

Admittedly that is a long reach from one attack in the northern reaches of a frozen sea.

It does, however, follow today’s pattern of technology, which shrinks power into smaller and smaller ‘grain sizes’, so that large nations no longer have as much of an advantage as small nations or even regions.

Not to mention the fear that some lunatic will seize control of the robots and wreak havoc for no sane reason.

Back to the present: it is enough of a shock to realize how far Ukraine has come in so short a time, that it could challenge the mega-power with just courage and drones.

This challenge has profound consequences for Europe and in fact the global balance of power.

As he wrote in his book about the First World War — “The Sleepwalkers: How Europe Went To War In 1914” — Christopher Clark noted that “The problem of the [Bosphorus] Straits — which is another way of describing the problem of containing Russian power in the eastern Mediterranean — would remain one of the constants of the modern European system…In the 1850s, a concert of powers had emerged to contain Russian predations against the Ottoman Empire — the result was the Crimean War. This grouping had reconstituted itself in different form after the Russo-Turkish War at the Conference of Berlin in 1878 and had regrouped during the Bulgarian crises of the mid-1880s.”

Then the great powers began to focus on tensions among themselves, and could no longer help the Ottoman Empire contain Russian expansion. The concert of powers against Russian access to the Mediterranean was nowhere to be seen.

A transition of profound significance was taking place: Britain was gradually withdrawing from its century-long commitment to bottle the Russians into the Black Sea by sustaining the integrity of the Ottoman Empire.

We sometimes forget the role that Britain has played in containing Russia’s expansion. From the Middle East through Afghanistan and on to Asia, Britain and her agencies played “the great game” against Russian power.

It was the sudden start of WWI that diverted Russian attention. Then Russia went through decades of civil strife and revolution, only re-emerging as a naval presence in the mid-1960’s. By then, modern Turkey had also emerged, as had the American interest in containing Russian expansion.

Now, there emerges this new entity called “Ukraine”.

It is a Western power right on the coast of Russia, within the Black Sea.

Russia is no longer a threat to Europe, especially not through the Black and Mediterranean Seas.

With its drones, Ukraine is scuttling Russian ambition to own the Sea of Azov, the Black Sea, and unlimited access to the Mediterranean Sea.

It may not be though of in these terms yet in the capitals of Europe, but what they are doing by sustaining Ukraine would be perfectly acceptable to the great diplomats of old: Bismark, Palmerston, Franz Josef and their peers. From the mists of history, we can imagine them nodding their heads in approval.

So: Go Ukraine!

This will be a saga for the ages!

Russia
Ukraine
Drones
Europe
Politics
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