The Ukrainian military is pressing on with its large-scale counteroffensive in the Donbas and southern Ukraine.
Over the past few days, progress has been slow, mainly due to the extensive Russian fortifications.
Minefields, anti-tank obstacles, trenches, artillery, drones, and a concentration of forces are allowing the Russian military to put up a skillful defense against the ambitious Ukrainians.
After the first three weeks of the counteroffensive, the goals of the Ukrainian leadership are becoming clearer. The Ukrainian military is looking to push toward the Sea of Azov and drive a wedge between the Russian forces in the south and in the northeast. Then, the Ukrainian forces will be able to tackle each front individually and also bring their fearsome long-range fires closer to the Russian logistics lines.
But such a move, the Russians are warning, would have consequences.
Fear of the HIMARS
On Tuesday, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu stated that Russia has intelligence about upcoming Ukrainian long-range strikes against Russian positions on the Crimean Peninsula. The Russian defense minister said in a meeting with military officials that his forces are anticipating Ukrainian attacks with HIMARS and Storm Shadow missiles on the annexed Peninsula as part of the Ukrainian counteroffensive.
“The use of these missiles outside the zone of our special military operation would mean that the United States and Britain would be fully dragged into the conflict and would entail immediate strikes on decision-making centers in Ukraine,” the Russian defense minister said.
But how credible are Shoigu’s threats?
Empty Threats and a Caveat
In reality, Shoigu’s threats likely amount to nothing more than scare tactics and big talk for domestic consumption.
To begin with, the M142 High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS) can’t reach the Crimean Peninsula as of now. The Ukrainian forces would have to achieve an operational breakthrough and advance toward Crimea for the M142 HIMARS to be in range of Russian positions on the Peninsula.
It is a different story with the Storm Shadow cruise missile. The Ukrainians have already used it to strike targets that were beyond their reach until recently. On Monday, for example, a Ukrainian Storm Shadow munition likely destroyed an extensive Russian ammunition storage facility very close to Crimea.
Attacks on Crimea wouldn’t be something new. The Ukrainian forces have repeatedly struck Russian units and bases on the annexed Peninsula with different methods, including suicide drones, special operations forces, and stand-off munitions.
In addition, the Russian military has already been striking “decision-making centers” in Ukraine. Since October, the Kremlin has launched more than 1,600 ballistic and cruise missiles and thousands of suicide drones against Ukrainian cities. So, Shoigu’s threat is really nothing new.
What could be new, however, is the nuclear option. Russian President Vladimir Putin and the Kremlin have repeatedly indicated that they would consider using a tactical nuclear weapon if Russia’s territorial integrity is threatened. And although illegally annexed in 2014, Crimea is considered Russian by the Kremlin.
A 19FortyFive Defense and National Security Columnist, Stavros Atlamazoglou is a seasoned defense journalist specializing in special operations, a Hellenic Army veteran (national service with the 575th Marine Battalion and Army HQ), and a Johns Hopkins University graduate. He is currently working towards a Master’s Degree in Strategy, Cybersecurity, and Intelligence at the Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS). His work has been featured in Business Insider, Sandboxx, and SOFREP.