Home Updates Russia-Ukraine War Satellite Images Suggest Ukraine May Face a Violent Struggle to Reclaim Crimea

Satellite Images Suggest Ukraine May Face a Violent Struggle to Reclaim Crimea

Recent satellite imagery has revealed that Russian forces are strengthening their defenses in Crimea in anticipation of a possible Ukrainian offensive to retake the territory. Analysts predict that such an operation could prove difficult and costly, given the fortified positions of Russian troops.

Ukraine may be confronted with a bloody conflict in Crimea, satellite imagery indicated

Satellite images indicate that the Russian military is strengthening its defenses in Crimea in preparation for a potential Ukrainian counterattack. According to specialists, these fortified defenses are expected to pose a significant challenge to any attempt made by Ukraine to recapture the region, which could result in a prolonged and violent conflict.

In 2014, Russia annexed Crimea, and eight years later, it launched a full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022. With the conflict continuing for over a year, Ukraine’s military and political leaders have reiterated that their objective is to restore the country’s 1991 borders, which Russia had acknowledged. The United Nations (U.N.) and all of Ukraine’s Western allies also recognize these borders, encompassing the Crimean peninsula.

Sanad news verification and monitoring unit, an Al Jazeera team, conducted an investigation that revealed that the Crimean border and adjacent regions had undergone significant fortification between February and March in preparation for an anticipated spring counteroffensive by the Ukrainian forces. The investigation uncovered the creation of an extensive network of trenches and defenses that now spans the border villages of Crimea. In addition, satellite imagery from SkySat and Planet.com showed that the Russian military had constructed and expanded several large military bases in the area during the same period.

Russian Forces Fortify Crimea Ahead of Potential Conflict with Ukraine

Satellite images captured on April 1 have uncovered a sea barrier erected by authorities in Crimea at a dock used by the Russian Black Sea Fleet located in the Sevastopol port. Additionally, the images revealed the presence of infrastructure developments and new buildings within the port area. In recent months, advertisements seeking workers to construct fortifications have been posted on Russian job sites in Crimea. Experts suggest that a shortage of manpower could be a significant factor in the trenches not yet fully functional.

After examining the photographs, Zev Faintuch, a senior intelligence analyst at Global Guardian security firm, noted that the trenches depicted in the images were partially finished. The trenches lacked complete communication trenches and needed to be interconnected, indicating that construction work was still ongoing. Faintuch further observed that the trenches in northern Crimea seemed part of Russia’s strategy to dissuade Kyiv from launching a ground attack from the north, currently the only feasible route for Ukraine to enter the region.

In southern Crimea, the construction of trenches and fortifications indicates that Russia is anticipating potential breaches of its initial line of defense along the E97 and E105 highways. Zev Faintuch, Global Guardian’s senior intelligence analyst, stated that the new defensive lines were designed to exploit the region’s topography and existing villages and towns to construct choke points along these highways.

If Russia found itself on the defensive in Crimea, it would use these choke points to impede Ukraine’s progress. Faintuch suggested that this approach was Russia’s way of giving Ukraine a taste of its own medicine, referring to the high casualties that Ukrainian forces have inflicted on Russian troops in the eastern provinces of Luhansk and Donetsk.

The operations in Crimea demonstrate strategic soundness

In September of last year, Lieutenant General Mykhailo Zabrodskyi and Valery Zaluzhnyi, Ukraine’s Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces, drafted a strategic document in which they identified Crimea as the “center of gravity” of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and as a region that could provide Russia with an enduring ability to menace Ukraine.

According to a strategy paper by Zaluzhnyi, and Zabrodskyi, Crimea has been and continues to be the foundation for the southern lines of communication in Russia’s aggressive actions. The paper stated that the peninsula provides ample space for deploying troops and transporting necessary resources. The authors suggested that it is reasonable to presume that plans are being made for a military operation or a series of operations to reclaim the territory in 2023.

The strategy paper stated that Ukraine would require 10 to 20 combined military brigades to reclaim Crimea, depending on their plan and ambition. However, due to the shortage of Soviet-era weaponry, the paper suggested that Ukraine would need to replace the major weapons of previously existing brigades with modern ones provided by Ukraine’s partners.

In late January, Western allies agreed to provide offensive weapons to Ukraine, including 258 main battle tanks and several hundred armored fighting vehicles. But these tanks would be sufficient for only three brigades in a NATO army, and only about 40 have been delivered.

Ukraine May be Confronted with a Bloody Conflict in Crimea
Ukraine May be Confronted with a Bloody Conflict in Crimea
Source: Web

Western leaders cautious about Ukraine’s Invasion of Crimea

Western leaders have been hesitant to grant permission to the Ukrainian government to launch an invasion of Crimea, despite offering military assistance to Ukraine. This reluctance is partly due to Russian President Vladimir Putin’s veiled threat of using tactical nuclear weapons in response to such an invasion. However, this cautious approach has faced criticism from some quarters.

Alexander Vindman, a former United States Army lieutenant colonel, advocated a different approach to the current “incremental escalation” between Ukraine and Russia. In February, he wrote that Ukraine would likely target more of Russia’s military infrastructure in Crimea in the coming months, preparing for a wider campaign to retake the peninsula. However, he also noted that the military assistance provided by the West was merely enough to sustain Ukraine’s fighting capacity rather than enable them to achieve victory.

Russia has also faced significant losses in its attempt to seize Donetsk and Luhansk, indicating they are not winning either. As Colonel Dale Buckner, a retired special forces commander who leads Global Guardian, stated, there may be an opportunity for Ukraine to take Crimea when Russia is weakened, and Ukraine is at its strongest. However, Colonel Buckner noted that this would require a decision not to pursue a diplomatic solution and instead take military action.

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