So what's new militarily in regards to one of the world's least intense, but most publicized conflicts? The U.S. is sending military assets to the area, the Russians sunk one of their own ships, and if you live in Crimea you should probably invest in some noise-canceling headphones.
Here's what's going on:
- The American Guided Missile Destroyer USS Truxtun sails into the Black Sea to participate in "exercises" off of Romanian an Bulgarian shores. This event was foreshadowed in my recent piece Putin's Game Of Battleship: The Black Sea Fleet & Why It Matters. More implications of what an enhanced US Naval presence in the Black Sea could look like can also be found in that piece as well.
- The US is also sending a dozen F-16CGs from Aviano AFB in Italy to Poland for "drills." Aviano Vipers are not a rare sight in Poland, but under the current security cirdumstances I think it is clear why the better part of an entire F-16 squadron is being sent there on short notice. This is in addition to the half dozen F-15Cs from RAF Lakenheath that are currently providing augmented air sovereignty defense duties in Lithuania.
- Russia is putting on another large scale military exercise (a huge one just wrapped up on the 5th) a couple hundred miles east of the Ukrainian Border. Thousands of troops and hundreds of vehicles will be taking part in the "festivities," including upgraded fighter aircraft and Russia's notoriously feared S-300 surface to air missile system. This is especially worrisome for Ukraine as "war games" could be cover for mustering forces before an attack. Russia says this new round of exercises has nothing to do with their activities in Ukraine, then again they also say that they have no additional troops in the Crimea aside from the normal Black Sea Fleet roster. The Russians sure have a different kind of sense of humor don't they?
- Russia sunk one of its derelict warships at the mouth of where the body of water known as Donuzlav Lake connects with the Black Sea. In doing so they blocked Ukranian naval vessels from being able to move out of their own harbor.This dramatic, albeit innovative move may have been just as much of snarky retort as a strategic play by Russian forces. Apparently, earlier in the week the Admiral of Russia's Black Sea Fleet went to the Ukranian naval base and "asked" for its commanders alligence to the Russian Navy. He gave them a whole pitch about good pay and great chances for upward mobility! Basically, he was trying to get them to switch sides, and in a very cocky manner. When these commanders asked the admiral why would they do that, he said that they should do it to protect Crimea from bands of radicals. Their response was something like "there were no bands of radicals here until your forces showed up." Well I guess that did not go well with the Admiral. Days later he had the Russian Navy tow the decommissioned 570' long Cruiser "Ochakov" into the mouth of Donuzlav channel and scuttled it. Now the bay known as Donuzlav Lake is actually a lake, with the majority of Ukraine's southern fleet trapped inside.
- Apparently a Ukranian unarmed observation plane, made by Diamond Aircraft, was cruising along the Ukranian-Crimea border at about 3,000 when it was fired on from the ground. The aircraft did some evasive maneuvers and returned to base safely.
- Unmarked Mi-24 Hind attack helicopters have been flying aggressive patterns over Sevastopol to the shock of its inhabitants. Who can blame them, the only thing scarier than a Hind is a flat black Hind with no national insignia!
- Tense standoffs continue between Ukrainian and Russian forces around the Crimea. There have even been reports of exchanges of gunfire. Also, it seems that some Crimean "soldiers of fortune" have come out with firearms and military fatigues in an attempt to "backup" Russia's forces, although such acts seem more about personal conquest than a strategic necessity. On the other hand, it could just be Russian soldiers who changed into civilian like clothes for the foreign news cameras in a sad attempt to make it look like this occupation is as much a local operation as a Russian one. The video was shot at Ukraine's main air defense base in Crimea, Belbek Air Base, where dozens of MiG-29s are based. Additionally, Ukrainian sailors remain barricaded on their ships in Sevastopol, and other Ukrainian military installations in the region remain under siege.
- Finally, there are rumors that Russia's most advanced surface to air missile system, the S-400, has made its way into Crimea and is in the process of being set up as this is written. This would make absolute sense as current defenses, including those aboard the Black Sea Fleet, are less than adequate for the size of Crimea, and considering the amount of land forces Russia has deployed onto the peninsula by now, estimated at between 16,000 and 24,000. The S-400 system, which is really three separate missile systems tied together by an integrated air defense command and control architecture, would create a near impenetrable 200 mile aerial ring around Crimea that would challenge even the world's most capable air forces.
Here is some video that was said to have been shot in Crimea of an S400 system on the move:
Photo Credit: AP