This week, Ukraine claimed five Sukhoi fighters and bombers and a Russian ship carrying ammunition but retreated tactically to the east to preserve its fighting force.
During the night of December 25-26, cruise missiles were employed by Ukrainian fighter aircraft towards the Novocherkassk, a Ropucha-class landing ship situated in a port in Feodosia, which is situated on the eastern side of the Crimean peninsula.
The Ukrainian Air Force chief, Mykola Oleshchuk, posted a video of the ship exploding after the missiles hit. This indicates that the Novocherkassk was carrying munitions or weaponry that detonated.
The Russian Ministry of Defence only acknowledged that the vessel had sustained damage. Daytime satellite imagery from December 27 revealed the sunken vessel partially submerged at its berth.
“The intensity of the explosion and the nature of the detonation are evident to us.” “Thereafter, it becomes exceedingly difficult for a vessel to endure, as this detonation of munitions and not a rocket” was the reason, according to Ukrainian Air Force spokesman Yuri Ignat on Radio Free Europe.
Ukraine’s Strategic Success
Russian-installed Crimea governor Sergei Aksyonov reported via Telegram that one person had died and four were injured. The Ukrainian navy projected 80 deaths, citing claims that 77 people were on the vessel when it exploded.
The assault served as an illustration of the success Ukraine has achieved this year in targeting Russian assets from a distance, in part due to the Storm Shadow and SCALP missiles it has acquired from France and the United Kingdom, and in part due to the development of aerial and surface drones.
On the day of the Novocherkassk incident, Ukraine’s Security Service (SBU) presented the Mamai, a 110-km/h surface drone. The SBU proclaimed it “the fastest object on the Black Sea to date.” Along with the Kerch Bridge, Ukraine’s Sea Baby drones have damaged Russian boats in Sevastopol and Novorossiysk.
Achievements in the aviation conflict
Additionally, Ukraine maintained vigilance for potential opportunities to shoot down Russian aircraft that ventured too close to the front.
The Ukrainian Air Force reported downing three Russian Sukhoi-34 bombers on December 23. Two of the bombers were shot down over Odessa, while the third was aimed at the Bryansk region of Russia. Ignat, a spokesman for the Air Force, stated that the Russian glide bomb pilots were caught off guard when they attempted to fly near Ukrainian combat lines. “500-kilogram UAVs are capable of flying 20–25 kilometres away from the front lines.” Ignat stated, “When you need to strike further, you must fly closer.” “However, the invaders were caught off guard by our defenders.”
Without specifying location or method, the Ukrainian Air Force announced the following day that it had shot down a Russian Sukhoi-30 fighter. It also reported the downing of another Sukhoi-34 bomber.
Phillips O’Brien, a strategy professor at St Andrews University, wrote, “What the Ukrainians used remains unconfirmed. But the evidence points extremely strongly towards the use of Patriot anti-air missiles.” O’Brien cited an incident on May 12 in which Ukraine shot down four Russian aircraft in Russian airspace.
“Subsequently, it became clear that the Ukrainians had duped the Russians.” They had clandestinely relocated one of their newly operational Patriot batteries from Ukraine to the Kharkiv oblast border with Russia. The Ukrainians might then be able to penetrate Russia and ambush the unwary Russians.
Countering Russian Threats Effectively
Should that assessment be precise, it would elucidate the reason for Moscow’s vehement displeasure regarding Japan’s legislative amendments enabling the exportation of a Patriot system to the United States. Japan continues to decline exporting arms to a theatre of active conflict. It allows the US to ship the Patriot system to Ukraine with new capabilities.
“It cannot be ruled out that Patriot missiles will end up in Ukraine under a scheme that has already been tested,” stated Maria Zakharova, a spokesperson for the Russian foreign ministry, during a weekly briefing on December 27. The aforementioned situation would be “clearly construed as hostile actions against Russia” and would result in severe repercussions for Japan.
Ukraine has also done well defending its airspace against Russian-launched Iranian Shahed drones at night.
It shot down 154 of 177 Russian-launched drones during the week of December 21-27, representing an 87 percent kill rate. It scored a 98 percent fatality rate the week prior. Recently, Ignat reported that Ukraine has shot down 2,900 of the 3,700 drones that Russia has launched during the conflict. Both weekly kill rates exceeded the mean of 78%, indicating that Ukrainian air defences are responding.
The Ukraine’s air defences are about to be strengthened
“Today I informed President [Volodymyr] Zelenskyy of our government’s decision to prepare an initial 18 F-16 fighter aircraft for delivery to Ukraine,” caretaker prime minister Mark Rutte of the Netherlands wrote on December 22 on the social media platform X.
The deliveries date remained uncertain; however, a recent strategy document from the Estonian defence ministry stated that F-16s have been pledged to Ukraine “before the end of the year” by the Netherlands, Denmark, Norway, and Belgium.
Most of this year, Ukrainian pilots have been training in the UK, US, and Romania on F-16s.
“Mortgaging personnel to their demise”
During the ground conflict, Ukraine encountered challenges.
Maryinka, an eastern enclave of the occupied city of Donetsk, was reportedly under Russian control as of December 24. “Our assault units… have completely liberated the settlement of Maryinka today,” Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu announced in a televised meeting with Vladimir Putin.
“Most importantly, we have substantially shifted our artillery operations westward from Donetsk,” Shoigu said, thereby expanding the city’s defensive perimeter.
Ukraine maintained that it remained within the administrative boundaries of the town: A tactical decision, according to Commander-in-Chief Valery Zaluzhny, was to surrender the majority of Maryinka to save lives, with the exception of a garrison left in control of the northern portion of the community. Zaluzhny stated, “The approach is precisely the same as it was in Bakhmut. Our fighters are eliminated block by block and street by street, and then we are left with what we have.”
In contrast to the situation in Bakhmut, Ukraine chose not to contend for each and every square foot. However, similar to Mariupol, Bakhmut, Severdonetsk, and Lysychansk, which were all conquered by Russia, the battle for Maryinka was so intense that the fortifications were completely destroyed. An aerial photograph that was disseminated by Anton Gerashchenko, an adviser to the Ukrainian interior ministry, depicted the pre-war population of 10,000 in the suburb of Donetsk being reduced to the point where no structure appeared habitable. A mere one to two exterior walls remained of the majority of dwellings. Numerous structures had been devastated to their very foundations by bombing.
Russian Forces Face Challenges in Maryinka
Leaders in Russia attributed much to this accomplishment. Minister of Defence Sergei Shoigu elaborated on the challenge of penetrating heavily fortified machine-gun positions linked by subterranean passageways. He added that the 150th motorised rifle Idritsa-Berlin Order of Kutuzov division captured the Reichstag building in 1945. This division also captured Maryinka.
Nevertheless, despite Russia’s considerably superior resources, Maryinka is less than a kilometre from the pre-invasion front line in February 2022. And there are indications of Russian frustration regarding the glacial pace of its gains.
Ukrainian forces have established a minor bridgehead on the Left Bank of the Dnipro River in Kherson since the autumn. Neither the newly formed 104th Air Assault Division nor Russian marines have been able to dislodge them. During the 96th week of the conflict, Russia’s alleged use of tear gas violated international law.
Near Krynky in Kherson, the 810th Naval Infantry Brigade of Russia announced on December 23 that it had implemented a “radical change in tactics” by “dropping K-51 grenades from drones” onto Ukrainian positions.
Institute for the Study of War, based in Washington, stated that K-51 aerosol grenades are laden with irritant CS gas, a form of tear gas utilised for riot control (also known as a Riot Control Agent [RCA]). It was stated, “Since 1997, Russia has been a state party to the Chemical Weapons Convention, which prohibits the use of RCAs as a method of warfare.”
Ukraine Braces for Escalation
Ukraine is experiencing fatigue as a result of this conflict. Its parliament published a bill proposal on December 25 that would reduce the age of conscription from 27 to 25. Zelenskyy stated at a recent press conference that the military intends to augment combat capacity, replenish losses, and implement the rotation of front-line personnel by mobilising 450,000-500,000 personnel the following year.
The commander of the Ukrainian Tavria group of forces, which includes Avdiivka, Mariivka, and Robotyne, Brigadier-General Oleksandr Tarnavskyi, stated that Russia’s objective for the eastern front this year is to “at a minimum” capture Avdiivka.
“The adversary employs its strengths—human resources, minefields, and well-prepared positions—along with its readiness to ruthlessly execute its personnel,” he explained.
“I believe that the following year will possibly be even more challenging.”