Last weekend saw several important developments in the war in Ukraine, from strikes targeting a Crimean shipyard and a Ukrainian brigade’s medal ceremony to reports of pressure growing on Kyiv to sit down for peace talks with Moscow.
Taking a SCALP
On Saturday, Ukrainian cruise missiles rained down on a shipyard in the city of Kerch in annexed Crimea. The Russian Defence Ministry confirmed the strikes. “On 4 November, the Armed Forces of Ukraine (AFU) fired 15 cruise missiles at the Butoma shipyard in Kerch. Air defence systems shot down 13 of the missiles,” the ministry said. “A ship was struck by one enemy missile and suffered damage.” No further details were given.
Satellite images of the Butoma shipyard in Kerch before and after it was struck by the AFU. Click on the arrow in the bottom right corner to access the gallery. Photo: Skhemy (RFE/RL)
AFU Air Force Commander Mykola Oleshchuk congratulated his pilots on the strike. The attack damaged a cruise missile carrier, one of the most modern ships in Russia’s Black Sea Fleet. “Bravo, we took a SCALP!” wrote the general, referring to the SCALP missiles used.
According to Yan Matveev, a military analyst with the Anti-Corruption Foundation set up by jailed opposition politician Alexey Navalny, SCALP and possibly other missiles were used in the shipyard attack, while drones were used to divert and overburden Russian air defence systems.
“The shipyard is a legitimate military target,” reserve AFU Colonel Roman Svitan told Novaya Europe. “I also think it was struck with French SCALP missiles.”
Svitan says the missile struck the Askold, a small cruise-missile carrier with eight launchers for Kalibr and Oniks cruise missiles. According to the AFU, the ship is now out of action, and will be unable to launch missiles until it undergoes repairs.
Butoma Shipyard. Photo: Wikimapia
Bridging the gap
Svitan says that, in an excellent indicator for Kyiv, AFU missiles almost reached the vitally important Kerch Bridge, which connects the Crimean peninsula to Russia proper and serves as the main supply route for the annexed region. “Ukraine has been able to hit any target in the occupied territory ever since we first received cruise missiles,” he added.
If Russian warships continue being destroyed and damaged at recent rates, Svitan thinks Russia will have no choice but to withdraw its entire fleet from its Crimean bases.
A damaged ship in Kerch. Photo: social media
Elsewhere on Saturday, Russian forces launched a missile strike on a medal ceremony attended by members of Ukraine’s assembled 128th Mountain Assault Brigade in a village near the frontline in the Zaporizhzhia region.
The Iskander ballistic missile killed some 19 Ukrainian servicemen, the AFU later confirmed, and also injured civilians living in the area. The brigade said an inquiry had been opened.
Paying tribute in Uzhgorod to the members of the 128th Brigade killed on Saturday. Photo: Politika Strany/Telegram
Reacting to news of the strike, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said the tragedy “could have been avoided,” while Svitan blamed the deaths on retrograde thinking. “The blame lies with officers with a Soviet mindset. Some traditions, such as these ceremonies, are yet to be eradicated within the Ukrainian army.”
Svitan also believes the enemy had prior knowledge of the event and was ready to launch the missile subject to confirmation of the target from a reconnaissance drone. “Intel works well for 30–40 kilometres or more on both sides of the front. It’s naive to think that movement behind the front line can be hidden from enemy eyes.”
Disinformation or a peace plan
Since the publication of an interview AFU Commander-in-Chief Valeriy Zaluzhnyi gave to The Economist last week, there’s been increased talk in the media and on social networks of the war reaching a stalemate.
NBC News published an article on Saturday claiming that US and European officials had begun discussing the possibility of peace talks between Russia and the Ukrainian government. According to two US officials close to the discussions, initial discussions on the subject described as “delicate” took place last month during a conference attended by Ukraine’s allies.
“Biden administration officials also are worried that Ukraine is running out of forces, while Russia has a seemingly endless supply, officials said,” according to NBC. “Ukraine is also struggling with recruiting.”
According to NBC sources, NATO could offer Kyiv security guarantees without Ukraine formally joining the alliance as an incentive for Zelensky to consider peace talks, allowing Ukrainians be sure that Russia wouldn’t contemplate another invasion in the meantime.
“Rumours of ongoing talks are pure disinformation from the Special Operations Centre of the Russian Federal Security Service, which specialises in spreading false information,” Svitan cautions.
“It is clear that since 24 February last year, many politicians around the world have been thinking about how to find a way out of the ongoing conflict,” Ilya Barabanov of the BBC News Russian told Novaya-Europe.
Barabanov believes Kyiv is well aware that freezing hostilities will only allow Putin time to rebuild and attack again. As things stand, he doesn’t see the right conditions being in place for a peace treaty. “All the talk about peace negotiations is interesting, but show me at least one realistic option that would suit everyone.”
Assassination or accident
Major Hennadiy Chastyakov, an aide to Zaluzhnyi, died in a grenade explosion Monday in the village of Chaiky, outside Kyiv. Maryana Reva, a spokesperson for Ukraine’s Interior Ministry, said a 39-year-old soldier had been killed and his 13-year-old son taken to hospital with serious injuries following an incident involving the careless handling of live munition.
Zaluzhnyi confirmed news of Chastyakov’s death on his Telegram channel. “My aide and close friend, Major Hennadiy Chastyakov, died today, his birthday, under tragic circumstances, while with his family. An unknown explosive device exploded in one of his gifts,” he wrote.
Zaluzhnyi aide Chastyakov. Photo: Facebook
According to a Russian military expert speaking on condition of anonymity, “Some Russian ‘military correspondents’ have written that Chastyakov was taken out by special forces at Zelensky’s behest as competition between the president and commander-in-chief intensifies in the run-up to presidential elections. They have not, however, provided any evidence of this.”
Ukrainian Internal Affairs Minister Ihor Klymenko provided details of the preliminary investigation into the event on his Telegram channel. According to Klymenko, five more grenades were found in Chastyakov’s apartment. Police have located the serviceman who gave him the deadly gift. His office was searched and two similar grenades were confiscated.
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