In recent days, Ukrainian defense officials have increasingly suggested targeting Russian military targets in Crimea, which deputy chairman of the Russian Security Council Dmitry Medvedev threatened would result in a “doomsday” for Ukraine. There has been particular hype around Ukraine targeting Crimea after Ukrainian Minister of Defense Oleksii Reznikov said that he was confident that the United States would supply MGM-140 ATACMS missiles for their recently supplied M142 HIMARS, which have a range of 300 km. So far there has not been any indications of this being a done deal, however, Reznikov’s statement has been frequently misquoted to suggest it is.
On Tuesday, Ukrainian Deputy Minister of Defense Volodymyr Gavrilov told the Times that Ukraine will target Russia’s Black Sea Fleet and attempt to regain control of Crimea, but is waiting to receive more anti-ship weapons from western allies. He also said that because they do not consider Crimea, which was annexed by Russia in 2014, to be Russian territory, “any targets there are legal for us.” This statement in particular is likely in reference to HIMARS, as Reznikov previously stated that the systems would not be used against targets in Russian territory.
Considering Crimea as a legitimate target was also echoed by Spokesman for Ukraine’s Main Intelligence Directorate, Vadym Skybitskyi, who stated on Saturday that Crimea is “one of the targets that must be hit in order to ensure the safety of our citizens, our facilities and Ukraine in general.”
“Today, the Crimean peninsula has become simply a hub for the transfer of all equipment and weapons that goes from the Russian Federation to the southern regions of our country,” Skybitskyi said, adding that “you see how actively the Black Sea Fleet of the Russian Federation is currently used to launch missile strikes on our territory. First of all, these are Caliber systems, frigates, small missile ships, submarines, which are constantly on combat duty, waiting for commands, and then launch launches, regardless of the time of day.”
Since the outbreak of the invasion, Crimea has been a vital logistical hub and transportation route for Russian ground and naval operations in Ukraine’s south and the Black Sea. Crimea is home to the Sevastopol Naval Base. Formerly Ukraine’s main naval repair and command facility, the base has become a hub for Black Sea Fleet operations. Crimea has also been used to launch Kalibr cruise K-300P Bastion-P missiles at targets in southern Ukraine. Likewise the Crimean Bridge, a dual use road and railway over the Kerch Strait, has been vital to Russia’s war efforts in supplying forces along the southern axis. Ukrainian military officials have previously threatened to strike the bridge, once they have the proper weapons to do so.
This is where the ATACMS missiles come into play again. If supplied by the United States, Ukraine will have the capabilities of striking any separatist or Russian held territory in Ukraine, as well as the entirety of Crimea. The United States has supplied weapons on the condition it would not be used “offensively” against Russian targets in Russian territory, but this again raises the question of whether or not Crimea would be a legitimate target. Russian military officials have increasingly given priority in targeting HIMARS, according to the Russian Ministry of Defense, which have targeted numerous ammunition depots and control centers in the past two weeks.