PICTURED: a HIMARS launches its payload on White Sands Missile Resting Range, U.S. in 2005.
KYIV, Ukraine. July 19th, 2022. In a confrontational turn, the Deputy Defense Ministry of Ukraine has said they will begin using U.S.-provided weapons to attack Russian warships in the Black Sea in what would certainly be the highest escalatory move yet between NATO and the Russian Federation.
“We have a permanent threat from the Russian Black Sea fleet. Given the new technologies and capabilities we receive, we have to address this threat,” Minister Volodymyr Havrylov said. “We are receiving anti-ship capabilities and sooner or later we will target the fleet. It is inevitable because we have to guarantee security to our people”.
The new technologies referred to by Havrylov are the High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems (HIMARS), a truck-mounted multiple rocket launcher manufactured by Lockheed Martin, one of three sophisticated Western missile systems provided by NATO since the conflict between Russia and Ukraine began.
Already, U.S. and Danish provided Harpoon missile launchers have been used alongside U.S. targeting intelligence to sink the flagship of the Russian Black Sea fleet, the Moskva, in April, and a Russian tugboat attempting to delivery weapons to Snake Island in June.
Aside from being the highest-value target the Ukrainians could attack, with each military vessel lost representing billions of dollars in combat capabilities and national pride besides, Ukrainian and U.S. officials have suggested the HIMARS could be used to bomb targets inside Crimea. the peninsula in south-east Ukraine which Russia annexed in a bloodless coup de main in 2014.
“Sooner or later we will have enough resources to target Russia in the Black Sea and Crimea. Crimea is Ukrainian territory, that’s why any target there is legitimate for us,” Havrylov also told the New York Times.
When the U.S. first agreed to send the escalatory HIMARS to Ukraine, Antiwar details that they received assurances they would not be used against Russian territory; something even the Biden Administration deemed too risky.
However when asked whether this ban applied to Crimea, a State Department spokesperson told the news outlet, “Crimea is Ukraine,” adding “the United States does not and will never recognize Russia’s purported annexation of Crimea”.
Whether or not the Ukraine and United States recognize Crimea as part of Russia, recent and distant history has shown there is almost nothing that the Russian military will not risk or do to protect their only warm water naval base.
When it became clear that the government installed in Kyiv by the United States was going to try and force an end to the Russian lease on the peninsula, Vladimir Putin and Kremlin leaders acted decisively, and seized it without a shot being fired in anger. At the time that was just as much a risk of starting the current war as the West took in the January 2022 meetings with Russian leaders in which they declined to put into writing that NATO would never welcome Ukraine.
But the history of Russian risking their necks for the peninsula goes back much farther than 2014. Indeed Crimea is a little like Pearl Harbor, the site of a military tragedy, but also of resilience.
During the Crimean War between 1853 – 1856, the Russians defended their naval base of Sevastopol, which they hold still today, against a siege laid by some of the strongest empires of the period, a coalition of the French, British, and Ottoman Turks.
In the eyes of Russian historians, the war was a national tragedy, and for every drop of blood that Russian soldiers spilled defending Sevastopol for an entire year under siege, they not only lost control of the city and port, but couldn’t retake it under several counter attacks. By war’s end, nearly a million Russians had become casualties.
In the end, an unenforceable treaty signed in Paris allowed Russia to retake Crimea two decades after the war. If Crimea isn’t under Russian control, then their soldiers died for nothing in its defense.
It’s no surprise then that former Russian president Dimitri Medvedev warned of a “doomsday” response to any attacks on Crimea, which it would consider a major escalation. Just exactly on how many enemies and in what way this “doomsday” would be visited is for speculation.