There’s a vehicle park, in Novostepne a mile south of Dzhankoi in Russian-occupied northern Crimea, where Russian forces fighting in southern Ukraine send their damaged vehicles for repair.
On Monday, it exploded. According to Russian sources, a British-made Storm Shadow cruise missile, fired by a Ukrainian air force Sukhoi Su-24 bomber, was responsible for the blast.
How many vehicles were at the site at the moment of the Ukrainian strike is unclear. How many vehicles the strike destroyed also is unclear.
In the best-case scenario for Ukraine, a single cruise missile may have destroyed a hundred or more vehicles, inflicting nearly as much damage on Russian forces as the entire Ukrainian southern command has inflicted in the seven weeks since it launched its long-anticipated counteroffensive in Zaporizhzhia and Donetsk Oblasts.
Even the worst-case scenario for Ukraine—minimal vehicle losses in Novostepne—still is good news. The strike at the very least should compel the Russians to disperse their logistical infrastructure in southern Ukraine, which would disrupt and slow vehicle repairs.
A huge smoke engulfed the entire area according to residents of Crimea, the first evidence of the Monday strike. Russian sources soon confirmed the Ukrainian attack.
“Su-24 aircraft of the Ukrainian air force fired four Storm Shadow cruise missiles,” Mikhail Sergeevich Zvinchuk, a Russian author who writes under the name “Rybar,”
Three of the missiles targeted an ammunition depot near Vil’ne, 10 miles south of Dzhankoi. The other zeroed in on Novostepne. “All four hit their targets,” Zvinchuk wrote.
The number of vehicles in Novostepne has varied across the 17 months of Russia’s wider war on Ukraine, but a year ago there were hundreds at the repair facility. Satellite imagery from August 2022 shows tanks, fighting vehicles, and trucks parked track to track, wheel to wheel.
A direct hit on a tank or fighting vehicle by a 1.5-ton Storm Shadow would, at the very least, destroy or badly damage that vehicle and any other vehicles for hundreds of yards in all directions.
If some of the vehicles had live ammunition onboard, a chain reaction was possible. To understand how devastating that could be, consider the accidental fire that triggered a series of ammunition explosions at a U.S. Army vehicle park in Doha, Kuwait in July 1991. Among the dead are four M 1 Tanks.
The analysts at the independent Conflict Intelligence Team noted the absence of secondary explosions in Novostepne—a possible sign there was no chain reaction.
In any event, the strike is an ominous sign for the Russians. The Ukrainian air force has dozens of warplanes and enough Storm Shadows and similar French-made SCALP cruise missiles to continue striking at Russian depots in Crimea, and across occupied Ukraine, indefinitely.
No vehicle park is safe, not even one under the protection of air-defense units. The stealthy cruise missiles, which range as far as 155 miles, have proved extremely difficult to intercept.
Fearful of the Ukrainian military’s fast-improving deep-strike capabilities—rockets, drones, and now cruise missiles—the Kremlin last year began shifting its depots farther from the front line.
That had the effect of “forcing the [armed forces of Ukraine] to start targeting known depots located farther back,” CIT. Novostepne is 90 miles from the front line. Not nearly far enough to protect it from a Storm Shadow launched by a Su-24 flying a safe distance inside Ukrainian lines.
The Russian field armies in southern Ukraine could pull back their big depots even farther—perhaps concentrating them in southern Crimea. That might reduce the Storm Shadow threat, but it can’t eliminate it.
The Ukrainian air force proved it could operate over the western Black Sea when, last year, it mounted a sustained bombing campaign targeting Russian troops on Snake Island, 80 miles south of the free port of Odesa.
Snake Island is fewer than a hundred miles from Crimea. A cruise-missile-armed Su-24 flying over the western Black Sea can hit targets anywhere in Crimea.
The Kremlin could disperse its repair bases instead of merely moving them—reducing the overall risk by presenting the Ukrainians with more, and smaller, targets. But inasmuch as logistics benefits from scale, this dispersal would come at the cost of efficiency. Fewer vehicles were repaired slower.
Either way, the Ukrainians win and the Russians lose. Ukraine’s cruise missiles are making it harder for Russia to keep its brigades in southern Ukraine fully equipped.