Institute for the Study of War: More unexplained explosions in Russian-held Crimea

August 18, 2022

 

There were no claimed or assessed Russian territorial gains in Ukraine on August 18, 2022 for the first time since July 6, 2022.[1] Russian and Ukrainian sources did not claim any new territorial gains on August 18. However, Russian forces still conducted limited and unsuccessful ground assaults across the eastern axis on August 18.

Russian sources reported explosions across Crimea—possibly caused by Russian air defenses, Ukrainian reconnaissance, or a Ukrainian attack—the night of August 18. Three local sources told Reuters that at least four explosions struck around Belbek Airbase in Russian-occupied Crimea, near Sevastopol.[2] The Russian-appointed governor of Sevastopol, Mikhail Razvozhaev, claimed that preliminary information indicated that Russian air defenses shot down a Ukrainian drone and caused no damage.[3] Video of a large explosion that circulated on social media in the immediate aftermath of the reported explosions was from a previous engagement on August 8 and is not from the vicinity of the airbase.[4] 

Russian sources also claimed that Russian air defenses shot down a drone near the Kerch Bridge between Crimea and Russia on the night of August 18 as social media footage showed active air defenses in the area.[5] Ukrainian Presidential Advisor Mykhailo Podolyak had tweeted on August 17 that the Kerch bridge was illegally constructed and ”must be dismantled.”[6] The railway side of the Kerch bridge is an important target for Ukraine to disrupt Russian logistics capabilities into occupied Ukraine. Social media videos also claimed to depict active Russian air defenses at a Russian base in Nova Kakhova in southern Kherson oblast the night of August 18, suggesting a possibly coordinated series of Ukrainian attacks, if there were attacks, or drone overflights.[7]

ISW cannot independently verify whether Russian air defenses shot down a Ukrainian UAV, or whether any UAV was present in Kerch or Belbek. A Russian social media user posted video claiming to be at Belbek on the evening of August 18, showing no apparent evidence of a strike there.[8] Ukrainian forces will likely continue their campaign to strike Russian military targets in Russian-occupied Crimea to degrade Russian logistics capabilities and degrade Russian capabilities to sustain operations on the west bank of the Dnipro River, as ISW previously assessed.[9] However, it is unclear at the time of publication whether the reported explosions are due to Ukrainian attacks or reconnaissance, poor Russian handling of military equipment, successful Russian air defenses, or nervous Russian defenders who are likely steeling themselves for additional attacks in areas that the Russian military had believed until now to be out of the range of Ukrainian forces.

The Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD) appears to be setting information conditions to blame Ukrainian forces for future false flag operations at the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant (NPP). The chief of Russia’s Radiation, Chemical, and Biological Defense Forces, Lieutenant General Igor Kirillov, claimed in an August 18 briefing that Ukrainian forces are preparing for a provocation at the Zaporizhzhia NPP and that the provocation is meant to coincide with UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres’ visit to Ukraine.[10] Kirillov accused Ukrainian forces of preparing to stage this provocation in order to blame Russia for causing a nuclear disaster and create a 30km-wide exclusion zone around the NPP.[11] Kirillov’s briefing, which was amplified by the Russian MoD, coincides with reports that Russian authorities told Russian NPP employees to not come in to work tomorrow, August 19.[12] Leaked footage from within the plant shows five Russian trucks very close to one of the reactors at the NPP on an unspecified date, which may indicate the Russian forces are setting conditions to cause a provocation at the plant and to shift the information narrative to blame Ukraine for any kinetic events that occur on the territory of the plant.[13]

Key Takeaways

  • There were no claimed or assessed Russian territorial gains in Ukraine on August 18, 2022 for the first time since July 6, 2022.

  • Russian sources reported a series of unidentified and unconfirmed explosions across Crimea on the night of August 18.

  • The Russian Ministry of Defense may be setting information conditions to blame Ukraine for a false flag attack at the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant.

  • Russian forces conducted ground assaults south of Siversk and northeast and south of Bakhmut.

  • Russian forces continued conducting offensive operations north, west, and southwest of Donetsk City.

  • Russian forces conducted an unsuccessful ground assault on the Zaporizhia axis.

  • Ukrainian officials confirmed additional strikes on a Russian military base and warehouse in Kherson Oblast.

  • The Kremlin is likely leveraging established Cossack organizations to support Russian force generation efforts.

  • Russian occupation officials continued preparations for the long-term integration of occupied territories of Ukraine into Russia.