May 13 – Patriot missiles ambush five Russian aircraft

In mid-April Ukraine announced the arrival of its second donated Patriot system, NATO’s most effective and long-range air defense system. Where it was going to be set up and its role was a military secret. It was widely assumed that the first system, received earlier in the year, was covering air space over the capital, Kyiv.

On May 13 Kremlin military aircraft flying routine supply and training missions over Russia’s western Bryansk region suddenly started falling out of the sky disturbing local residents used to a totally peaceful life more than 70 kilometers from the Ukrainian border. According to later reports, two transport helicopters, a rare and difficult-to-replace electronic warfare helicopter, a strike jet and Russia’s latest Su-35 fighter jet all were hit by something before disappearing from radars.

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Russian media later estimated that its air force had lost close to $100 million worth of aviation assets in one morning. Russian air traffic controllers immediately grounded all flights.

In November Ukraine’s Air Force confirmed widespread speculation that Ukrainian air defense forces had somehow secretly moved the not-particularly-mobile Patriot system close to the Russian border, and staged an ambush firing its deadly long-range anti-aircraft missiles into air space the Russian military considered completely safe.

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On Dec. 5 something shot down a Russian Su-24 bomber, more than 80 kilometers from the Ukrainian mainland well out over the Black Sea. It was only the third Su-24 destroyed by Ukrainian fire since the war began. Both air crew died. Russian military social media reported that, once again, the Ukrainians had moved the Patriot missile battery to another area and caught the Russian air force unawares.

August and September – Ukraine kamikaze drones strike military airfields in Russia

On Aug. 19 images appeared on Russian social media showing a Tu-22 strategic bomber, an aircraft used by Russia to fire cruise missiles against Ukrainian cities, burning on the ground at Soltsy air base near the city of Novogorod. A drone strike was blamed. Another plane was damaged. The airfield is some 650 kilometers. from Ukraine-controlled territory.

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Two days later at least 12 Ukrainian Mugin drones, each the size of a motorcycle, hit another airfield near the Russian city Kursk. According to some reports cardboard Australian drones were used to spoof Russian radars. According to early reports five modern combat aircraft and two air defense systems intended to protect the airfield from drone strikes were hit in the raid. Russia said that damage was minimal and then all aircraft were evacuated from the airfield.

On Sept. 1 a Russian Il-78 air fuel tanker, was hit by a drone on an airbase near the city Pskov, more than 700 kilometers from the nearest Ukraine-controlled territory. Video showed the aircraft, of which there were only 20 in the entire Russian air force, burning on the tarmac.

Ukraine’s military later announced all the attacks were launched by behind-the-lines operatives

September – Storm Shadow destroys Russia’s main naval base, headquarters, and ships

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In late August Ukrainian commandoes landed on the Russia-occupied Crimea peninsula and among other acts of sabotage blew up a critical early-warning radar and a nearby long-range anti-aircraft system.

A little less than two weeks later, Ukrainian air and naval forces launched a raid of at least ten British-French Storm Shadow / SCALP cruise missiles, and at least three kamikaze robot boats, all targeting major warships from Russia’s Black Sea Fleet in Kremlin’s main Sevastopol naval port, in occupied Crimea.

The Kremlin said all the missiles were shot down and damage was minor.

Satellite overflights and Russian social media gave a very different picture: a missile-carrying submarine had been totally destroyed, an amphibious assault ship wrecked and set on fire, and all three of the military drydocks in Sevastopol badly damaged. This left the Russian navy facilities in Sevastopol not only unable to fix the damaged ships already there, but to undertake any other repairs in the near future.

Three days later a pair of Storm Shadow missiles plowed into Black Sea Fleet headquarters while a command-level meeting was in progress. According to reports dozens of senior naval staff were injured or killed, including, possibly, the Black Sea Fleet commander.

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The Russian navy evacuated Sevastopol to temporary bases on the eastern Black Sea coast a week later. The last time the Russian navy abandoned Sevastopol, was in 1941 when German troops took over the port. Independent observers said it was Russia’s worst naval defeat in decades. The Kremlin said the rebasing was temporary.

Oct. 17 – Ukrainian ATACMS missiles wipes out most of a regiment of Russian helicopters

Ukraine’s biggest request to America, since day one of the war, was for long-range precision-guided missiles. Washington dragged its feet on the decision for more than a year on fears handing over accurate surface-to-surface ballistic missiles to Kyiv might provoke Russia.

According to US media, the Biden administration in September reversed that position and decided to hand over around 20 MGM-140 M39 Army Tactical Missile System (ATACMS) missiles to Ukraine. The M39 is relatively outdated with a range of about 165 kilometers and a cluster-munition warhead configured to blast a large area with shrapnel and explosives, rather than penetrating deep into a bunker or a warship.

Ukrainian strike planners launched as many as 18 missiles on Oct. 17, against airfields and nearby military support facilities close to the occupied cities of Berdyansk and Luhansk.

Once again, the Kremlin claimed damage was minor, but, satellite overflights over the next few days showed at least nine attack or transport helicopters totally destroyed, with at least as many damaged by shrapnel and explosions. Ammunition bunkers had been flattened, and at least two anti-aircraft missile systems positioned to protect the airfields had been hit as well.

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Russian helicopter gunship almost constant presence above the key Donbass and Zaporizhzhia front lines, prior to the attack, effectively disappeared overnight. The Kremlin evacuated both airfields. Russian mil-bloggers later called the attack the Russian Air Force’s worse day since World War II.

Nov. 30 / Dec. 1 – Ukrainian saboteurs blow up Siberian train in tunnel blocking most China freight

During the night of Nov. 30 five freight cars loaded with diesel or aviation fuel blew up inside a rail tunnel in the Russia’s Buryatia Oblast, a region bordering Mongolia. The explosion took place on the Baikal-Amur railway, Russia’s main rail line for freight moving between Russia and China.

Rapid excavation and removal of the wrecked and burnt rail cars was effectively impossible due to the unstable rock and soil around the tunnel, multiple geological faults in the area, water flooded the tunnel due to broken drainage systems, and extreme cold. 

Russian railway planners rerouted traffic onto a steeply-gradient line leading around the tunnel and through a high mountain pass.

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The Muya Mountain range is located in some of Russia’s most rugged and isolated terrain. The region has few roads.

The next day a train on the bypass was crossing a bridge over one of the gorges leading to a pass in the Muya Mountains when it also was blown up, making the bypass impossible to use.

Ukraine’s national intelligence agency the SBU took credit for the attacks. Repair work was in progress but according to Russian media the smashed train debris had frozen under meters of ice and clearing the line would probably take months.

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