Ukraine’s Defense Intelligence Directorate published a video on August 23 purporting to show the destruction of a Russian S-400 Triumph surface-to-air missile system.
The video provides a visual account of when the S-400 system was engulfed in an enormous fireball. The footage was likely captured by a drone, encompassing perspectives from a distance and a close-up view of the explosion.
As detailed in a Telegram post by the Main Directorate of Intelligence (HUR), the detonation occurred at approximately 10 a.m. near Olenivka, a small village situated at the westernmost tip of Crimea along the Black Sea coast.
Ukraine’s statement contends that this strike destroyed not only the S-400 launcher but also the missiles that were part of it, along with the soldiers tasked with operating it.
Anton Gerashchenko, Advisor to the Minister of Internal Affairs of Ukraine, shared the video on his X account (formerly Twitter), accompanied by a caption that quoted a statement from the Main Intelligence Directorate.
🔥 В окупованому Криму знищено російський комплекс С-400
— Defence intelligence of Ukraine (@DI_Ukraine) August 23, 2023
The statement highlighted the strike’s significance due to the limited number of such complexes in Russia’s inventory, describing it as “a painful blow to the air defense system of the occupiers, which will have a serious impact on further events in the occupied Crimea.”
Russia’s highly advanced S-400 Triumf system is a mobile surface-to-air system renowned for intercepting targets at considerable altitudes and extended distances.
The powerful S-400, succeeding the earlier S-200 and S-300 models, widely lauded by Moscow, can engage diverse threats, including cruise and ballistic missiles and aircraft and unmanned aerial vehicles.
Despite enduring significant losses in various weapons systems throughout the lengthy 18-month conflict, the S-400 system in Moscow has predominantly remained secure and operational, fulfilling its crucial role in protecting vital Russian military facilities and infrastructure.
So far, the Russian military has incurred a loss of three S-400 launchers and a solitary command post for this particular system, according to the open-source intelligence site Oryx.
With that being stated, the destruction of the S-400 represents a rare occurrence involving defeating a highly acclaimed and powerful weapon within Moscow’s arsenal.
Additionally, Petro Andryushchenko, the adviser to the mayor of Mariupol, claimed via Telegram that a Russian anti-ship missile complex known as “Bastion” had been subjected to impact and damage.
Russia has employed Onyx supersonic anti-ship missiles throughout the conflict to target port cities along the Ukrainian coastline bordering the Black Sea.
Andryushchenko said: “It (Bastion) is one of the carriers of the Onyx missile, with which the Russians strike at Ukraine.”
The timing of these attacks suggests that they were coordinated just a day after the Chief of HUR, Maj. Gen. Kyrylo Budanov indicated that something would happen in Crimea “soon” during a television interview.
How Did Ukraine Strike Russia’s S-400 System?
Located approximately 90 miles to the south of the active front lines in Kherson Oblast and about 115 miles southeast of Odesa, Olenivka emerges as a place that makes a lot of sense from a strategic standpoint for setting up a battery of long-range air defense systems.
If the reports regarding the destruction of this defensive battery hold, there is a possibility that it might lead to the emergence of a void in Russia’s air defense capabilities across both the peninsula region and the broader expanse of the northwestern Black Sea.
Meanwhile, in the video disclosed to the public, there is no discernible visual proof or indication of the cause behind the explosion.
Speaking to the EurAsian Times, a Russian military expert, under the condition of anonymity, remarked, “The specific area in question, owing to its recognized strategic importance, hosts several Russian radar units.”
As pointed out by the expert, what is indeed remarkable is the rather unexpected fact that not a single one among these radar units exhibited the capability to anticipate or forecast the sequence of events that transpired.
“It’s baffling – neither the drone that was recording the scene nor the incoming munition that caused the destruction were detected by Russia’s most advanced defense system,” he added.
The expert highlighted that the Olenivka area falls within the effective range of a long-range missile possessed by Ukraine – specifically, the Storm Shadows/SCALP-EGs obtained from British and French sources.
He also pointed out that due to Ukraine’s lack of specificity regarding how they engaged the S-400, reports suggest the possibility of Harpoon or Neptune anti-ship missiles causing the damage.
However, these weapons would require modifications for such an attack.
“The big question now is whether the Ukrainian drone skillfully evaded detection through savvy electronic warfare tactics or is simply due to Russian technology’s widely recognized subpar performance. Regardless of the explanation, this incident is again a source of embarrassment for Russia,” the expert concluded.
Similarly, Jimmy Rushton, Kyiv-based foreign policy/security analyst, told the EurAsian Times that the precise details surrounding the attacks remain uncertain.
“Nobody knows how they did it other than the Ukrainians, and they aren’t going to give details,” Rushton added.
Nevertheless, Rushton underscored the gravity of the situation, deeming it a “significant attack on a piece of Russia’s supposedly most capable military hardware.”
“Not only were the Ukrainians able to hit the S-400 battery, they were also able to fly a UAV and film the strike. It will raise questions for many other countries about the system’s true capabilities,” he said.
On the contrary, Patricia Marins, a dedicated observer of the Russia-Ukraine conflict and an expert in defense matters, expresses her doubts. She questions, “Why did they cut the video and only release the explosion?”
She pointed out, “The Russians have an S-400 in Crimea, but they also have some Bastion coastal defense launchers and at least two S-300 systems.” However, she identifies a meaningful and relevant factor in the situation.
Marins said, “Who filmed that explosion? Was it a US drone from a high altitude or a Ukrainian drone? If Ukrainian drones have the freedom to fly over Crimea’s borders, it would be a major failure for the Russian anti-air systems. In that case, we can anticipate continuous attacks on Russian bases. It represents a serious vulnerability.”
Ukraine’s strategic objective in its ongoing counteroffensive is clear: to advance from the active front line to the Black Sea in the region of southern Ukraine currently under occupation.
The aim is to effectively cut off the terrestrial connections between Russia and Crimea. This move would place the Russian forces stationed on the peninsula vulnerable, relying heavily on ships and aircraft to resupply critical resources.
Over the past few months, Kyiv’s tactics have become more aggressive and proactive. There has been a notable uptick in assaults launched in Russian territory.
This heightened activity has been characterized by the deployment of explosive-laden drone boats against Russian Navy vessels and aerial drones that have conducted targeted operations.
Besides, drone attacks on Moscow have become a norm, although these actions are more likely to inflict psychological impact than significant physical damage.