Ukraine’s Defense Ministry claimed on Thursday that its special forces had staged a brief raid inside the occupied Crimean Peninsula overnight and clashed with Russian forces. If confirmed, the incursion, though apparently small, would suggest the Ukrainian military’s growing ability to strike far behind Russian lines even if such attacks are unlikely to have a significant effect on the direction of the war.
According to a statement shared by the defense ministry’s intelligence directorate on the Telegram app, special forces soldiers working with Ukraine’s Navy landed on Crimea’s western tip at the settlements of Mayak and Olenivka. The closest land under Ukrainian control to Mayak is approximately 100 miles away across the Black Sea.
“Ukrainian defenders clashed with the occupier’s units,” the statement said. “As a result, the enemy suffered losses among its personnel and destroyed enemy equipment.” Neither claim could be independently verified, nor could the authenticity of a that the ministry posted, showing a soldier manning a mounted machine gun on what appeared to be a moving boat at nighttime and a Ukrainian flag pinned to the wall of a building.
The claim came on Ukraine’s Independence Day.
President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine and other senior Ukrainian officials have said that they intend to retake Crimea, which Moscow illegally annexed in 2014. But while Ukraine has struck military targets in Crimea repeatedly with missiles and drones, there have been few if any previous reports of Ukrainian troops setting foot on the peninsula during the war.
On Thursday, Mr. Zelensky told journalists that the raid had taken place without casualties but said that “it is too early to talk about the liberation of Crimea.”
Russia’s Defense Ministry made no direct reference to any such incident in its daily update on Thursday, although it said that the “actions of one Ukrainian sabotage and reconnaissance group have been suppressed,” without offering details.
Some U.S. military analysts say that retaking Crimea by force might prove an almost insurmountable challenge for Ukraine in the short term, given Russian defenses. Any sustained attempt at a ground assault on the region could come only if Ukrainian forces are able to drive a wedge between the peninsula and the territory that Moscow holds in eastern Ukraine, a key goal of the Ukrainian counteroffensive effort that U.S. and other Western officials say is currently struggling.
As part of the counteroffensive, the tempo of long-distance attacks on Crimea has increased in recent weeks, although it remains unclear if the strikes have affected Russia’s broader operations on the battlefield.
Ukrainian forces struck the Kerch Strait Bridge that joins Crimea and Russia last month with sea drones and also hit a Russian naval vessel. On Wednesday, the spokeswoman for Ukraine’s southern forces, Natalia Humeniuk, said Ukraine had destroyed a Russian antimissile battery on the peninsula.
“We have the ability to strike any part of the temporarily occupied Autonomous Republic of Crimea,” said Kyrylo Budanov, head of Ukraine’s defense intelligence, on Ukraine’s Radio Svoboda.