LATEST UPDATE 16 MARCH 07:45 UTC | Russian and Ukrainian forces were at a military stand-off Saterday 15 March 2014 in the Kherson region, just north of the disputed Crimean peninsula. Both sides admitted being involved in the deployment of air and ground assets in the area, although Russia kept it much vaguer than Ukraine.
Apparently about 60 to 80 Russian troops tried to take control of the strategically located village of Strilkove, just north of the Crimean peninsula on a 2 km (1.2 mile) thin long piece of coastal land leading to mainland Ukraine. The Russians deployed at least 3 armoured vehicles and 2 to 4 armed helicopters. Some sources say they were of the Mi-24 or Mi-28 attack type, but that is unconfirmed.
According to the Ukrainian Ministry of Defence its country scrambled troops to the region the size of an Air Mobile Battalion. Reinforcements might have flown in from units deployed to the military airfield in the town of Kherson, just northwest of the confrontation location. Some sources say they had air support from helicopters, which is likely to have come in the first place from armed Ukrainian Army Mi-8s or Mi-24s.
From Russia comes the official quote for incursions like today. “Russia considers the request of peaceful citizens in Ukraine to be protected.” Ukrainian border guard said the Russian forces told them they were after taking control of a natural gas installation.
Russian control of the Strilkove coastline clears the road to push quicker northeast to Ukraine’s main military air transport base at Melitopol, where the Ukrainian Air Force Ilyushin IL-76s are based, if/when the conflict escalates any further. The distance over land is a 130 km (80 miles), which could in normal circumstances be negotiated in about 2 hours.
The same travel speed could be applied to the main M18/E105 road from the Crimea peninsula to Melitopol, located just 12 km (7.5 miles) west of Strilkove. The village of Novooleksiivka and the town Henichesk plus a former airbase in ruins since a long time ago are strategically situated. In case of any real Russian offensive the Ukrainian military will probably make a stand in that triangle to block advancing Russian forces from both the main route as well as the Strilkove coastline.
Fortunately on Saturday 15 March the stand-off didn’t become bigger. According to the Ukrainian Ministry of Defence Russian forces even withdrew to their former positions inside the Crimean peninsula after the Ukrainian ground forces and air support showed up, but this was later recalled by the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry which stated that Strilkove had been taken by Russian forces.
© 2014 AIRheads’ editor Marcel Burger