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Ryan Robertson

Anchor, Investigative Reporter

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International

Winter weather walloping Russia’s defenses in Crimea

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Ryan Robertson

Anchor, Investigative Reporter

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Winter weather is walloping the Black Sea region, including Ukraine, occupied Crimea and southern Russia. The powerful storm Bettina is creating blizzard conditions inland while pounding coastlines with huge waves and hurricane force winds. The storm is serious, no doubt, but it could be just what Ukraine needs to end the so-called stalemate with Russia.

Meteorologists in Russia said Bettina is the strongest winter storm on record to hit the region. The storm has already claimed at least three lives. Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said the “extremely challenging weather” was affecting large parts of the country, knocking out power and hampering travel.

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Ukraine’s Ministry of Energy said more than 2,000 towns and villages were without electricity in 16 regions, including Kyiv, Odesa, and Mykolaiv with more strong winds and snow predicted.

But there are some silver linings to this storm.

In occupied Crimea, Mother Nature may have just done more to destroy Russian defenses in a weekend than what Ukraine’s armed forces have been able to do since 2014. In addition to knocking out power to much of the peninsula, Bettina is battering Russian troops and their fortifications.

Anton Gerashchenko, an Interior Ministry adviser in Ukraine, posted videos showing Crimean coasts getting pummeled by waves more than 20 feet high. Citing Crimean media outlets, Gerashchenko said miles of Russia’s defensive lines along the shore were washed away including trenches, engineering buildings and firing positions.

The strong storm surge is also being credited with helping Ukraine demine the waters around Crimea and southern Kherson. In eastern Crimea, the Kerch Bridge could be left vulnerable as well.

The bridge is a primary supply route between Russia and its troops in Crimea. Ukraine launched several successful attacks on the bridge before using long- range missiles and unmanned surface drones. However, the bridge is still standing and in use. After the earlier attacks, Russia increased its air defenses in the area surrounding the bridge and added barges on the water to protect its pylons.

But those barges aren’t designed to operate in the extreme winter weather conditions created by Bettina. At the very least, the barges will likely suffer some major damages if not rendered totally useless. So, once Bettina bows out, there will be a window of time when the Kerch Bridge could be more vulnerable to attack than it’s been in years.

Making matters worse for Russia, Bettina blew in around the same time a fire erupted at a Russian factory in Chelyabinsk. Flames could be seen rising from the facility, which is located more than 900 miles east of Moscow. There’s no word yet on what caused the fire, and there likely won’t be. Russia doesn’t respond to Western media’s requests for comment, and Ukraine doesn’t take public credit for attacks in Russian territory.

The Chelyabinsk Tractor Factory is a prime military target, though. Workers there make engines for Russian tanks, armored personnel carriers and other military vehicles. Vehicles which will be sorely needed as winter sets in, blanketing the battlefields under feet of snow.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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WINTER WEATHER IS WALLOPING THE BLACK SEA REGION, INCLUDING UKRAINE AND SOUTHERN RUSSIA. THE POWERFUL STORM BETTINA IS CREATING BLIZZARD CONDITIONS INLAND WHILE POUNDING COASTLINES WITH HUGE WAVES AND HURRICANE FORCE WINDS. THE STORM IS SERIOUS, NO DOUBT, BUT IT COULD BE JUST WHAT UKRAINE NEEDS TO END THE SO-CALLED STALEMATE WITH RUSSIA.

METEOROLOGISTS IN RUSSIA SAID BETTINA IS THE STRONGEST WINTER STORM ON RECORD TO HIT THE REGION. IT’S ALREADY CLAIMED AT LEAST THREE LIVES. UKRAINE’S PRESIDENT VOLODYMYR ZELENSKYY SAID THE EXTREMELY CHALLENGING WEATHER WAS AFFECTING LARGE PARTS OF THE COUNTRY, KNOCKING OUT POWER AND HAMPERING TRAVEL.

BUT THERE ARE SOME SILVER LININGS TO THIS STORM.

IN OCCUPIED CRIMEA, MOTHER NATURE MAY HAVE JUST DONE MORE TO DESTROY RUSSIAN DEFENSES IN A WEEKEND THAN WHAT UKRAINE’S ARMED FORCES HAVE BEEN ABLE TO DO SINCE 2014. IN ADDITION TO KNOCKING OUT POWER TO MUCH OF THE PENINSULA, BETTINA IS BATTERING RUSSIAN TROOPS AND THEIR FORTIFICATIONS.

ANTON GERASHCHENKO, AN INTERIOR MINISTRY ADVISOR IN UKRAINE, POSTED VIDEOS SHOWING CRIMEAN COASTS GETTING ABSOLUTELY PUMMELED BY WAVES MORE THAN 20 FEET HIGH. CITING CRIMEAN MEDIA OUTLETS,
GERASCHENKO SAYS MILES OF RUSSIA’S DEFENSIVE LINES ALONG THE SHORE WERE WASHED AWAY INCLUDING TRENCHES, ENGINEERING BUILDINGS AND FIRING POSITIONS.

THE STRONG STORM SURGE IS ALSO BEING CREDITED WITH HELPING UKRAINE DEMINE THE WATERS AROUND CRIMEA AND SOUTHERN KHERSON. IN EASTERN CRIMEA, THE KIRCH BRIDGE COULD BE LEFT VULNERABLE AS WELL.

THE BRIDGE IS A PRIMARY SUPPLY ROUTE BETWEEN RUSSIA AND CRIMEA. UKRAINE LAUNCHED SEVERAL SUCCESSFUL ATTACKS ON THE BRIDGE USING LONG RANGE MISSILES AND UNMANNED SURFACE DRONES BEFORE. HOWEVER, THE BRIDGE IS STILL STANDING AND IN USE. AFTER THE EARLIER ATTACKS, RUSSIA INCREASED ITS AIR DEFENSES IN THE AREA SURROUNDING THE BRIDGE AND ADDED BARGES ON THE WATER TO PROTECT ITS PYLONS.

BUT THOSE BARGES AREN’T DESIGNED TO OPERATE IN THE CURRENT WINTER WEATHER CONDITIONS. AT THE VERY LEAST, THEY WILL LIKELY SUFFER SOME MAJOR DAMAGE IF NOT RENDERED TOTALLY USELESS. SO, ONCE BETTINA BOWS OUT, THERE WILL BE A WINDOW OF TIME WHEN THE KIRCH BRIDGE COULD BE MORE VULNERABLE TO ATTACK THAN IT’S BEEN IN YEARS.

MAKING MATTERS WORSE FOR RUSSIA, BETTINA BLEW IN AROUND THE SAME TIME A FIRE ERUPTED AT A RUSSIAN FACTORY IN CHELYABINSK. FLAMES COULD BE SEEN RISING FROM THE FACILITY, WHICH IS LOCATED MORE THAN 900 MILES EAST OF MOSCOW. THERE’S NO WORD YET ON WHAT CAUSED THE FIRE, AND LIKELY WON’T BE. RUSSIA DOESN’T RESPOND TO WESTERN MEDIA REQUESTS FOR COMMENT, AND UKRAINE DOESN’T TAKE PUBLIC CREDIT FOR ATTACKS IN RUSSIAN TERRITORY.

THE CHELYABINSK TRACTOR FACTORY IS A PRIME MILITARY TARGET, THOUGH. WORKERS THERE MAKE ENGINES FOR RUSSIAN TANKS, ARMORED PERSONNEL CARRIERS AND OTHER MILITARY VEHICLES. VEHICLES WHICH WILL BE SORELY NEEDED AS WINTER SETS IN, BLANKETING THE BATTLEFIELDS UNDER FEET OF SNOW.