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Copenhagen attacker used military rifle

Danish news is reporting the Copenhagen attacker used an M95, standard Danish Army assault rifle, possibly one of a batch of missing rifles stolen from a barracks in 2009. The suspected shooter also had gang connections and may have been able to get the weapon on the black market.

Access to that kind of hardware makes it more likely the shooter had connections with some kind of network. As of 1830 CET Feb 16, police have not released information about the weapon’s provenance.

Notes from Copenhagen after the February 14 Attack

Front page of French newspaper 'Liberation'. Headline translated in Danish says 'We are Danes.'

Here is what I know, as of 11pm CET Feb 15

Thanks everyone for the concern and the kind words. At this point the police have only one suspect – a 22-year-old Danish citizen, who was killed in a shootout with police this morning. Yesterday at about 3:30pm, police say he fired more than 40 rounds into a Copenhagen cafe that was holding a public panel discussion on freedom of expression and censorship. A prominent Swedish cartoonist, who had previously drawn controversial depictions of the Prophet Mohammed, was presumably the target of the attack, but was not injured. One participant was killed, a Danish film director. Three police officers were wounded, two of whom were later identified as PET (Danish intelligence service) bodyguards. The suspect then escaped by carjacking a car.

The manhunt continued throughout the evening. At around 1am, the suspect opened fire on the historic synagogue in central Copenhagen, as a bar mitzvah was still taking place inside. One civilian standing guard at the entrance was killed, and two more police officers wounded. Police evacuated late-night partiers from Nørreport station as a precaution (the busiest train station in Copenhagen, which is near the synagogue).

At 5:30am, a gunfight erupted when the suspect arrived at an address the police were staking out, and the suspect was killed.

The shooter seems to have been motivated by the Charlie Hebdo attack in Paris, with the same pattern of a targeted political attack followed by an opportunistic attack on a soft target with Jewish significance. Police haven’t released the name or many details of the shooter, but of course the big questions are whether he had outside training, help or affiliations, and whether he was part of a terror network.

Given that there haven’t been any other attacks, I think it’s likely this was a lone wolf shooter. Danish news is reporting that the suspect also had gang connections, and was released from prison four weeks ago after a 2013 knife attack on the subway. He seemed to have some skill at evading capture after the first two shootings, but doesn’t strike me as a highly trained operative.

This guy might have been operating under orders from ISIS or AQAP, or maybe he was just a deeply disturbed individual who wanted to martyr himself. But his target wasn’t just a Swedish cartoonist who made some drawings of Mohammed a few years ago. One cartoonist could be isolated and picked off. The attack was directed at a public discussion about the freedom of expression — that means the killer didn’t even want us to talk about the limits of free expression.

As a society, we have to be able to talk to each other. We have to debate what free speech means, and where the line is between free expression and slander or incitement to violence. Where you place that line will be different for you than for me, but I think if you say you believe in free speech, you have to accept even the most loathsome and distasteful and personally hurtful forms of expression, on the non-violent side of that line. When people start wanting to ban books, pictures or speeches that offend them, simply because they are offensive, I think they begin to drift toward the mindset of the Taliban, or ISIS, or this guy who opened fire on a panel discussion in Copenhagen last night.

We won’t agree with each other, and no one should feel that they have to agree with everyone else’s ideas. It is beautiful to hold ideas strongly and defend them with logic and passion. But if this society is going to work, we do have talk to each other, without immediately attacking the messenger, or reading from a script handed to us from a religion or polarizing political ideology.

I’ve been working too much lately, and did not know that this panel discussion was taking place. But it’s the kind of civil event I think is important, and I would have wanted to attend. If they decide they want to recreate the event tomorrow – with exactly the same speakers – I want to be there.

Russian aircraft buzz US warship in Black Sea

UPI and other sources report that a Su-24 attack jet, probably from the Russian 43rd Independent Naval Shturmovik Squadron based at Hvardiiske, Crimea, buzzed the US missile destroyer Donald Cook as it sailed in the Black Sea today. The Pentagon called the maneuver ‘provocative and unprofessional.

Armed standoff at Ukrainian base ends peacefully

BBC reports that an armed standoff ended peacefully earlier today at a Ukrainian facility near Sevastopol, described as ‘missile defence base A2355.’ According to earlier reports, a truck drove through the base’s gates, and around 20 attackers rushed through and threw stun grenades. The Ukrainian troops retreated to a bunker on the base’s grounds, and the base commander negotiated with the group of attackers until they agreed to leave. Journalists who attempted to cover the event were reportedly beaten by some of the attackers.

It is unclear whether the attackers were Russian troops, or a paramilitary gang. I am also trying to confirm if base A2355 is one of the S-300 surface to air missile batteries that defend Sevastopol.

Crimea update, March 6

Many news sources report that the regional Crimean parliament voted to make the region part of Russia. A popular referendum is scheduled for March 16. The Ukrainian government says the vote and the referendum are illegal. Samantha Power, US Ambassador to the United Nations, said the international community would respond with “…broad condemnation and the establishment of the illegality and illegitimacy of such a vote.”

Meanwhile in Sevastopol Harbor, the New York Times reports that a Russian minesweeper and two tugs are blockading the Ukrainian Navy flagship, the frigate Hetman Sahaidachny, and two other vessels. Some sources report that the flagship defected to the Russian side, but as of this writing, that claim appears to be false.

The Russian Navy also reportedly scuttled the hulk of the old cruiser Ochakov, to block the entrance to Donuzlav bay, bottling up some other Ukrainian Navy ships.

Standoff in Crimea, March 4

The rumors about the Russian deadline for Ukrainian troops in Crimea to surrender by 0300 GMT today were false, or the Russians decided not to follow through. Russian troops continue to surround Ukrainian bases in Crimea, and have settled into a tense standoff. BBC posted a video showing members of the Ukrainian 67th Fighter Regiment as they tried to access Belbek Airbase, but were turned back by Russian troops and pro-Russian irregulars surrounding the base. You can briefly see that some of the fighters are still at the airbase and haven’t been flown out to the Ukrainian mainland.

Video from BBC

Source claims that Russian Black Sea Fleet demands surrender of Ukrainian forces in Crimea

Russian News Agency Interfax is quoting a source in the Ukrainian Defense Ministry, that the Russian Black Sea Fleet demands Ukrainian forces in Crimea stand down by 0300 GMT Tuesday, or they will risk a direct assault on their bases.

The statement hasn’t been confirmed by either side, and I am skeptical. I don’t think Russian forces need to escalate further at this point – they already control Crimea, and if the standoff turns into a shooting war the result is going to spin out of control very fast. At this point the Russians can continue to claim they are acting to protect the safety of ethnic Russians in Crimea, but that fig leaf will be torn away if Russian forces become the aggressors. Though news sources are reporting the arrival of reinforcements over the weekend, I also question whether Russia has enough troops and equipment on the ground to guarantee a successful assault through overwhelming force.

Ukrainian and Russian strategic assets in Crimea

Some of the reasons Russian President Putin is willing to gamble heavily on gaining control of Crimea include the territory’s strategic geography, and also the heavy militarization of the peninsula and the location of existing strategic assets in Crimea. This post will take a close look at some of those assets using commercial satellite imagery. Be aware that these images are likely more than a month old, since commercial imagery sites are not updated often. They do not represent the rapidly-evolving situation currently on the ground in Crimea.

The first most critical asset is Crimea’s geography, dominating the northern half of the Black Sea. The excellent harbor at Sevastopol has been the home port of the Russian and former Soviet Black Sea Fleet for decades. Ukraine signed a series of long-term agreements with Russia that allow the fleet to continue to use the harbor even though it is on Ukrainian territory. (Click to enlarge)

Zooming in on Crimea, we see the peninsula is populated with strategic assets. The fleet base at Sevastopol is tagged in Cyan. Airbases are tagged in green. S-300 surface to air missile units are tagged in red. Active Ukrainian airbases include Balbek, just north of Sevastopol, with Sukhoi Su-27 and MiG-29 fighters, and Kirovskoye in the east of the country, with MiG-29s. A Ukrainian anti-submarine aviation unit is based at Saky Airbase on the west coast, with Beriev Be-12 seaplanes and Kamov Ka-27 helicopters. The Russian navy bases a squadron of Su-24 anti-ship bombers at Hvardiiske Airbase north of Simferopol International, as well as composite anti-submarine and transport regiments at Kacha Airbase north of Belbek.

Three powerful S-300 SAM units cluster near Sevastopol, defending the fleet base from air attack, with another at Feodosiya on the southeast coast. (Click to enlarge)

Zooming in further on the Sevastopol area, we see the harbor and fleet base to the east, and the Khersones airbase and the Sevastopol Dnepr radar site the west, defended by an S-300 site. The city of Sevastopol itself covers most of the land mass. (Click to enlarge)

Here is a magnified view of the northern side of the fleet harbor, with some of the major units of the Black Sea Fleet. The Slava-class missile cruiser Moskva has heavy anti-ship and anti-aircraft capabilities and while built during the Cold War, is still likely the most powerful naval unit in the Black Sea. During the US-Syrian crisis in 2013, the Moskva was sent to Syrian waters to shadow the US fleet.

The Kerch is an old Kara-class missile cruiser nearing the end of its operational life. Krivak frigates are useful anti-submarine and escort ships. The two Dergach-class corvettes are very fast hovercraft armed with anti-ship missiles. (Click to enlarge)

The Khersones Airbase west of Sevastopol no longer appears to be in use. The big Dnepr space surveillance radar on the western shore was once a major strategic asset for the Soviet Union, as it was built to provide early warning of a nuclear missile attack from Mediterranean-based American fleet ballistic missile submarines. What look like the building’s ‘wings’ are actually two faces of the giant phased array radar. The radar continued to operate after Ukraine took it over in 1991 and provided space surveillance data to Russia in exchange for Russian funding. The site reportedly went off the air in the mid-2000s and appears to be in poor condition now.

The BBC reported on the afternoon of March 2, European time, that Russian troops had surrounded Belbek Airbase. As of the time this image was taken, Belbek hosted at least seven Ukrainian Su-27 and 42 MiG-29 air defense fighters (cloud cover obscured part of the airbase, preventing a complete count). It is unknown how many are actually operational, or whether as of this moment, any of those fighters are still based in Crimea. (Click to enlarge)

Below is a closer view of the Belbek ramps and the aircraft deployed there. (Click to enlarge)

I found more MiG-29s at Kirovskoye Airbase in the east of Crimea, sharing the ramp with some An-72 and An-26 transports, and a couple of two-seat L-39 jet trainers. (Click to enlarge)

Below is a closer view of the Kirovskoye ramp. (Click to enlarge)

Besides the Black Sea Fleet, the Russian Navy also has some aviation assets in Crimea, including the 43rd Independent Naval Shturmovik Squadron armed with Su-24 fighter-bombers outfitted with air-launched anti-ship missiles. The squadron is based at Hvardiiske Airbase north of Simferopol International Airport.

Below is a closer view of the active ramp at Hvardiiske Airbase. When I flew into Simferopol in 2005, I was staring out the window as my Tu-134 airliner descended, and was surprised to get a close look at Hvardiiske and a bunch of Su-24s lined up on the tarmac.

Now let’s look at Ukrainian ground-based air defenses in Crimea. I was able to identify four S-300 SAM sites, three defending Sevastopol and one further east near the port of Feodosiya. The BBC is reporting tonight that Russian forces have surrounded a Ukrainian SAM unit in Yevpatoria, but I was unable to find an S-300 site there. It could be the unit had not deployed into firing positions and would be difficult to spot from satellites.

On paper, the S-300 is a very capable anti-aircraft system with a maximum range between 90 and 200km, depending on the missile type, and limited anti-ballistic missile capability. The Ukrainian S-300s are likely to be older models and less capable than the newest versions now being produced in Russia. Given that it is a Russian-designed system, presumably the Russian air force is also aware of and would be able to exploit any weaknesses of the S-300.

Each S-300 site has a long-range search radar (Ukraine uses the NATO-codename ‘CLAM SHELL’ radar, usually mounted on a mast to increase its range against low-flying targets) and a target tracking radar (Ukraine uses the ‘FLAP LID’ radar, either on masts or vehicle-mounted). There are also always several command and generator vehicles at each site. Each site controls a number of Transporter-Erector-Launcher (TEL) vehicles, each of which carries four missiles. A common configuration uses eight TELs for 32 rounds ready to fire.

Below is the S-300 site between Sevastopol Harbor and Kerchenes Airbase. Four of the eight TELs have their canisters raised in firing mode. (Click to enlarge)

This S-300 site is on the coast just southeast of Kerchenes. (Click to enlarge)

Further southeast along the coast is an old S-200 missile site. Ukrainian troops placed an S-300 unit on one of the firing positions of the old S-200 missiles. Below is a wide view showing the layout of the old S-200 site with three groups of six broadly-spaced single launchers. (Click to enlarge)

Below is a close-up of the S-300 unit. Note that *all* of the TELs are in firing position. (Click to enlarge)

Below is a view of the S-300 site placed on top of hills overlooking the port city of Feodosiia. (Click to enlarge)


Clearly, both Ukraine and Russia consider Crimea a strategic priority, and placed significant assets there to defend the peninsula from external attack by air or sea. The fact that the armed standoff taking place in Crimea is between Russian and Ukrainian ground forces is something of a bitter irony.

Crimea assessment, March 1

On March 1, Crimea’s regional parliament in Simferopol elected Sergiy Aksyonov as the region’s prime minister, and called for a referendum on the status of Crimea. The Ukrainian government in Kiev immediately declared the election illegal. Aksyonov claimed that all military units in Crimea should operate under his control rather than Kiev’s, and then said publicly, “I call on the president of the Russian Federation, Vladimir Putin, to provide assistance in securing peace.”

Russian troops have spent the last few days securing strategic assets throughout Crimea, including the parliament building in Simferopol, Simferopol International Airport, other airbases, and as of Sunday were surrounding Ukrainian military bases and asking Ukrainian troops inside to disarm themselves. Several sources report that the initial wave of Russian troops may have come from the Sevastopol Fleet Base, but that additional troops are being ferried in by Russia.

Analysis: President Putin is taking advantage of the chaos in Ukraine to cement Russian control over the majority-Russian and heavily militarized Crimean territory. I believe it is unlikely that political pressure alone will convince Putin to withdraw his forces. The referendum on Crimean autonomy is likely to succeed, given that a thin majority of the population does identify more closely with Moscow than with Kiev. The outcome could be outright secession from Ukraine, or Crimea could claim greater autonomy, while remaining part of Ukraine administratively. Crimea is too small to succeed as a completely independent state with its own currency and foreign policy, so full autonomy would likely come at great economic cost to the territory’s residents. None of the other pro-Russian autonomous territories in the region, like Abkhazia, South Ossetia or Transnistria have well-functioning economies, economic integration with other countries, or good standards of living for most residents. This is a case though where political passions win out over economics.

Russia may also face some political and economic costs, as Secretary of State John Kerry said Sunday that Russia will lose foreign investment and may be removed from the G-8 economic group. Crimea and the Black Sea Fleet base at Sevastopol are critical strategic assets for Russia however, and Putin may believe that more direct control over Crimea is worth any pain the international community can inflict.

Civilian air traffic avoiding Crimean airspace

Flight tracking site FlightRadar24 reported an hour ago that civilian air traffic is avoiding the closed airspace over Crimea. An Aeroflot flight did depart Simferopol airport on time last night, even though troops occupied the airport.

Image from FlightRadar24.com

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