Italy’s Secret Role In Sevastopol Missile Strikes – GGI Exclusive

On June 23, 2024, Russia claimed that five powerful missiles from the U.S., given to Ukraine, were shot down over Sevastopol. Despite this, pieces from one missile fell on a beach, killing four people, including two children, and injuring 151 others.

While GreatGameIndia analysts suggest the beach wasn’t the intended target, speculating instead that the missiles aimed for critical military sites, the incident has sparked a heated debate. The U.S. denies direct involvement, but evidence points to a complex web of international military cooperation, involving advanced surveillance and guidance systems, potentially implicating Italian bases and U.S. drones in the strikes.

The episode highlights the escalating high-tech nature of modern warfare and the broader implications for global military alliances. With cutting-edge defense systems in play, the stakes in this conflict have never been higher.

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Italy’s Secret Role In Sevastopol Missile Strikes

Sevastopol Missile Strike

According to an official statement by the Russian Ministry of Defence, on 23 June 2024, five ATACMS rockets, which were provided to Ukraine by the United States, were intercepted over Sevastopol. Fragments from one of the intercepted missiles fell on the beach, killing four civilians, including two children, and injuring 151 others.

Today at 12.15, a terrorist missile strike by five U.S.-made ATACMS operational-tactical missiles equipped by cluster warheads was deliberately delivered at Sevastopol.

The alerted air defence units intercepted four U.S.-made ATACMS missiles. The explosion of the fragmentation warhead of the fifth U.S.-made missile in the air led to high number of casualties among peaceful residents of Sevastopol.

Over 100 countries, including the UK, France, and Germany, have signed the Convention on Cluster Munitions, a global agreement banning these weapons because of their harmful impact on civilians. Despite this, the Biden Administration in the U.S. has sent large shipments of these munitions to Ukraine for use against Russia.

However, GGI analysts believe the Sevastopol beach may not have been the intended target of the strike.

The Real target of the Strike

Military observers have pointed out that two separate strikes were carried out on the fateful weekend targeting:

  • Sevastopol beach
  • Deep Space Communications site, in Vitino

Over the weekend, apart from the Sevastopol beach, the Ukrainian military struck the NIP-16 Deep Space Communications facility in Vitino. The center is part of Russia’s Yevpatoria Center for Deep Space Communications, one of three complexes that support both manned and robotic space missions. Interestingly, this facility was reportedly hit before, in December 2023, by British-supplied Storm Shadow cruise missiles.

It has about 20 radar dishes. Some of these dishes were grouped together in large fixtures holding up to eight dishes each. Satellite images, though low-resolution, confirm the attack. One image was taken on June 22 before the attack and the other on June 24 after it.

Satellite imagery captured before and after the Ukrainian attack on a Russian space satellite tracking site near the town of Vitino in Crimea.
PHOTO © 2024 PLANET LABS INC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. REPRINTED BY PERMISSION

The after image shows new burn marks in an open area of the facility and near a group of eight radar dishes to the east. There are more burn marks just north and east of this group. It’s possible that these radar dishes were hit by shrapnel from cluster munitions.

Videos on social media show a large fire at the space tracking site.

Data from NASA’s Fire Information for Resource Management System (FIRMS) confirms fires burning at the facility.

NASA’s Fire Information for Resource Management System (FIRMS) confirms fires at the satellite tracking site in Crimea. FIRMS screencap

The site is now called the 40th Separate Command and Measurement Complex and is part of the Titov Main Test and Space Systems Control Center of the Russian Aerospace Forces, according to Ukrainian Militanaryi news. It was originally built during the Cold War to track Russian space launches. 

Construction began in March 1960 by 5,000 Russian naval conscripts, according to Russian Spaceweb.com.

In 1975, control operations for manned missions were moved to a new facility in Podlipki, near Moscow, right next to NPO Energia, the USSR’s top developer of manned spacecraft. Since then, it has served as a backup center for manned space flights.

One of the antenna dishes at the NIP-16 Deep Space Communications site in Crimea. Wikimedia Commons

After Russia took over Crimea in 2014, the facility was handed to its Aerospace Forces, which started modernizing it. By 2017, the center had received 10 new systems, with upgrades still ongoing. One radio telescope alone was set to cost 1.8 billion rubles (about $28 million at the time).

Now, the facility is reportedly used for early warning of ballistic missiles targeting the Middle East, Africa, and Southwest Asia. But Fabian Rene Hoffmann, a research fellow at the University of Oslo, has a different theory. He thinks the site is actually used for controlling Russian satellites, including GLONASS, Russia’s version of GPS.

This makes the facility a strategic target for Ukraine. Ukraine used valuable ATACMS missiles to try to disable it, showing just how crucial they believe it is to Russia’s military operations.

Our analysts disagree with the military observers. They think these weren’t separate strikes. Instead, Ukraine’s ATACMS missiles were likely set to follow a single route passing over a crowded area, coordinated by a US drone.

This isn’t the first time Kiev has targeted civilian areas in Russian-controlled Ukrainian territories. Using ATACMS ballistic missiles only escalates the tension. It doesn’t make sense to use these powerful weapons on civilians; they’re meant for hitting critical infrastructure. We need to figure out if there was another target. Civilian casualties could also have happened if a US missile was shot down by Russian air defense and fell into populated areas.

According to the Russian Military of Defence, four missiles were intercepted and fragments from the explosion of the fifth missile in the air led to casualties. This suggests the missiles were likely en route to a different target location and were knocked off course and detonated a warhead carrying cluster munitions above the beach.

The beach where summer vacationers were hit, called Utenovka Beach locally, is very close to a large Russian base for ground troops and air defense, less than half a kilometer away. Just a bit further, about a kilometer, are military docks where Russia’s Black Sea Fleet warships are anchored.

Meanwhile, the missile strikes have ignited debate over the efficiency of the ATACMS over the S500 anti-missile system.

ATACMS vs S500

The home port for the Black Sea Fleet, Sevastopol is a critical element of the Kremlin’s military infrastructure and central to the air defense of Crimea.

In response to Ukraine receiving long-range ballistic missiles from the U.S., Russia has reportedly deployed an experimental S-500 Prometheus anti-ballistic missile system to southern Crimea. Despite this, ATACMS missiles are still reaching their targets, suggesting that Ukraine is either surpassing the capabilities of the S-500, finding its weaknesses, or striking just beyond its effective anti-ballistic missile range.

The weekend strikes were the first time US ATACMS missiles were known to have entered airspace protected by Russia’s advanced S-500 system.

Recent reports suggest that Russian military sites in Sevastopol’s southern Kazachy Bay may have been targeted, but there’s no independent confirmation of a missile strike or damage.

A failed intercept attempt by a Soviet-era TOR-M2 missile resulted in debris falling on a populated area in Sevastopol, as reported by UNIAN news. Russian air defense units also reportedly fired Pantsir missiles, designed for anti-aircraft defense, at an incoming ATACMS missile traveling nearly vertically at Mach 5, but without success.

Despite Moscow’s claims about the S-400’s capabilities, Ukrainian forces using ATACMS missiles have claimed to be targeting and damaging these defenses since mid-May. The intensity of Ukrainian missile strikes has increased recently, including attacks on Russian radar and communication centers. In response to losses, Russia is reportedly deploying the experimental S-500 system in Crimea.

In a televised interview, Ukrainian military intelligence head Kyrylo Budanov confirmed Russia’s deployment of the S-500 in Crimea to safeguard Sevastopol and nearby military installations from potential ballistic missile threats like ATACMS.

Stefan Korshak, the Kyiv Post Senior Defense Correspondent claimed “a salvo of Lockheed-Martin’s long-range missiles broke through Russian air defenses to damage an early warning radar complex”. However, the full extent of the damage is still not confirmed. The latest image below shows the radars still appear intact.

There are about 20 antenna dishes, including two large arrays of eight each, at this Russian space communications facility in Vision, Crimea. Google Earth image
There are about 20 antenna dishes, including two large arrays of eight each, at this Russian space communications facility in Vision, Crimea. Google Earth image
Sevastopol Missile Strike Satellite Photo

If we now carefully observe the before/after image again, we see the missiles just dropped short of the radars. The most probable scenario is that the advanced ATACMS missiles may have missed their intended target.

In order for the ATACMS missiles to precisely strike its target it needs reconnaissance, targeting and guidance information.

According to GGI analysts, using ATACMS requires significant technical support from the United States. They are launched from Himars launchers, and their attacks are guided by drones flying over the Black Sea. It is the Sicilian base of Sigonella, that provides the launchpad for the drones serving as scouts and providing guidance for the missiles – dragging Italy as well into war with Russia.

Italy’s role in US Drone Program

US military presence in the military base of Sigonella is based on the 1949 North Atlantic Treaty, the 1951 NATO SOFA Convention, the 1954 Bilateral Infrastructure Agreement (BIA), the 1995 Memorandum of Understanding (“Shell Agreement”) and the 2006 Technical Arrangement on Sigonella.

US military drones stationed at Sigonella are deployed for operations in various countries, including Libya and other North African nations, as well as Russia. However, agreements between Rome and Washington regarding the presence and use of both armed and unarmed US drones at the Italian base have not been disclosed publicly. This lack of transparency has raised significant concerns.

Naval Air Station Sigonella: The Hub of the Med

Naval Air Station Sigonella, known as “The Hub of the Med,” is a U.S. Navy and Italian Air Force base in Sicily, Italy. NAS Sigonella oversees more than 34 other U.S. commands and activities. Positioned 15 km west and 11 km south of Catania, and about 40 km south of Mount Etna, its strategic location in the Mediterranean Sea supports operations for the U.S. 6th Fleet, various U.S. military units, and allied forces. It also serves as an Italian base for the 41º Stormo Antisom, focusing on security operations and defense. NAS Sigonella ranks as the Navy’s second largest security command, following only Naval Support Activity Bahrain.

Despite being hosted by the Italian Air Force, the US military has full control over the base. As published by the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights (ECCHR):

According to the 2006 Technical Arrangement: the base is “placed under the Italian command” but the US Commander has “full military command over US personnel, equipment and operations;” the US Commander has the obligation to “notify in advance the Italian Commander of all significant US activities” (meaning all activities which are not routine activities); the Italian Commander has the obligation to “advise the US Commander if he believes US activities do not respect applicable Italian law” as well as to “intervene to have the US Commander immediately interrupt US activities which clearly endanger life or public health and which do not respect Italian law;” and, finally, “[p]ermanent increases of the operational component and relative support shall be authorized by the Italian National Authorities.”

Such legality imposed on Italy makes it complicit in the US drone program and in US drone strikes carried out from Italian military bases targeting Russia.

However, this is not the first time an Italian base has been used to target Russia.

Italy’s Role in Sinking of the Moskva

The Russian warship Moskva, the flagship of the Russian Navy’s Black Sea Fleet, was sunk by Ukrainian forces on 14 April 2022. Moskva was the Russian Black Sea fleet’s main radar platform, equipped with S-300 surface to air missiles to protect from air attack. According to The Times, a US marine surveillance P-8 Poseidon aircraft, was tracking Moskva in the hours before it was attacked before supplying its location to the Ukrainian military. 

A Boeing P8 Poseidon, valued at about £330 million, was within 100 miles of the Moskva when the Russian cruiser was severely damaged. This aircraft is the most advanced in the US for hunting submarines and tracking warships. It uses sonobuoys to detect enemy vessels and has a powerful APY-10 radar.

While its full capabilities are secret, experts believe the P8 can scan a large radar area up to 10,000 square meters from over 220 miles away. This means it likely had the ability to monitor the Moskva on the day it was attacked.

On April 13, a P8 aircraft with the identifier AE681B took off from the US Naval Airbase at Sigonella, Sicily, heading towards the Black Sea. It was first spotted over the Mediterranean at 1:32 pm Kyiv time.

Defense experts suggest that P8 aircraft typically switch off their transponders, which track their location, when entering conflict zones. The P8 reappeared at 6:23 pm, flying towards the Black Sea coast near Casimcea, Romania, approximately 37 miles from its last known position.

After disappearing from radar again for 19 minutes, the P8 was spotted 42 minutes later near Abrud in southern Romania at 7:24 pm, before heading back to Sigonella. Reports of the Moskva being hit surfaced at 8:42 pm from a Ukrainian volunteer with military ties on Facebook. The strike was officially confirmed by the Ukrainian governor of Odesa at 10:31 pm.

The incident brought secret agreements signed by the Italian government into question. With the recent Ukrainian strikes Italy’s role is back in the spotlight.

Italy’s role in Sevastopol Missile Strikes

According to Earl Rasmussen, a retired US Army lieutenant colonel and international consultant:

“ATACMS… essentially needs to coordinate with something. So, typically a lot of times drones’ or satellite information are used to help guide the target and guide the missile. ATACMS is pre-programed to some degree. But to ensure that it gets to its destination, there’s definitely communication of some type with an aerial drone system.”

At the moment when ATACMS were launched at Sevastopol a US RQ-4 Global Hawk long-range surveillance drone was detected over the Black Sea, according to military experts GGI analysts spoke with. It was earlier reported that Ukraine was pairing the 300-kilometer range variant of ATACMS with drone systems to coordinate missile strikes on Russia.

Data from Flightradar24 has shown that a U.S. Global Hawk spy drone was indeed in the airspace over Crimea at the time of an attack against the port city of Sevastopol. The data also confirms that the drone landed at the Sigonella Naval Air Base. 

Recent missile strikes have revealed just how deeply connected Italy and the United States are in military operations. This has raised questions about how much control Italy really has over the regulation of American military presence in the country and the joint use of infrastructures, in particular in the bases of Vicenza, Naples, Gaeta and Sigonella.

But, what about US role in the Strikes

The Russian Ministry of Defence has accused the United States of being directly responsible for the attack, stating:

The American specialists input all flight tasks in the U.S.-made ATACMS operational-tactical missiles on the basis of data of the U.S. satellite reconnaissance.

That is why Washington is mostly responsible for the deliberate missile strike at peaceful residents of Sevastopol by delivering this weaponry to Ukraine, as well as the Kiev regime, from the territory of which the strike was launched.

Such actions are not going to be left unanswered.

The Pentagon has dismissed these accusations.

“Ukraine makes its own targeting decisions and conducts its own military operations,” Maj. Charlie Dietz, a Pentagon spokesman, said on Monday.

A White House National Security Council spokesperson said any loss of civilian life was a tragedy.

However, according to GGI analysts these statements are factually incorrect. To carry out such a strike Ukranians would need not just the tactical ballistic missiles but also reconnaissance assets and guidance system infrastructure for precise targeting. It is impossible for the Ukranians to achieve such an objective without active American operational oversight and Italian surveillance base.

The conflict underscores a high-stakes battle of technology and strategy in the region. And willingly or unwillingly, the Italians will be dragged into direct confrontation with Russia over the use of this American base, if the issue is not addressed promptly.

GrreatGameIndia thanks the military experts and intelligence specialists who contributed to this report. If you have a tip for us you can contact us at [email protected]

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