Military planners love to name the different “phases” of their operations: Phase One, the incursion; Phase Two, the Attack; phase three, the reorganization; Phase Four, the Consolidation. And so on until your head is spinning.
The term “phase” gets thrown around like Russian ammunition after a Himar strike, but at least the numbering convention is understandable to the layperson.
One phase, however, pushes the limits of credulity to the breaking point and sounds like something out of a Stephen King novel: phase zero: the design.
The term “shaping the battlefield” is used by military planners to describe the maneuvers in a campaign before the main battle erupts. Formation does not necessarily imply a lack of engagement between forces and can be an incredibly violent period.
The design phase of the two most recent interventions by US-led coalitions in Iraq took weeks, as air defense systems and headquarters were destroyed.
What now seems to be happening in Crimea could well be the design phase of the expected Ukrainian counter-offensive in the Kherson region.
Yesterday alone, three sites of significant military advantage to Russia in Crimea appear to have been destroyed: an airbase near the village of Gvardeyskoye in the center of the peninsula, a power substation near the vital railway line at Dzhankoi to the north, and an ammunition depot nearby .
According to state media, the Moscow Defense Ministry blamed “sabotage” for the attack on the substation.
Whatever the causes, the blasts will limit Russia’s ability to reinforce its forces in southern Ukraine while Kyiv is believed to be planning a major counteroffensive.
Why and how are they happening now? The Ukrainian armed forces have welcomed the destruction of such sites at any point in the past six months. However, seeing them all go up in smoke in a short span of days gives Ukraine a sense of dynamism and invincibility.
It has also scared thousands of Russian civilians, who are now fleeing the peninsula in droves.
They will flood social media channels with images of the war and challenge Moscow’s increasingly untenable claim that this is a “special military operation.” The “how” requires a more speculative answer.
Vacationers who saw explosions near Saki Airfield last week were so shocked that images from many different angles and time frames were shared publicly. None show the telltale signs of ballistic missiles or kamikaze drones swooping down on their targets.
The same applies so far to the pictures of yesterday’s strikes. If not from the air, then where did the attacks come from?
The idea of partisan activity is unlikely. When these attacks are part of a coordinated campaign backed by explosives from Kyiv, it speaks to a level of performance that surpasses the most committed civilians. The planning and soldiering skills required to conduct such raids require years, not weeks, of training.
Which leads us to the increasingly plausible suggestion that blame for the destruction can be laid on Ukraine’s special forces. If so, they probably haven’t been there since the beginning of the campaign.
Hiding in civilian clothes or disguised in rural areas for such a long time is incredibly risky. More likely, they would have been deployed in recent weeks to slowly build up explosives and weapons caches in multiple locations to guard against compromise by Russian forces and finalize attack plans.
With the equipment destroyed and the fear instilled in civilians and soldiers alike, their mission may be complete.
Whether this was phase zero, the defining action ahead of a broader Ukrainian attack in the Kherson region, should become known in the coming weeks.
Telegraph Media Group Limited 
https://www.independent.ie/world-news/europe/how-will-vladimir-putin-spin-this-one-questions-hang-over-how-crimea-attacks-could-have-been-pulled-off-41917196.html How will Vladimir Putin shoot this? There are questions about how the attacks in Crimea could have been carried out