The Dutch are set to deliver more than a dozen F-16s to Ukraine in the fall.

US F-16s will have a big impact in helping Ukraine reclaim Crimea, an analyst told BI.The first F-16s are expected to be in Ukraine within weeks, according to reports on Friday.Crimea holds great symbolic significance. Retaking it would be a major blow to Putin.

The delivery of US-made F-16s could play a crucial role in Ukraine’s attempts to take back occupied Crimea, a defense expert told Business Insider.

Frederik Mertens, a Strategic Analyst at the Hague Centre for Strategic Studies, told BI that by striking Russian ground-based air defense (GBAD) systems, Ukraine is “preparing the ground” for future air strikes once F-16 fighters arrive.

The first F-16s are expected to be in Ukraine within weeks, according to reports on Friday.

Denmark previously said it would begin transferring its aircraft in the summer. Norway and Belgium have also pledged F-16s to Ukraine. Denmark, the US, the UK, France and Romania are helping train Ukrainian pilots.

“We should be careful not to overestimate the impact of the limited number of F-16 fighters,” Mertens said, adding that “the land front is vast, and there are a lot of Russians to kill.”

But Crimea was “vulnerable,” especially when it comes to attacks from F-16 fighters, he said.

“The Russians have relatively limited maneuver space on the peninsula, resupply is dependent on the Kerch bridge, and here, Putin has a lot to lose both politically and militarily,” he said.

“If a limited number of fighters can have a real impact, it is here — and above the Black Sea that becomes fully accessible once the GBAD on the Crimea are dealt with.”

Despite facing a series of tough setbacks on the Eastern front, where the latest reports say Russian forces have launched a new front to capture Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city, Ukraine has repeatedly embarrassed Russian forces in and around the Crimean peninsula.

With advanced US weapons, Ukraine’s ambition to cut off the territory from mainland Russia and put it in a military stranglehold becomes more likely.

In addition to the F-16s, long-range ATACMS provided by the US to Ukraine have the potential to make Crimea “militarily worthless” to Russia, according to one defense analyst.

In April, The New York Times reported that the US had secretly shipped about 100 Army Tactical Missile Systems, known as ATACMS, to Ukraine, which has reportedly already put them to use.

Crimea is now more symbolic than strategic

Ukraine has consistently said it hopes to recapture Crimea, though some commentators have called this a pipe dream, and has damaged Russian forces with a series of successful operations.

Crimea continues to carry considerable emotional value — to Putin, who considers its 2014 annexation as one of his greatest achievements — and to Ukraine, which sees it as a detested symbol of Russian occupation.

Russian warships of the Russian Black Sea Fleet sail while taking part in naval drills in the Black Sea.

Throughout the war, Ukraine has sunk ships of Russia’s Black Sea Fleet, bombed the port of Sevastopol, and targeted the strategic Kerch Bridge that connects the peninsula to Russia.

In the latest blow on Monday, Ukraine used an exploding naval drone to destroy a Russian military speedboat in Crimea.

Crimea also serves as a crucial logistics hub and military supply route to occupied southern Ukraine, and it is the launchpad for several Russian missile and drone attacks.

In mid-April, Ukraine claimed to have struck the Dzhankoi military base, in northern Crimea, including a prized S-400 air defense launcher.

Last year, in July, a series of massive explosions roared through a Russian ammunition storage facility on the peninsula, forcing thousands of residents of nearby areas to flee.

Explosion causes fire at the Kerch bridge in the Kerch Strait, Crimea on October 08, 2022. A fire broke out early Saturday morning on the Kerch Bridge — preceded by an explosion — causing suspension of traffic and bringing bus and train services to a halt.

The Kerch bridge, which connects the peninsula to Russia, has also been significantly damaged twice by Ukraine since the start of the full-scale invasion.

The first explosion, in October 2022, saw the bridge’s road section collapse and a subsequent attack in July 2023 using sea drones appears to have targeted its support struts.

There are signs that these attacks are forcing Russia to rethink its use of the peninsula and the Kerch bridge.

In an examination earlier this month of Maxar satellite images by open-source intelligence agency Molfar, analysts said that between February and mid-April, they saw no Russian freight trains carrying military equipment on the Kerch Bridge.

“This may indicate a reluctance on Russia’s part to transport military cargo via the bridge after previous attacks and the use of alternative routes,” Molfar said in its report.

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