Eight months after Russian President Vladimir Putin began his unprovoked “special military operation” against Ukraine, one of the most striking emerging aspects of the conflict has been the surprising and increasingly effective refusal of the Ukrainian armed forces Russian naval efforts to establish “Sea Command” in the Black Sea. On April 13, the Ukrainians with an unexpected anti-ship missile attack sank the flagship of the Black Sea Fleet (BSF), the Soviet era Slava-to classify Moscow missile cruiser. In its most impressive operation to date, on October 29, the Ukrainian military launched a coordinated swarm of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) and naval drones into Sevastopol, home of the BSF for more than two centuries. While the apparent level of damage was low, the technological prowess of the attack on the highly symbolic target led Russia to claim that the Ukrainian military received foreign aid before and during the operation.
The Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD) informed reporters that the attack happened at 4:20 a.m. on the morning of October 29, when nine drones and seven unmanned robotic naval drones flew 100 miles from their launch point. from Ochakiv, near Odessa, to Sevastopol on the Crimean peninsula, which Russia has occupied since 2014. The Ministry of Defense claimed: “As a result of operational measures taken by ships of the Black Sea Fleet , all air targets have been destroyed. Four marine drones were destroyed by BSF armaments and aviation, while the other three were destroyed in the harbor of the port. The MoD has stated that only the Ivan Golubets the minesweeper and the wire fence in the southern bay suffered minor damage (TASS, October 29).
The implications of this attack reverberated throughout the war zone. In response, Sevastopol Governor Mikhail Razvozhaev said: “Tonight the most massive attack in the history of SVO [“special military operation”] by drones and remotely operated surface vehicles over the waters of Sevastopol Bay was undertaken” (TASS, October 29). Razvozhaev added: “The enemy tried to hit the military infrastructure of the Black Sea Fleet. All unmanned vehicles have been detected and destroyed in advance. According to the Russian governor, the BSF air defenses in Sevastopol attacked the drones for several hours (T.me/razvozhaev, October 29). The assault proved to be a major embarrassment for the Russian Navy, as the BSF’s new flagship, the Admiral Grigorovich– frigate class Admiral Makarovreportedly damaged and possibly disabled in the daring drone raid – the consequences of which were as staunchly downplayed in the Russian media as they were highlighted in the Ukrainian information sphere (Novoye vremya, October 30)
In a bombshell claim, the MoD later claimed that British specialists were directly involved in the Sevastopol attack. In a statement posted on October 29 on his Telegram account. the ministry said: “It should be emphasized that the ships of the Black Sea Fleet which were victims of the terrorist attack are involved in the security of the “grain corridor” within the framework of the international export initiative of agricultural products from Ukrainian ports. The preparation of this terrorist act and the training of military personnel of the Ukrainian 73rd A special center for maritime operations has been set up under the direction of British specialists located in the city of Ochakiv in the Ukrainian region of Mykolaiv” (T.me/mod_russia, October 29).
The raid quickly produced consequences; on October 31, the Russian government announced that it was suspending its participation in the United Nations-brokered arrangement that allowed civilian merchants to export Ukrainian grain and fertilizer from several Black Sea ports of Kyiv, which were previously blockaded by the Russian Navy. This happened after the Ministry of Defense reported that the drones initially used the “grain corridor” maritime security zone before changing course to Sevastopol (Izvestiya, November 1). With merchants nonetheless continuing to participate in the transit of grain through the designated corridor, Russia regained the initiative two days later.
Following the attack, the Russian military also quickly began to step up its missile attacks on Ukraine’s aging and increasingly dilapidated Soviet-era energy infrastructure, which quickly disabled up to a third of the country’s power generation capacity and began to cause blackouts (Tvzvezda .ru, October 31).
The Black Sea is proving to be a tactical and technological arena that upends long-held regional strategic assumptions, starting with Russia’s presumed naval prowess and superiority over Ukraine. The MoscowIt was the first time Russia had lost a flagship since the disastrous 1905 Battle of Tsushima during the Russo-Japanese War and the largest Russian Navy warship sunk in battle since 1945. Ukraine have reaffirmed that since the Falklands conflict in 1982 three decades ago, the continued and growing combat value of sea shaving missiles should not be ignored. The entire Russian BSF now appears vulnerable to ranged warfare, as Ukrainian forces have demonstrated their ability to mount effective long-range strikes as far away as Crimea. Other strikes of this nature include strikes on the Kerch bridge linking the peninsula with Russia, on Saky airfield in Crimea and, two months ago, on the BSF headquarters building in Sevastopol.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has vowed to liberate Crimea, as well as all occupied territories in southern and eastern Ukraine, ambitious goals that have been derided by many in the international community. Now, in the wake of recent events, those fears seem slightly less implausible. What is certain, however, is that for Ukrainian civilians who suffer from intermittent reliability of water, electricity and gas supplies, they are likely to suffer as the Russian military concentrates more additionally on “softer” civilian infrastructure targets.