When Russia launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, a fight in the Black Sea was not exactly in everyone’s minds. The military balance was always tipped (on paper, at least) in Russia’s favour. But nowhere did Moscow have a greater edge than at sea, as Ukraine has virtually no navy.
And yet, over the past weeks, Ukraine has been waging a daring military campaign in the Black Sea to remove Russia’s naval chokehold on the country.
The campaign culminated with a major missile attack against the Black Sea headquarters in Sevastopol, one that may have killed dozens of Russian officers — though a Ukrainian claim that the head of the Black Sea Fleet himself was killed may have proven inaccurate — and another against the local shipyards.
The latter was particularly devastating, as Ukrainian forces launched missile attacks, which led to catastrophic damage to two Russian ships: The Kilo class “Rostov on-Don” submarine, and the Ropucha-class “Minsk” landing ship.
Images of the aftermath show the ships are unlikely to be salvageable. This was the first time Russia lost a submarine in combat since the Second World War.
This was an unprecedented strike targeting two critical assets of the Russian fleet. The Kilo-class submarine could be used to approach Ukrainian coasts and fire cruise missiles deep inside Ukraine without being as exposed as a surface ship.
Last year, Russia learned the cost of getting too close to Ukraine’s coasts. In April, Moscow sent its Black Sea flagship, the Moskva, in range of Ukrainian missiles, ignoring signs that Ukraine had developed a new naval missile capable of hitting Russian ships approaching Ukrainian coasts. The Moskva ended up at the bottom of the sea.
OTD, one year ago, the Russian Slava-class cruiser "Moskva", the flagship of the Russian Black Sea Fleet, was hit by two Ukrainian Neptun missiles. The extensive damage of the ship caused her sinking one day later.
The sinking of the Moskva eventually led to a total withdrawal... pic.twitter.com/sPd7CmBlKm— (((Tendar))) (@Tendar) April 13, 2023
Killing three birds with one stone
As winter approaches and Russia will likely resume attacks against Ukrainian energy infrastructure, removing one small but important launchpad is more than just a symbolic victory.
Similarly, with the Ropucha-class landing ship, Ukraine struck gold. As their name suggests, these ships are designed to carry out landings and could have been used for the capture of the Ukrainian port of Odesa.
This threat is now remote, given that Russian troops are overextended and how complex and exposed such landings are. But this doesn’t mean landing ships have suddenly become useless.
They are, in fact, used by Russia as logistical ships transporting material and vehicles across the Black Sea and the Sea of Azov. They bring vital equipment to Russian troops fighting off the ongoing Ukrainian offensive in southern Ukraine.
Perhaps as important is the third target: The Sevastopol drydocks, which are used for repairs and maintenance. Although the drydocks themselves do not appear to have sustained heavy damage, they may still have been put out of use in the near term.