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Ukraine’s drone and missile offensive in Black Sea knocks Russian Navy flat aback

By Andrii Ryzhenko

Executive Summary:The Russian Navy’s reserve of admirals and ships is steadily decreasing as senior military commanders are losing their positions following numerous setbacks for the Black Sea Fleet at the hands of Ukraine’s drone and missile offensive.These failures and the destruction of one-third of the Black Sea Fleet since the beginning of the expanded invasion have drastically disrupted Russian naval strategy giving way to steady Ukrainian gains in the Black Sea.Ukraine will likely continue to engage Russian forces in the Black Sea and Crimea with an effective combination of drone and missile attacks, probing for potential weaknesses in informing future offensives.

 

As of February, two senior military commanders of the Russian Navy have been dismissed from their positions due to Ukrainian successes in the Black Sea. On February 14, pro-Russian Telegram channels and Russian “military-patriotic” commentators announced the removal of Admiral Viktor Sokolov, former commander of the Black Sea Fleet, after the large Russian amphibious landing ship, the Caesar Kunikov, was destroyed. The Russian vessel was reportedly attacked in Miskhor, and the Russian side sent another ship as well as Mi-8 and Ka-27 helicopters to carry out rescue operations. The Russian Ministry of Defense hoped to cover up the loss, only announcing the interception of six Ukrainian drones over the area. Vice Admiral Serhiy Pinchuk, Sokolov’s former deputy and chief of staff of the Russian Black Sea Fleet, has reportedly taken over for his former boss (Ukrainska Pravda, February 15). These high-level dismissals underscore the growing effectiveness of Ukraine’s drone and missile operations in the Black Sea, as Russia has been forced to reconsider its strategy at sea by a country lacking a conventional navy.

 

 

In September 2023, Ukraine’s Special Operations Forces reported that Sokolov had been killed as a result of a strike on the Black Sea Fleet’s headquarters in Sevastopol (Ukrainska Pravda, September 25, 2023). Confirmation of Sokolov’s death, however, was never released. Numerous failures and the loss of several warships haunted Sokolov’s time as commander of the Black Sea Fleet (see EDM, November 15, 2023). Earlier, in August 2022, Sokolov’s predecessor, Admiral Igor Osipov was dismissed from the same post. Many analysts speculated that Osipov’s removal was directly linked to the sinking of the Black Sea Fleet’s Moskva flagship cruiser in April 2022 (Meduza, August 17, 2022).

More recently, a string of Ukrainian attacks has further compromised the Russian Black Sea Fleet. For example, on March 5, Ukrainian Magura V5 naval drones sank the Russian Project 22160 Sergey Kotov, the ninth major vessel lost to Ukrainian action since the beginning of the Russian invasion of Ukraine (Ukrainska Pravda, March 5). A special unit of the Main Directorate of Intelligence of the Ukrainian Ministry of Defense, “Group 13,” attacked the patrol ship near Feodosia, Crimea. The Sergey Kotov, a modular patrol ship, was one of the newest ships in the Russian Navy that required $65 million to complete (Suspilne, March 5). According to the Center for Strategic Communications and the Ukrainian General Staff, Ukraine has disabled more than 33 percent of the Black Sea Fleet’s warships since Russia’s full-scale invasion, totaling 27 ships and one submarine. According to data from open sources, at the beginning of the invasion, the core of the Black Sea Fleet consisted of 74 warships (TSN, March 6).

 

 

In response to the sinking of the Sergey Kotov, Admiral Nikolai Yevmenov, then-head of the Russian Navy, was removed from his post on March 10 and replaced by Admiral Aleksandr Moiseyev, formerly commander of the Northern Fleet. Yevmenov’s dismissal followed the resignation of the Black Sea Fleet second-in-command. Although Moiseyev is a career submariner, he commanded the Black Sea Fleet from 2018 to 2019 before being appointed as the Northern Fleet’s commander. British intelligence claims that Moiseev’s first task as the new commander-in-chief of the Russian Navy will likely be to “stabilize the security situation in the Black Sea and increase the combat capability of the Black Sea Fleet” (RBC.ua, March 15). Such an approach will not be without challenges, however, as Russia’s shipbuilding industry remains in shambles (see EDM, June 20, 2023).

Russian Minister of Defense Sergei Shoigu’s recent visit to Crimea was dedicated to reclaiming the Russian Navy’s position in the Black Sea. Shoigu spoke with Moiseyev and local Black Sea Fleet commanders for information on the tactical nature of Ukrainian strike operations. He set the task of increasing the air and sea potential for countering asymmetric attacks primarily through reorganization of the navy’s fleets, improved personnel training, and the delivery of additional equipment (Fakty, March 19). The defense official also emphasized the installation of more large-caliber weapons on Russian warships to respond more effectively to Ukrainian drone and missile attacks.

As of writing, not a single Russian vessel has been in the Black Sea for almost a month. On March 18, Natalia Gumenyuk, spokesperson for Ukraine’s Operational Command South, declared, “Tomorrow it will be four weeks since Russian missile ships have entered the Black Sea. … Nine ships are stationed [in Novorossiysk] with a total arsenal of up to 50 Kalibr missiles.” At the beginning of Moscow’s expanded invasion in 2022, up to 45 Russian surface ships, boats, and submarines were stationed in the Black Sea on a daily basis. The Russian Black Sea Fleet still has the combat potential to continue aggressive actions against Ukraine, though now confined to Novorossiysk Bay (Apostrophe.ua, March 18).

 

 

For its part, Ukraine continues to source and manufacture a significant number of drones and long-range missile capabilities. For example, Sweden recently unveiled an aid package for Ukraine worth 630 million euros ($682 million) that includes amphibious assault vessels, light patrol boats, and underwater torpedoes and mines. In addition, Kyiv’s partners have announced the delivery of dozens of CB90-type multi-purpose boats. These supplies and future aid will support Kyiv’s efforts to regain control of its sovereign maritime waters in the coming months (Racurs, February 10).

Ukraine will likely continue to engage Russian forces in the Black Sea and Crimea with an effective combination of drone and missile attacks. A “mosquito fleet” of nimble, low-profile, maneuverable, and well-armed manned and unmanned boats could strengthen the Ukraine’s naval capabilities in supporting offensive operations in the Black Sea and around Crimea (see EDM, June 13, 2023, November 15, 2023). Meanwhile, the quality and quantity of Russian naval admirals and ships will steadily decrease as the Kremlin continues to scramble for answers.

 

Source: The Jamestown Foundation.

 

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