Strategic island clashes, a sunken Russian ship, shooting at gas rigs, response to the coastal area … The battle intensifies in the Black Sea off the coast of Ukraine that challenges the Russian naval power there.
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Within a few days, according to belligerents and observers of the conflict, events accelerated, particularly around Snake Island, a strategic Ukrainian island.
“It is clearly intensifying with actions on both sides,” a Western military expert sums up, after nearly four months of war during which Russia failed to establish its hegemony at sea.
This renewed activity is particularly associated with their use of Western weapons such as coastal-launched Harpoon anti-ship missiles. But it was another anti-ship missile, the Ukrainian Neptune, which sank the cruiser Moskva, the flagship of the Russian Black Sea Fleet, in April.
This brilliant coup was a real contempt for the Ukrainians, who from the beginning of the war managed to sanctify the coasts they control – either to the west of Kherson (south) – thanks to ground batteries, drones and mines.
Today, “we are in a new phase of the war in the sense that Ukraine has new Western weapons, such as Harpoons or Brimstone (air-to-surface missiles). They can begin to challenge the Russian navy, which should be less daring.
Plusieurs experts interrogés par l’AFP et le ministère britannique de la Défense se sont ainsi fait l’écho de la revendication par l’Ukraine de la destruction d’un navire de soutien russe près de l’île des Serpents avec, un missile Harpoon last week.
On Monday, Kyiv forces bombed a gas facility whose fire was detected via a NASA site, again using Harpoon. These are “obviously the ones that the Dutch or the Danes are transporting,” the Western military expert said. The US has also promised some, but it’s possible they haven’t arrived yet, he said.
On Tuesday, this time the Russians claimed to have destroyed a large number of drones during an enemy attack on Snake Island, aiming for a landing project that had to be abandoned.
Satellite images consulted by experts show the devastation there. Further strikes and attacks have already been noted on this strategic Ukrainian island, which was captured by the Russians at the beginning of the war.
“There is evidence that the island was attacked, but not that the Ukrainians wanted to land,” identifies H.I. Sutton, who notes that “Ukraine can now bombard it with artillery, which means they don’t need to try to land.”
The Westerners have already provided Kyiv with 155 mm guns, some of which can hit the island, especially the guided HIMARS launchers, which are supposed to arrive at any moment, and which have a greater range.
While the land war has been extensively documented by fighters and their supporters via social media, the naval war is taking place in relative silence. The information comes back in particular thanks to satellite imagery, what the belligerents announce or what other governments monitoring the region would like to reveal.
The Russians, for their part, are trying to hit the Ukrainian coastal resources with missiles. For example, they targeted Turkish Bariktar drones. “There was a raid on Odessa, it can be seen in satellite images. They hit the hangars, but there is no clear evidence of significant damage,” says Hay Sutton.
Now, “Ukrainian coastal defense capability has largely neutralized the Russian ability to seize naval control and projection of its forces into the northwest Black Sea,” the British MoD notes.
The Ukrainians do not feel able to break the Russian blockade, but “it is important to deter a Russian landing, especially since we do not know how Moscow wants to manage the Transnistria issue,” this pro-Russian separatist enclave in neighboring Moldova. Which they could be tempted to do at the junction of the Ukrainian coast, assures H.I. Sutton.