Ukrainian attacks increasingly sap the power of Russia’s Black Sea fleet

Ukrainian sea drones reportedly dealt another blow to the Russian naval forces in the Black Sea on Tuesday, continuing a streak of successful strikes that have severely hampered Moscow’s maritime capabilities, now entering its third year amidst the ongoing conflict.

The consistent success of Ukrainian drone and missile attacks has provided a significant morale boost for Kyiv, particularly as its military faces Russian assaults along a sprawling front line. These strikes have not only inflicted damage on Russian naval assets but have also created more favorable conditions for Ukrainian exports, particularly grain shipments from Black Sea ports.

In the most recent reported strike, Ukrainian naval drones targeted the Sergei Kotov patrol ship near the Kerch Strait, resulting in casualties among the Russian crew. While the Russian Defense Ministry has not officially commented on the incident, military bloggers have corroborated the loss of the ship and the rescue of its crew.

These strikes, if confirmed, represent the latest successes for Ukraine’s domestically produced Magura drones, which have proven to be a formidable challenge for the Russian navy. Previous attacks have seen drones sinking Russian vessels such as the Caesar Kunikov amphibious landing ship and the Ivanovets missile corvette.

Beyond ship targets, Ukrainian forces have also launched persistent missile and drone strikes on Russian radar facilities, air defense assets, and air bases in Crimea. Additionally, Ukrainian troops downed two Russian early warning and control aircraft over the Sea of Azov, depriving Russia of crucial intelligence-gathering capabilities.

Ukraine’s ability to leverage remote-controlled drone boats and cruise missiles, particularly the Magura drones and Storm Shadow/SCALP-EG cruise missiles supplied by Western allies, has allowed it to overcome Russia’s overwhelming firepower. Despite facing a technologically superior adversary, Ukraine’s strategic use of limited resources has enabled it to significantly degrade Russian naval capabilities, effectively neutralizing Moscow’s naval dominance in the region.

The successful strikes on Russian naval assets have not only bolstered Ukraine’s military position but have also enabled the country to increase its exports, particularly in the face of Russia’s withdrawal from a deal guaranteeing safe shipment of Ukrainian grain. By putting Russia’s fleet on the defensive, these attacks have mitigated the threat to Ukrainian economic interests and global food security posed by potential Russian interference with maritime trade.

While the Russian Defense Ministry has largely remained silent on the Ukrainian attacks, criticism from Russian military bloggers and commentators has highlighted perceived shortcomings in the military’s response. The Russian navy has been forced to take defensive measures, including relocating some ships to safer ports, in response to the persistent threat posed by Ukrainian drone and missile strikes.

Despite the setbacks, the Black Sea fleet retains its offensive capabilities, with Russian air bases in Crimea remaining operational to support ground operations in the region. Nonetheless, the dismissals of high-ranking naval officials, such as Adm. Viktor Sokolov, suggest internal repercussions within the Russian military in response to the losses of warships.