Ukraine’s drone and missile attack on Russia’s Black Sea Fleet in Crimea has triggered a massive discussion, most of which revolves around Kyiv decimating the Russian Navy despite not having a navy.
United Kingdom’s Minister of State for Armed Forces James Heappey recently echoed this point of view in Poland that an escalated offensive by Ukraine in recent weeks has resulted in the “functional defeat” of Vladimir Putin’s prized Black Sea fleet. He added that Western allies were running low on supplies to support Kyiv.
Speaking from the Polish capital on October 2 at the Warsaw Security Forum, Heappey claimed that hard blows dealt to the significant Russian naval force, i.e., its Black Sea Fleet, including the recent strike on its Crimean headquarters, was “every bit as important” as Ukraine’s gains in Kharkiv last year.
Ukraine launched a fairly autumn counteroffensive last year, which liberated several settlements in the Kharkiv city from Russian control.
Referring to the much-anticipated Ukrainian counteroffensive that got underway in June, the Minister noted that although “nobody can pretend otherwise” that Ukraine’s counteroffensive has advanced slowly, it was “simply wrong” to suggest there has been no progress at all — with gains “every single day” after breaching Russia’s “enormous defensive belt and minefield.”
But comparing Kyiv’s relatively minor gains to those achieved last year, he emphasized, “diminishes the importance of what has happened in the Black Sea over the last couple of weeks, where a Russian submarine and a Russian ship have been put out of action, and the headquarters of the Black Sea fleet has been put out of action too.”
“The functional defeat of the Black Sea fleet – and I would argue that is what it is because it has been forced to disperse to ports from which it cannot affect Ukraine – is an enormous credit. And [it is] as important – every bit as much progress – as what happened in the Kharkiv Oblast last year.”
Minister for the Armed Forces @JSHeappey addressed the Warsaw Security Forum today focussing on the successes that the Ukrainian armed forces continue to achieve on land and at sea.@WarsawForum #WSF2023 pic.twitter.com/wE4sjibX4B
— Ministry of Defence 🇬🇧 (@DefenceHQ) October 3, 2023
The Black Sea fleet, which has great symbolic significance for Russia, has come under drone and missile strikes from Ukraine more frequently in recent weeks. The fleet has been employed throughout the conflict to threaten Kyiv’s essential grain exports and to undertake cruise missile attacks on Ukraine.
As previously reported by EurAsian Times, Ukraine struck a big blow to Russian forces by striking a dry dock in Sevastopol, which housed two vessels — an amphibious vessel and a Kilo-class submarine, both of which were damaged beyond repair.
In the aftermath of the attack, Ukrainian forces confirmed they had used the British long-range Storm Shadow cruise missiles to carry out the attack. A few days after the attack, the photographs posted by an independent investigative organization named ‘Conflict Intelligence Team’ (CIT) showed massive damage to the exterior of the Rostov-on-Don submarine, with analysts concluding it was not repairable.
The biggest hit to the fleet came when the Black Sea Fleet headquarters came under a massive missile attack on September 22, killing 34 Russian officers and injuring 105, according to the Ukrainian Army. Kyiv’s officials went so far as to claim that the fleet commander was killed.
The UK Ministry of Defense said earlier this week that the Black Sea fleet is “[struggling] to deal with concurrent threats,” with Russia turning to air power to “project force” over the region. In contrast, fleet operations shifted from under fire Sevastopol to Novorssiysk, some 322 kilometers (200 miles) east.
Several open-source accounts have also similarly published information regarding Moscow withdrawing its vessels from Sevastopol, which remained within the strike range of Ukrainian missiles and drones. However, the comments have nonetheless ignited controversy, with military watchers calling it a poor attempt at exaggeration.
BSF Is Not Decimated, Says Expert
Independent and pro-Russian military bloggers assert that the Black Sea Fleet (BSF) was functional and sincerely guarding Crimea against Ukraine missiles, Unmanned Surface vessels, and UAVs.
An Indian military expert who ardently follows the Russian Military, Squadron Leader Vijainder K. Thakur, said – “Doesn’t the jumping jack Minister know that BSF ships and submarines are launching cruise missiles from proximity to the Ukrainian coastline 2 to 3 times in a week? BSF Onyx missiles are routinely pulverizing Ukrainian targets? BSF patrol boats shoot Ukrainian USVs out of Black Sea waters every time they attempt to attack the Crimean coastline. BSF naval aviation fighters are patrolling over the Black Sea 24×7.”
Russia has been employing its small patrol ships, submarines, and patrol boats to shoot cutting-edge Kalibr missiles at Ukraine and intercept Ukrainian USVs, frequent visitors to the Crimean coast. As per Russian assertions, Black Sea Fleet fighter bombers such as the Su-24 routinely destroy Ukrainian boats with special forces attempting to land on the Crimean coast.
The latest UK intelligence update also noted that the Naval Aviation segment of Russia’s Black Sea Fleet has taken on a notably important role in the Fleet’s operations and strongly emphasized maritime air patrol operations, most likely with a primary focus on early detection of unmanned surface vessels.
According to London’s inputs, the Russian Black Sea Fleet has lately deployed the Soviet-era Be-12 MAIL amphibious aircraft, which operates from bases in Crimea. Its original design was tailored for anti-submarine warfare and maritime patrol duties.
The BSF also maintains a constant vigil, and ISR aircraft and drones operated by the US and NATO are kept away from the Crimean coast by BSF fighter jets like the Su-30 SM that patrol the length of the Black Sea.
Additionally, Russia claims that the Black Sea Fleet submarine and landing ship damaged in the Ukrainian storm shadow attack are being restored for operational use. However, analysts had previously said that the vessels were damaged beyond repair. A landing ship damaged earlier by a USV attack has already returned to operational service.
When probed by this author whether Russia has withdrawn its vessels, signaling its decimation, Thakur said, “The Black Sea Fleet is operating in the Black Sea. The British Minister cannot say that Russians must anchor their ships within range of Ukrainian missiles so that Ukrainians can destroy them.
During the war, ships routinely change where they dock. The point is not that the Black Sea Fleet ships are not docking at Sevastopol. The point is they are effectively discharging their operational role. What the UK Minister said was largely balderdash.”