Kiev’s operations in the Black Sea region have recently intensified, but they have yet to yield any significant gains. Tensions escalated last week when the Ukrainian Air Force launched attacks on the Russian city of Sevastopol. The strikes targeted the headquarters of Russia’s Black Sea Fleet and were carried out using Franco-British Storm Shadow air-launched cruise missiles.
Ukraine named the operation “Crab Trap” and claimed that 34 Russian soldiers, including Black Sea Fleet Commander Viktor Sokolov, were killed in the attack. However, Sokolov appeared at a board meeting of the Russian Ministry of Defense, refuting the Ukrainian version of events. According to the official Russian report, only one serviceman went missing during the strikes.
The Ukrainian military prepared and planned these attacks in advance, utilizing reconnaissance missions and drones to gather intelligence on Russian air defense systems. Their strategic goal was to destroy the Black Sea Fleet or force its expulsion from Crimea. While this objective may seem ambitious, especially considering Ukraine’s failure to cut off the land corridor between Crimea and mainland Russia, it has further fueled the conflict in the region.
After Crimea rejoined Russia in 2014, Ukraine lost control of important infrastructure in the Black Sea region that it had inherited from the USSR. The Ukrainian Black Sea Fleet, Coast Guard units, and marines were downgraded as many personnel joined the Russian side. Despite aspirations to regain control of Crimea, Ukraine prioritized funding its ground forces due to limited military resources.
However, Ukraine sought to compensate for its lost influence in the Black Sea and Azov Sea regions. In 2014, it developed and produced the Neptune cruise missile using what was left of Soviet military production facilities. These missiles have played a significant role in Ukraine’s assault on the Black Sea region.
The Russian offensive in the Black Sea region began on February 24, 2022. While Moscow took control of strategic locations like Snake Island and the Kinburn Spit, it was unable to fully seize infrastructure such as the Nikolaev port and shipyard, the Ochakov Naval Base, the ports of the Odessa agglomeration, and the Danube. This allowed Ukraine to maintain its influence in the region and gather forces for retaliation.
In April 2021, Ukraine sank the Black Sea Fleet flagship cruiser Moskva using a Neptune missile, forcing the Russian garrison to leave Snake Island. The situation in the region de-escalated for a period due to the Black Sea Grain Initiative, which aimed to prevent a global food crisis by facilitating exports of Ukrainian and Russian grain. However, tensions resurfaced when Russia withdrew from the initiative and both sides issued warnings to ships entering their respective Black Sea ports.
The ports of the Odessa agglomeration became crucial for Kiev as its last suitable option for imports, exports, and potential military deployments. The Ukrainian part of the Danube also plays a significant role in connecting the country with Central Europe. Additionally, there are hydrocarbon deposits between Crimea and Odessa, with drilling rigs known as the “Boyko Towers” being used for positioning electronic equipment. Ukraine announced in September 2023 that it had captured these towers.
Control over Crimea and Sevastopol is vital for Russia to maintain its influence in the Black Sea region. The main infrastructure of the Black Sea Fleet is located there, and Crimea serves as a logistics hub for Russian troops deployed in neighboring regions.
Ukraine’s attacks on Crimea have been ongoing since the summer of 2022 and have gradually increased in frequency and intensity. They have utilized unmanned aerial vehicles, naval drones, and cruise missiles received from NATO countries. Ukraine has targeted strategically important objects in Crimea, demonstrating its ability to inflict damage and disrupt Russian operations.
These attacks have raised concerns as Ukraine appears willing to employ even terrorist methods to destroy Crimean infrastructure. The Ukrainian Security Service admitted involvement in a terrorist attack on the Crimean Bridge, resulting in civilian casualties. Ukraine’s goal, as expressed by former presidential aide Aleksey Arestovich, is to destroy Crimea’s military bases and force the complete withdrawal of the Black Sea Fleet from the peninsula.
Despite Ukraine’s efforts, its ground operation in Zaporozhye, aimed at cutting off the land corridor to Crimea, has not met with success. The Ukrainian Army has only managed to capture a ruined village so far. The conflict in the Black Sea region remains a volatile and ongoing situation with the potential for further escalation.