Russian Warships Evacuate Crimean Base Amid Ukrainian Attacks

According to Ukraine’s navy chief, Vice-Admiral Oleksiy Neizhpapa, the Russian navy’s Black Sea Fleet has been forced to relocate nearly all its combat-ready warships from occupied Crimea to other locations. He attributes this to successful attacks by Ukrainian forces, which have rendered the Sevastopol base, a critical logistics hub, ineffective.

Neizhpapa, in an interview with Reuters, highlighted the impact of Ukrainian missile and naval drone strikes, which have inflicted significant damage on the Sevastopol base, affecting its crucial functions including repairs, maintenance, training, and ammunition storage.

“They were established over many decades, possibly centuries. And clearly they are now losing this hub,” Neizhpapa stated.

Despite facing challenges on the ground, Ukraine has inflicted significant blows on Russia’s Black Sea Fleet over the past 28 months. Using unmanned naval boats loaded with explosives and targeting Russian vessels with Storm Shadow and ATACM missiles, Ukraine has successfully targeted the fleet’s facilities and military assets in Crimea.

“Almost all the main combat-ready ships have been moved by the enemy from the main base of the Black Sea Fleet, and the ships are kept in Novorossiisk, and some of them are kept in the Sea of Azov,” Neizhpapa explained.

He further noted that Russia’s Novorossiisk naval base, located on the eastern Black Sea coast, lacks the extensive facilities of Sevastopol. This poses a significant challenge for the fleet, as Sevastopol served as the storage and loading site for cruise missiles used by its warships.

“I understand that they are now trying to solve this problem in Novorossiisk,” he said, acknowledging this as a “main issue” for the fleet.

Russia’s defense ministry has not responded to Reuters’ request for comment on Neizhpapa’s statements. However, President Vladimir Putin, during a meeting with navy chiefs last month, emphasized the recent replenishment and ongoing modernization of Russia’s fleet, including efforts to enhance its combat stability and strength.

Missile-carrying warships and submarines play a crucial role in Russia’s long-range missile attacks, alongside strategic bombers and ground-based launchers.

Neizhpapa claims that Ukraine has destroyed or damaged 27 naval vessels, including five he attributes to sea mines laid by Ukrainian naval drones near the Bay of Sevastopol.

Russia seized and annexed Crimea from Ukraine in 2014. Prior to the full-scale invasion in February 2022, Russia utilized its Black Sea Fleet, comprising dozens of warships, to project power into the Mediterranean and the Middle East.

Turkey, which controls the straits leading into and out of the Black Sea, has not allowed warships to pass through since the start of the war.

As a sign of their more defensive posture, some Russian warships, which rarely ventured into the Sea of Azov east of Crimea, are now stationed there regularly, Neizhpapa observed.

Monitoring data compiled by the Ukrainian Navy and shared with Reuters shows that as of June 27, 10 Russian warships were stationed in the Sea of Azov, compared to none in 2023.

The Black Sea Fleet’s current primary functions, according to Neizhpapa, include logistics, limited coastal territorial control, and launching Kalibr cruise missiles at Ukraine.

He declined to disclose Ukraine’s future plans in the Black Sea.

Ukraine’s operations in the Black Sea have enabled it to establish and secure its own shipping corridor, independent of Russia, after Moscow withdrew from the UN-brokered wartime food export deal last year.

This pushback began with Ukraine’s coastal defenses, which forced naval vessels away. Notably, in April 2022, Ukrainian anti-ship missiles sank the Moskva, the flagship of Russia’s Black Sea Fleet, a significant blow for the Kremlin.

With the addition of naval drone attacks and strikes, Russian warships no longer venture into the northwestern part of the Black Sea, covering an area of almost 9,650 square miles, Neizhpapa stated.

He anticipates the upcoming delivery of U.S.-made F-16 fighter aircraft, which will bolster Ukraine’s ability to challenge Russian dominance in the Black Sea.

“F-16s with the right armaments will be able to push away Russian warplanes. The northwestern part of the Black Sea, particularly the corridor for civilian ships, will be almost 100% secure,” he asserted.

Ukraine’s ambition is to expand its shipping corridor, which currently encompasses maritime traffic from three main Odesa ports, to include the ports of Mykolaiv and Kherson. However, this is currently not possible due to Russia’s control over the Kinburn Spit, which extends along that route.

To enhance protection against mines, patrol boats escort civilian vessels in certain areas. Air defenses provide cover for both the ports and the corridors.

The volume of cargo moving through the corridor has stabilized over the past six months, with Ukraine operating two daily convoys of vessels, compared to one in 2023.