Ukraine’s latest kamikaze sea drone attack sinking at least two Russian naval cutters on Thursday was backstopped by distracting attacks against local air defenses and an oil refinery in mainland Russia, and possibly an unprecedented patrol by the Pentagon’s best spy plane.

In the hours leading up to air-sea raid against a military pier in the Kerch Strait port Chornomorsk, a US RQ-4 Global Hawk flew a Black Sea mission of probably unprecedented duration and proximity to Russia – but the high-tech reconnaissance aircraft appears to have left the area an hour or two before the shooting started.

In exclusive comments to Kyiv Post early on Thursday, a spokesperson for Ukraine’s military Main Intelligence Directorate (HUR) said that special operations forces attacking port facilities in Kerch had sunk at least two Russian KC-701 Tunets-class patrol boats.

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Post screen grab and inserted image of a US Air Force Global Hawk spy plane sortie flown over the Black Sea on May 28-29. The eastern end of tracks flown by the electronics-packed reconnaissance aircraft came about twice as close to the Russian mainland, compared to other Global Hawk sorties monitored by Kyiv Post since January. As the unmanned military reconnaissance airplane left the air space, the Russians launched a wave of cruise missiles and kamikaze drones at targets in Ukraine, and the Ukrainians launched a complex chain of strikes with attack boats, kamikaze drones and possibly missiles hitting targets around the Kerch Strait and the Russian mainland city of Krasnodar.

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According to Russian social media and milblogger reports, the Ukrainian kamikaze boat raid took place as US-manufactured ATACMS missiles homed in on Russian air defense installations protecting the Kerch Strait. A Radio Liberty report geo-located the strike to Uzka Bay in the port Chernomorsk.

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According to those reports, about 20 explosions were audible during the attack taking place around midnight Wednesday-Thursday. One nighttime video published by the Realna Viina and other Telegram channels showed the exhaust flames of four ground-launched missiles flying in the direction of two missiles heading in the opposite direction.

A Russian Defense Ministry statement said eight ATACMS “tactical missiles” had been intercepted. Some Russian social media reports said Ukrainian kamikaze drone aircraft, not missiles, had been spotted. The ATACMS missiles is a powerful precision-guided weapon carrying a warhead weighing close to half a ton, and in past strikes Russian air defense forces have had trouble shooting it down.

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Russian occupation authority spokespersons said the Ukrainian attacks were almost totally ineffective, aside from light damage caused by debris following allegedly successful intercepts of the Ukrainian missiles. Crimea “Transport Minister” Niklai Lukashenko in a statement said two civilian ferries, one for automobiles and one for railroad cars, were hit but both would soon be repaired. Lukashenko offered no evidence to back up the claim.

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Russian social media and video published by HUR contradicted Lukashenko’s and other official Russian narratives, with almost all reports saying Russian navy ships in the Kerch region had taken direct hits and probably been badly damaged or destroyed. A video published by HUR showing MAGURA V5 sea drones tearing across water at extreme speed, under heavy Russian fire, before impacting a Tunets-class patrol boat broadside.

Crimea-based information platforms widely reported one ferry, the Kondo Trader, as badly damaged, and the other ferry, Avangard, as sunk at moorings. The independent Russian news agency Astra totaled Russian losses at four naval cutters, two civilian ferries, one civilian cutter damaged or destroyed, and five persons injured. Following an October 2022 Ukrainian strike on the Kerch Bridge damaging its capacity, the Russian military in Crimea receives most of its supplies by rail ferry.

A Kyiv Post review of open-source data and the ship silhouette in the HUR video substantiated the Ukrainian claim of at least one and probably two Tunets-class boats destroyed in the attack, and a high probability of substantial damage to at least two civilian ferries.

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Russian regional air defense commanders overnight early on Thursday also were forced to grapple with a long-range Ukrainian kamikaze drone strike against an oil refinery in the city Tuapse, in Russia’s Krasnodar Oblast.

Russian social media reported at least five robot planes, described in those reports as Ukrainian, appeared to home in on the plant and at least one ground explosion. Video recorded energetic small arms fire as one drone bore in to detonate, but it wasn’t clear if it was hit. A recorded voiceover, possibly by a refinery worker, expresses frustration that local air defenses seemed unable to stop the Ukrainian drones. There were no early reports of damage to the refinery.

Only hours before the Ukrainian strikes, per open-source air traffic data, a Ukrainian US Air Force Global Hawk drone was ideally placed to monitor the air activity and, according to Russian state media and milbloggers, transfer targeting data to Kyiv commanders.

Map with graphics published by the military information tracking platform @monitorwar showing the probable flight paths taken by Russian cruise missiles and drones attacking Ukraine overnight on Wednesday-Thursday. According to Ukrainian Air Force statements, the drones were launched from ground platforms in the Russia-occupied Crimea peninsula, and the cruise missiles were dropped by Tu-95 bombers from air space over central Russia. The strikes appear to have targeted Ukrainian Air Force facilities.

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The Italy-based aircraft, call sign Forte13, entered air space above the Black Sea at about 9 a.m.. local time on Wednesday, and for the next fifteen hours flew on an East-West track. Per data published by the open-source air traffic tracker FlightRadar, the robot plane left around 2 a.m. local time on Thursday.

The US military has operated the high-tech intelligence collection aircraft in the area for years, normally flying a Black Sea sortie at least twice a week. During those flights American flight controllers had in the past kept the $130 million spy plane well out over the water, at minimum 130 kilometers from Russian territory, and usually 200-250 kilometers away, Kyiv Post review of open-source flight tracking data from recent months showed.

American flight planners for the Forte13 sortie on Wednesday-Thursday appeared to break with that pattern, sending their drone as close as 65-70 kilometers off Russia’s Black Sea coast, and reaching international air space some 100 kilometers due south the Russia-controlled Crimea peninsula, review of fresh air tracking radar data showed.

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The Global Hawk by flight route and timing was almost perfectly positioned to give Pentagon intelligence analysts precise locations of most if not all Russian air defense systems in Crimea, occupied south Ukraine and southwest Russia, only hours before the Ukrainian military launched its latest round of air and strikes.

According to a Thursday statement published by Ukraine’s Army Chief of Staff (ACS), Russian forces launched dozens of aircraft including Su-27/30 fighters, An-26 observation planes and KA-27 and Mi-8 helicopter gunships in attempts to intercept the Ukrainian sea drones as they crossed almost the entire length of the Black Sea en route to Kerch. The US Global Hawk not only was in the air as most of those engagements took place, at times it possibly was 50,000 feet directly above them, Kyiv Post review of the Global Hawk flight track and past published MAGURA-5 drone attack routes found.

In the later stages of its patrol the US reconnaissance plane was Black Sea air space at the same time Russian bombers hundreds of kilometers away launched missiles at Ukraine in a major nighttime air raid, Kyiv Post review of the Global Hawk’s published flight tracks and Ukrainian reports of the Russian attack showed.

According to Ukrainian Air Force spokespersons, Russia strike mission planners used Tu-95 bombers to launch 11 X-101/555 series cruise missiles and 32 Iranian-manufactured Shahed drones in the night’s attacks targeting military and civilian infrastructure, of which air defenses shot down all the drones and seven of the eleven cruise missiles.

According to Ukrainian air defense warning channels, five bombers lifted off from Russia’s Olena military airfield starting at 10 p.m. on Wednesday, fired their missiles at Ukraine from 12:30-1 a.m. on Thursday and the weapons flying at close to the speed of sound had hit targets or been shot down by 2:45 a.m. By the time the Russian missiles arrived and exploded, the American Global Hawk had flown half the way back to its home base in Italy, records showed.

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