Most of the elements of Russia’s once-mighty Black Sea Fleet (BSF) that are still afloat recently abandoned their blue water operations for the land-locked Sea of Azov. Now Kyiv’s relentless campaign to find and sink Russian warships has already reached those enclosed and once-safe waters.

Kremlin naval officials last week ordered practically all major warships operating in the Black Sea area to congregate in the Sea of Azov, in waters south of the occupied Ukrainian port cities of Mariupol and Berdiansk for “exercises.”

The area is normally difficult for big vessels to operate because of constricting shores nearby, shallow water depths and shifting seabed.

The waters of the northeast Azov Sea are, however, about as far as it is possible for a BSF warship to distance itself from the main weapons used by Kyiv’s forces to attack Russian naval vessels – kamikaze unmanned seaborne vessels (USV) drones and precision-guided anti-ship missiles particularly those sent to Ukraine from Britain and France, the Storm Shadow / SCALP EG.

Advertisement

According to open source reports, the Kremlin concentrated as many as five amphibious assault ships, twelve surface combatant vessels, and escorts, for its latest fleet maneuvers. Ukrainian partisan groups reported the first Russian warships left the BSF’s now little-used main base of Sevastopol on May 31, and vessels also moved from the ports of Feodosia, Chernomorsk, and Novorossiysk on the Russian mainland.

WATCH: Ukrainian Special-Ops Pick Off Russia’s Cutting-Edge Radio Relay Station
Other Topics of Interest

WATCH: Ukrainian Special-Ops Pick Off Russia’s Cutting-Edge Radio Relay Station

With one of its “newest innovations” in drone technology recently entered into service, Ukrainian special-ops forces damaged a Russian relay station worth millions.

Russian state media documented Ukrainian attempts to attack BSF vessels operating in the Black Sea in the lead-up to the training. At least one attack was foiled by Russian Air Force helicopters that intercepted and destroyed USV attempting to pass through the Strait and break into the Azov Sea with video showing the door gunner of a KA-27 helicopter detonating the drone’s warhead in a spectacular explosion.

Screenshot from a Russian video of the Ukrainian USV being hit by fire from the door gunner of a KA-27 helicopter.

Advertisement

The BSF maneuvers themselves reportedly kicked off on Friday, June 7, initially without significant incident.

On the night of June 8-9, the situation turned kinetic in those waters with Ukrainian naval drones entering Taganrog Bay, a narrow inlet abutting mainland Russia on the Azov Sea, and blowing themselves up next to a barge and a tugboat escorting it.

Neither vessel was seriously damaged, but the tugboat captain decided it was safer to return to the Russian port of Azov, the Russian news and information platform Baza reported. Russian milbloggers widely confirmed the attacks.

Ukrainian milbloggers claimed that on the same night, one of the Russian assault ships detached itself from the fleet's main body and sailed into the Russian mainland port of Yeisk, on the other side of the Taganrog Narrows, and tied up. According to unconfirmed reports, more Ukrainian USVs attacked the warship, although the results are unclear.

Advertisement

The Ukrainian June 8-9 strikes around Taganrog and Yeisk most likely took place, within sighting distance of Russian warships at sea some 20-40 km away.

Hitting Russian bases more than 200 kilometers north of the Kremlin-controlled Kerch Strait, in waters the Russian navy theoretically totally owns, marked a new benchmark in the Russo-Ukrainian Naval War: The moment when the BSF’s last safe haven was penetrated by Kyiv’s forces.

Dmitro Plentenchuk, head of the Ukrainian military Center for Strategic Communications, in June 9 television comments, said that currently the only warships BSF commanders are willing to risk sending into the open waters of the Black Sea are submarines, usually two at a time from the four known to be operational.

“They go out on patrol periodically,” he said.

Andriy Yusov, a spokesman for Ukraine’s Main Intelligence Directorate (HUR), in Friday comments to the government news agency Ukrinform, said Russian navy commanders selected the Sea of Azov for surface warship maneuvers because the open waters of the Black Sea have long been lethal for fleet operations, and that the Kremlin is attempting to “hide” ships in waters out Kyiv’s reach. Kyiv’s intention is to strike wherever the BSF retreats, and hunt down the rest, he said.

Advertisement

“They are trying to hide the big ships, so we are going after the smaller ones,” Yusov said. “We are going to keep hunting.”

On June 6, Ukrainian USV penetrated into Pankse Lake, an almost totally-landlocked bay on the northwestern shore of the Crimean Peninsula, rammed and destroyed a Russian naval tugboat named Saturn.

On May 30, special operations teams from Group 13, an elite Ukrainian naval strike group, used MAGURA kamikaze sea drones to run down, ram, and sink two Russian KC-701 Tunets-class patrol cutters operating near the Kerch Strait. The Russian warships’ mission had been, in part, to prevent or block Ukrainian USV attacks in the area and against targets further north.

Russia’s most serious single naval loss of the war took place on April 14, 2022, when a pair of Ukrainian anti-ship missiles sank the BSF flagship, the cruiser Moskva. Since then Ukraine has sunk roughly a third of BSF warships.

According to most military analysts, Ukraine scored another major naval victory in September 2023 with a series of missile and drone strikes targeting the BSF main base at Sevastopol. The subsequent attacks over a period of almost three weeks ended with one heavy assault ship sunk, one missile submarine destroyed, and at least one more heavy assault ship damaged. The Russian navy for the most part abandoned Sevastopol in October – for the first time since 1941.

Russian official spokesmen at the time said the submarine, the Rostov-Na-Danu, was only moderately damaged and would quickly return to sea operations.

Advertisement

In fact, the hulk of the submarine remained where it had been hit until June 9, 2024, when repair teams towed it to Sevastopol’s 13th Ship Repair Factory and covered it with tarps. The pro-Ukrainian Crimea partisan group, Krmsky Veter, spotted and published images of a pair of repair barges underneath the canvas.

In 2023 Russia declared all civilian cargo traffic in the Black Sea subject to BSF search and seizure, and all Ukrainian ports under full blockade. Ukraine and its Western allies responded by routing ship traffic along the Black Sea’s western shoreline, where BSF ships would either have to violate NATO nation territorial waters or come into range of land-based anti-ship missiles. The Kremlin later announced it was canceling the “blockade” to allow grain to reach world markets and prevent hunger.

To suggest a correction or clarification, write to us here
You can also highlight the text and press Ctrl + Enter