A land-based anti-ship missile sank a Russian navy tugboat unloading air defense missiles and service personnel on the Russian Federation (RF)-occupied Zmiyny Island, in the north-west Black Sea, news reports and official statement said on Friday, June 17.

A Ukraine Armed Forces (UAF) official announcement said the strike took place in the early hours of June 17, and hit the navy ship as it was tied up at a pier.

“The Naval Forces of Ukraine have destroyed yet another ‘nothing like it anywhere in the world’ system – this time aboard a tugboat carrying a Tor anti-aircraft system. The Russian Black Sea vessel Vasiliy Bekh was hit while transporting ammunition, military materials, and military service personnel from the Black Sea Fleet,” a Ukrainian navy statement said in part.


A video made public by the UAF showed what appeared to be a low-flying missile detonating in a nighttime strike against a vessel next to a shoreline. It was not possible to determine the location of the images. There was no immediate public response from Russian government news platforms.

According to news reports, the Vasiliy Bekh weighed 1,605 tons and became a logistics and support ship for Russia’s Black Sea Fleet in 2017.

Maksym Marchenko, head of the Odesa regional defense command, said a US-built Harpoon anti-ship missile had struck the tugboat.

The US and Denmark have made public their delivery of Harpoon missiles to Ukraine. Some Ukrainian social media news channels claimed on Friday, June 17, without offering evidence, that the weapon used was a British-delivered Brimstone anti-ship missile.

The RGM-84L-4 Harpoon Block II missile – which Danish and Ukrainian media outlets had reported as operational in Ukraine in May – is a NATO-standard long range weapon with a reported range of 300 km.

Unlike the Brimstone, a lighter, short-range missile designed to take out motor boats and small commercial vessels, the Harpoon’s primary mission is to sink major warships.


Ukraine’s version of the Harpoon, the domestically-developed Neptune missile, critically damaged the missile cruiser Moskva, the Russian Black Sea Fleet’s flagship, in a nighttime strike by two weapons, on April 13. The Moskva had been patrolling near Zmiyny Island and sank on April 14.

More than 300 sailors and officers on the Moskva reportedly died from injuries or drowning. Kremlin spokesmen have repeatedly denied the UAF’s involvement, claimed the Moskva had an accidental onboard fire and then sank in a storm, and that the vast majority of the crew were saved.

Multiple international news sources and military analysts have said Ukrainian missiles sank the warship with a major loss of life.

The Tor anti-aircraft system is a Russia-manufactured medium-range missile which NATO has called SA-15 Gauntlet. Since Russia’s capture of Zmiyny in the first week of the war the Kremlin has, according to satellite photographs, systematically fortified ground and air defenses on the island.

The UAF has attempted to block the RF build-up by using combat jets and missile-armed drones, but strong RF air defenses and very limited numbers of UAF attack bombers and strike drones have not seriously degraded the RF defenses on Zmiyny.


Located near the Danube Delta and sea routes between Ukraine and the Mediterranean Sea, Zmiyny Island, along with air and naval units operating in its vicinity, is a key piece of Moscow’s sea blockade strategy against Ukraine.

Russia has threatened to use its military forces to attack any ship moving to or from Ukrainian ports, preventing Ukrainian grain from reaching international markets by seagoing ships, and imported fuel and weapons from reaching Ukraine by sea.

According to regional security analysts, US and Danish-sourced Harpoon missiles and launchers in UAF hands could – if deployed in sufficient numbers – undermine or even break Russia’s sea blockade of Ukrainian sea ports by forcing RF warships out of western Black Sea waters within the range of Harpoon missiles, and leaving Zmiyny Island isolated and vulnerable to attack by UAF.

The Ukrainian navy has released video footage claiming to show the tugboat’s sinking.






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