Ukraine's exploding naval drones are hunting down Russian vessels like tugboats after the big Black Sea Fleet warships fell back

  • Ukrainian special forces on Thursday used naval drones to hunt down a Russian tugboat near Crimea.

  • Kyiv in recent weeks has been forced to go after smaller Russian vessels in the Black Sea.

  • Moscow has pulled back its larger warships to reduce their vulnerability to attacks.

Ukraine is using its arsenal of exploding naval drones to hunt down smaller Russian vessels instead of the larger Black Sea Fleet warships, which Moscow pulled back to reduce their vulnerability to attacks.

The Ukrainian Main Directorate of Intelligence stated that one of its special forces units staged a "successful attack" that destroyed a Russian military tugboat on Thursday. The operation against this Project 498-series vessel took place near the northwest corner of the occupied Crimean peninsula.

"Devastating fire damage was inflicted after the successful breakthrough of the line of defensive barriers of the occupiers in the Black Sea area," the HUR said in a statement shared to the Telegram messaging app, adding that the vessel "will no longer sail."

The operation appears to have been carried out by a Ukrainian surface drone, according to footage published by the HUR, although the exact model is unclear. Kyiv has relied on a fleet of homemade Magura V5 and Sea Baby drones packed with explosives to carry out devastating missions against ships of the Russian Black Sea Fleet throughout the war.

Footage of Thursday's operation, captured by a camera placed on one of the drones, appears to show a rather complex attack.

Multiple explosions can be seen around the coast, and the drone appears to slip through a hole in the floating boom defenses. The barrier may have been targeted in advance to allow the drone to pass through, though it's unclear. Russia has relied on these types of defenses — along with moored barges — to try to protect its ports from Ukraine's naval drones.

After navigating the harbor, the naval drone is seen eventually homing in on the tugboat. It then appears to slam into the Russian vessel, causing the video connection to terminate.

Business Insider could not immediately verify the footage.

Ukraine has, in recent weeks, been targeting smaller Russian military vessels in the northwestern Black Sea after Moscow moved its larger, more vulnerable warships away from the area and across the region following a string of devastating attacks.

Last month, for instance, Kyiv used its naval drones to conduct multiple operations against Russian patrol boats near Crimea.

The Black Sea fight has been a notable area of success for Ukraine. Lacking a proper navy of its own, Kyiv has relied on naval drones and long-range anti-ship missiles to wage an asymmetrical style of warfare against the Black Sea Fleet.

Russia has proven incapable of consistently protecting its warships against these threats. It has bolstered the defenses on its vessels and even sent combat aircraft to patrol the region. Earlier this year, Moscow also reshuffled its naval leadership, though the personnel changes have done little to save its fleet.

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