Ukrainian navy chief says sea drone strikes have rendered Russia's Black Sea Fleet HQ in occupied Crimea effectively useless

  • Ukraine's attacks have left Russia's Black Sea Fleet HQ effectively useless, a Ukrainian naval officer said.

  • Vice-Admiral Oleksiy Neizhpapa said the fleet had been forced to relocate due to significant damage to the base.

  • Ukraine has had huge success targeting the Black Sea Fleet with sea drones.

Ukraine's sea drone and missile attacks have left Russia's Black Sea Fleet headquarters at Sevastopol effectively useless and forced many of its ships to relocate to other locations, the head of the Ukrainian navy has said.

Vice-Admiral Oleksiy Neizhpapa told Reuters news agency that "almost all the main combat-ready ships have been moved by the enemy from the main base of the Black Sea Fleet" following significant damage to the Crimean base.

"The ships are kept in Novorossiisk, and some of them are kept in the Sea of Azov," Neizhpapa said.

The Sevastopol headquarters was the site of numerous key functions for the Black Sea Fleet, including training, repairs, and storing ammunition.

The UK Ministry of Defence said in April that moving the fleet to Novorossiisk was likely the "best method of avoiding Ukrainian sea-borne attack," noting that the "maintenance, logistics and weapons-handling infrastructure" at the base had "highly likely been improved to support the new basing arrangements indefinitely."

Ukraine, which lost most of its traditional navy during the annexation of Crimea in 2014, has targeted Russia's Black Sea fleet with great success using sea drones, as well as hitting targets in occupied Crimea with US-made ATACMS missiles.

Ukraine's relatively cheap drone technology has scored a number of major hits on Russian battleships, including the Sergei Kotov patrol ship and the Ivanovets corvette.

Ukraine has also targeted key infrastructure with sea drones, such as Russian President Vladimir Putin's prized Kerch Bridge, which links the Russian mainland to the Crimean peninsula.

Putin has since moved to increase defensive measures of the bridge.

Despite Russian moves to blockade Ukraine and break its economy, Ukrainian operations around the Black Sea have also enabled it to maintain the passage of vital food supplies, particularly grain shipments.

Hope for F-16s

Frederik Mertens, a strategic analyst at the Hague Centre for Strategic Studies, previously told BI that by targeting Crimea, especially Russian ground-based air-defense (GBAD) systems, Ukraine was "preparing the ground" for future air strikes once F-16 jets arrived.

"Crimea is vulnerable," he said. "The Russians have relatively limited maneuver space on the peninsula."

"Putin has a lot to lose both politically and militarily. So if a limited number of fighters can have a real impact, it is here — and above the Black Sea that becomes fully accessible once the GBAD on Crimea is dealt with," he added.

Neizhpapa told Reuters that the expected delivery of F-16 fighter aircraft later this year would help Ukraine challenge Russia's dominance over the region.

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

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