Airstrikes carried out by two Russian Su-27 fighter jets failed to hit Ukraine’s Snake Island in the Black Sea last week, the British Ministry of Defense said Friday, suggesting that this indicates Moscow’s air forces are “failing” in battle.
Russia’s forces abandoned the island last month after repeated bombardments, although Moscow said the withdrawal was a “gesture of goodwill” that showed Russia “is not blocking the UN’s efforts to organize a humanitarian corridor to export agricultural goods from Ukraine.”
Snake Island made headlines in the early days of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s war when Ukrainians stationed there told a Russian cruiser: “Russian warship, go f**k yourself!”
“Since withdrawing from the strategically located Snake Island on 30 June 2022, Russia has been attempting to deny its use by Ukraine,” the U.K.’s defense ministry said in its daily intelligence update.
“However, on 13 July 2022 airstrikes by two Su-27 Russian fighter jets failed to hit the island. This follows the pattern of Russian air forces failing to successfully engage in the tactical battle.”
British intelligence has repeatedly assessed that Russia’s air force has underperformed since the war began in late February.
On June 20, the ministry said Russia’s failure to consistently deliver air power is likely one of the most important factors behind the Kremlin’s “very limited campaign success” in the conflict.
It said that Russia’s air force has operated in a “risk [averse] style,” meaning it has rarely penetrated deep behind Ukrainian lines, and has not been able so far to “gain full air superiority,”
“Some of the underlying causes of its difficulties echo those of Russian ground forces,” the ministry said last month.
The ministry said that for years, much of Russia’s air combat training has highly likely been heavily scripted and designed to impress senior officials, rather than to develop dynamic initiative amongst air crews.
Russia, therefore, has developed “an impressive roster of relatively modern and capable combat jets” within its air force, but has failed to develop the “institutional culture and skill-sets required for its personnel to meet Russia’s aspiration of delivering a more Western-style modern air campaign,” the intelligence report said. “This has led to a greater than planned weight of effort falling to ground troops, who are becoming exhausted; and on advanced cruise missiles, stocks of which are likely running low.”
U.K. intelligence also said last month that Russia is being forced to deploy retired pilots to operate warplanes because of high casualty numbers. It said Russia has moved to use retired personnel who are now working as contractors for Wagner, a Russian private military company, to conduct close air support missions.
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