Russia has moved most of its Black Sea Fleet warships from its primary base in Crimea to safer waters in Russian territory, according to a senior Ukrainian military intelligence official.
Major General Vadym Skibitsky, deputy chief of Ukraine’s military intelligence, said during a Wednesday interview with the Kyiv TV channel that the Kremlin had decided to relocate the vessels out of fear of missile strikes.
The official primary headquarters for the Black Sea Fleet is located in Sevastopol, the largest city in Crimea and the site of multiple drone strikes in recent weeks. Though Ukraine has not accepted responsibility for the drone attacks, Mikhail Razvozhayev—the Kremlin-installed governor of Sevastopol—has said Kyiv is behind the strikes, which reportedly caused a large fire at an oil depot in the area on Saturday.
According to a translation of Skibitsky’s comments by the online outlet Ukrainska Pravda, Russia’s naval high command has re-assigned most of its Black Sea Fleet vessels from Sevastopol back to the Russian city of Novorossiysk.
“We see that the Russians are afraid. That base in Sevastopol and other military facilities are now heavily guarded; the occupiers are equipping positions to protect against attacks on this infrastructure,” Skibitsky said, according to Ukrainska Pravda.
Skibitsky specified that the warships were moved approximately 220 miles away from Sevastopol to Novorossiysk. The Kyiv Post described Novorossiysk, which is located on the Black Sea’s east coast in Russia’s southern Kuban region, as being “well out of range of probable anti-ship missile launch sites in Ukraine-controlled territory.”
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has maintained that Crimea, which was invaded and annexed by Russia in 2014, belongs to Ukraine. He has also stated multiple times that Crimea being recognized once again as part of his nation is one of his conditions for a ceasefire in the war Russian President Vladimir Putin started in February 2022.
Meanwhile, Russian officials have remained firm that Crimea must remain part of Russia in any future peace talks. In addition, the Kremlin has said that four additional territories it illegitimately annexed in September 2022 must also be recognized as Russian.
Will Reno, the chairman of the political science department at Northwestern University, told Newsweek that he’s not surprised that Russia would consider moving its expensive ships from Sevastopol.
“It is possible that Russian planners anticipate that ships could come into range of missiles such as HIMARS in the event a Ukrainian offensive enabled repositioning closer to Russia’s naval stations,” Reno said.
As proof of Ukraine’s capabilities in attacking Russia’s navy, Reno cited examples like the Ukraine assault that resulted in the April 2022 sinking of the Moskva, the Black Sea Fleet’s flagship.
“Russia’s Black Sea fleet has been reduced to a littoral force, at least in some respects. This development has lessons for U.S. planners,” Reno said. “There is a suspicion that current offensive weapons put naval power at a disadvantage, particularly large expensive vessels that relatively inexpensive offensive weapons can damage or destroy. Thinking ahead to the western Pacific, are large investments in capital ships the wisest use of resources?”
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