Russia’s Black Sea Fleet is fleeing from the port of Sevastopol in Crimea to Novorossiysk in Krasnodor Krai in southern Russia and the Russian naval port in Feodosia on the annexed peninsula, new satellite images show.
The images dated October 1 and 2, shared by three Russian milbloggers, show that some of the largest ships of the Black Sea Fleet are moored at a naval base near Novorossiysk, while smaller ships are now located in Feodosia, The Bell, an independent online newspaper in Russia, reported on Wednesday.
Experts close to Ukraine’s Defense Ministry previously told Newsweek that Kyiv is embarking on a strategy to “demilitarize” the Black Sea Fleet as part of steps toward eventually liberating Crimea, which was annexed by Russian President Vladimir Putin in 2014.
Russia frigates Admiral Essen and Admiral Makarov, three diesel submarines, five large landing ships, several small missile ships, one large landing craft, minesweepers and other small ships have been relocated from Sevastopol, the images show.
Russia’s Black Sea Fleet was dealt a blow when Ukraine launched a missile attack on its headquarters in Sevastopol on September 22, reportedly killing a number of leading officers.
On Monday, the British Defense Ministry said that in recent weeks the Naval Aviation component of Russia’s Black Sea Fleet has assumed a particularly important role in its operations as it struggles to deal with concurrent threats on the southern flank of the land war in Ukraine.
It said in an intelligence update that maritime air patrol operations are becoming increasingly important, “highly likely with a primary mission of the early identification of uncrewed surface vessels.”
“A key Russian asset in these operations is the Be-12 MAIL amphibious aircraft, designed in the 1950s, flying out of bases in occupied Crimea,” it said. “Su-24 FENCER and FLANKER variant combat jets conduct maritime strike operations, including at least one recent air strike on the strategically located Snake Island.”
The defense ministry said that with more Black Sea Fleet assets likely relocating to Novorossiysk in the face of threats to Sevastopol, Russia is “attempting to use naval air power to project force over the north-western Black Sea.”
Andriy Zagorodnyuk, former Ukrainian defense minister and now an adviser to the ministry, told Newsweek in September that Russia’s surviving Black Sea vessels were old and outdated.
“They were all built a long time ago. They have some significant issues with weapons, equipment, and so on,” he said, adding that replacing destroyed or badly damaged vessels will take years, not months.
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