Ukraine’s air-launched cruise missiles destroyed Russia’s two landing ships

Overnight on Sunday, the Ukrainian military claimed it struck—presumably with British-made Storm Shadow missiles or similar, French-made SCALP-EGs launched by Sukhoi Su-24 bombers—two Russian navy landing ships at their berths in Sevastopol, in Russian-occupied Crimea.

The dual strikes on the 369-foot Ropucha-class vessels Yamal and Azov may have eliminated another 15 percent of the Black Sea Fleet’s pre-war force of around a dozen landing ships. But they also have come too late significantly to shift the balance of power along the southern front in Ukraine.

The Black Sea Fleet began Russia’s wider war in Ukraine with nine landing ships, including six Ropuchas and three Tapirs. Several more landing ships reinforced the Black Sea Fleet from the Baltic and Northern Fleets.

In two years of hard fighting, the Ukrainians have blown up or sunk, using missiles and explosives-laden drone boats, five of the Ropuchas plus one Tapir-class vessel. They also have destroyed—of the Black Sea Fleet’s original three-dozen large ships—a cruiser, a submarine, a supply ship, several patrol boats and two missile-corvettes.

The hits on Russian ships have depleted the Black Sea Fleet’s combat power and transformed much of the Black Sea into a maritime no-man’s-land for large warships. That in turn has made it possible for Ukraine to resume sea trade out of the Black Sea—a major boon to the Ukrainian economy.

But the hits have come too late to serve another war aim: strangling the Russian field armies in occupied southern Ukraine. As recently as a few weeks ago, the Kremlin counted on the Black Sea Fleet’s landing ships, as well as the rail and road bridge connecting Russia to Crimea, to supply its southern regiments and brigades.

Back then, it was possible effectively to cut off the southern Russian forces by sinking landing ships and striking the bridge—two things Ukrainian forces did with some regularity.

No longer. A herculean effort by Russian engineers has added a new railway connecting Rostov in southern Russia to the Russian-occupied Ukrainian cities of Donetsk and—in the south—Berdyansk and Mariupol. The new rail line decreases by days the time it takes to move a freight car from southern Russia to southern Ukraine.

Railroads are much harder to interdict than ships are.

All that is to say, the Russians no longer depend so much on their landing ships to supply their forces along the southern front. So while it’s gratifying for friends of free Ukraine to see Russian Ropuchas burn—it also is an increasingly meaningless spectacle.

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