The Russian Navy’s once-menacing Black Sea Fleet and its submarines are reportedly retreating from Crimea over fears of Ukrainian anti-ship Neptune and Harpoon missiles. This comes amid the turning of the tide of the war between the two countries, with indications that Kyiv may push to retake the peninsula.
Considering Ukraine’s growing ability and confidence to attack Sevastopol in Crimea, it is difficult to disassociate the decision for the Russian Black Sea fleet to “regroup” its forces in the Black Sea from the increasing threat of attack by Ukrainian forces, defense analyst H.I. Sutton noted in a Naval News report.
The Black Sea Fleet, based in the Crimean port city of Sevastopol, is the Russian Navy’s fleet in the Black Sea, the Sea of Azov and the Mediterranean Sea, while Sevastopol is a major naval base on the southwestern tip of the Crimean Peninsula. The fleet, considered central to Russian President Vladimir Putin‘s plan to invade Ukraine, was used to launch Kalibr cruise missiles, block access to Ukraine’s ports and threaten an amphibious landing on Odesa.
Since the beginning of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, four Improved-Kilo Class submarines of the Russian Navy’s Black Sea Fleet have been regularly sighted at Sevastopol where they have dedicated berths, according to Sutton. The submarines have used the base to rearm with Kalibr land-attack cruise missiles.
Russia reinforced its Black Sea Fleet before launching the invasion of Ukraine on Feb. 24, even sending in its improved Kilo-class submarines there.
However, since the dramatic sinking of the Moskva, the flagship of Russia’s Black Sea Fleet, in April, the Russian Navy’s surface fleet has already shifted away from the range of Ukrainian missiles. Meanwhile, Russian submarines have been operating unimpeded throughout the Black Sea.
Until recently, it was not unusual to spot three of the Kilos in the port at once, with one at sea. Now that has changed, Sutton pointed out. For the past few weeks, however, the Kilos have been concentrated at Novorossiysk — another naval base much further away from Ukraine — fearing attack by Ukrainian forces, Sutton added.
Russia fears that Ukraine, having successfully turned the tide of the war, will now push into Crimea, a Ukrainian peninsula Russia annexed in 2014.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has promised that Kyiv would restore its rule over Crimea and pointed out that it is necessary to liberate it as it “will be the resuscitation of world law and order.”
He added that Ukraine would take back Crimea by any means his government deemed right and it would not consult other countries before doing so.