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Ukraine Contests Sea Control Off Odesa With Attack on Snake Island

operational command south
Operational Command South / social media

Published Jun 22, 2022 11:46 PM by The Maritime Executive

The Ukrainian military has launched a series of strikes on Snake Island, a small but strategic rocky outpost off Ukraine's southern coast. It has been in Russian hands since the opening days of the war, and it is essential to the control of the sea lanes leading to and from Odesa. The Black Sea port is key to Ukraine's grain export sector, and it is under Russian blockade. 

Russia has fortified Snake Island with advanced air-defense systems and coastal defense anti-ship missile batteries, and this equipment has been targeted in a series of ongoing attacks. Satellite imaging provided by an American commercial operator shows at least three areas of the island that have been newly blackened by explosions and fires.

Ukraine has not confirmed the method of attack, and its Operational Command South has said only that "Snake Island was dealt a concentrated blow with the use of various forces and methods of destruction."

Ukrainian forces also struck three offshore rigs located to the west of the Crimean Peninsula, claiming that Russian forces had installed surveillance and communications equipment on the structures. Gov. Sergey Aksyonov, head of the Moscow-controlled government of Crimea, said in a social media post that three were injured and seven were missing after the attack. State Duma deputy Mikhail Sheremet, a Russian elected official from Crimea, said that it was possible that "foreign long-range missiles" were used in the strike. 

Previously, on June 17, Ukraine also claimed to have attacked and sunk a Russian supply tug, which was delivering military supplies to Snake Island. UK intelligence has confirmed the striek, which relied on two NATO-supplied Harpoon anti-ship missiles. It was Ukraine's first claimed strike using Harpoon, a 1970s-era missile system which has been employed by more than 30 nations. Ukraine's navy claimed that the supply tug had a Tor surface-to-air missile system on board - a practice that has become increasingly common for small Russian Navy vessels in the Black Sea.

"Ukrainian coastal defense capability has largely neutralized Russia's ability to establish sea control and project maritime force in the northwestern Black Sea," assessed the UK Ministry of Defence in a daily briefing Tuesday. "This has undermined the viability of Russia's original operational design for the invasion, which involved holding the Odesa region at risk from the sea."