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Video: Drone Boats Attack Russian Surveillance Ship in the Black Sea

Drone boat
Russian Ministry of Defense

Published May 24, 2023 3:26 PM by The Maritime Executive

On Wednesday morning, the Russian Ministry of Defense claimed that a Russian surveillance ship had been attacked by Ukrainian drone boats in international waters in the southwestern Black Sea.

At 0530 hours, the ministry reported, the Ukrainian armed forces attempted to attack the surveillance ship Ivan Khurs using three unmanned speedboats - a tactic which Ukraine has used before. The strike was not successful, Russia claimed, and all three boats were destroyed by the Khurs' defensive weaponry. 

The ministry released a video appearing to show a black drone boat approaching the camera at speed and attempting to evade a stream of machine gun fire. The small craft exploded before reaching target.  

At the time of the strike, the Khurs was tasked with patrolling the route of the TurkStream and Blue Stream pipelines under the Black Sea, about 75 nm to the northeast of the Bosporus entrance, according to the ministry.  This location is within the Turkish EEZ but outside of Turkish territorial seas.

Ukraine's government rarely claims official responsibility for strikes outside of its own territory, and it has not responded to the Russian report. 

It would not be the first Ukrainian strike. In October 2022, a large-scale drone boat attack hit the Russian-occupied port of Sevastopol, the home port of the Black Sea Fleet. Russia claimed that seven drone boats and eight UAVs were involved, and analysts believe that at least one Russian frigate may have been damaged in the attack. Ukraine did not claim responsibility, but after the fact, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky announced the start of a crowdfunding campaign for the construction of "marine drones." In an appeal, he suggested that "absolutely everyone understands" why Ukraine might want to invest in this class of weaponry. 

After the Ukrainian attack, Russia withdrew the majority of its vessel assets to Novorossyisk, further away from Ukrainian shores. It also emplaced multiple floating barriers between its warship berths and the harbor entrance in order to thwart small-craft attacks, and these augmented barriers (below) appear to have had success in fending off subsequent Ukrainian operations. Wednesday's strike on the Khurs suggests that Ukraine may be looking for opportunities to attack Russian warships at sea, where they do not have protection from strengthened port defenses.

Russia has also used drone-boat technology to support its ongoing invasion, albeit on a smaller scale. In February, video imagery circulating on Russian social media appeared to show a drone boat strike on a strategic bridge between Odesa and Moldova; the bridge is the only road and rail link between the two nations. The extent of any damage from this attack was not immediately clear.