Russian forces have withdrawn from Snake Island in the Black Sea after repeated attacks by Ukrainian forces, a move that will set Moscow’s troops back and potentially undermine their control of vital shipping routes.
The retreat came after continued Ukrainian attacks — including with powerful newly arrived Western weapons — made it impossible for Russian forces to hold onto the island, a small patch of land 20 miles off the coast of Odessa that has played an outrageous role throughout the war. played.
Just a week after the Kremlin boasted of rebuffing a Ukrainian attempt to retake the island, the Russian withdrawal appeared to be another example of Moscow’s military ambitions in the face of Ukrainian resistance.
Both Russians and Ukrainians confirmed the retreat on Thursday, with Ukrainians saying it came after a military campaign that began more than a week ago, repeatedly targeting the island and Russian attempts to supply the garrison there with rocket and artillery fire. .
According to the southern command of the Ukrainian army, the last Russian soldiers on the island, which is called Zmiinyi in Ukrainian, fled overnight on two speedboats.
Understanding the war between Russia and Ukraine better
“There are no more Russians on Zmiinyi,” said Andrii Yermak, the head of Ukraine’s presidential office. “The armed forces have carried out an excellent operation.”
Russia’s defense ministry tried in a statement to label the retreat as “a goodwill gesture” that “would not allow Kyiv to speculate on the impending food crisis” as control of the island is vital to securing of the shipping lanes in the northwestern corner of the Black Sea. Russia’s de facto naval blockade has prevented Ukraine from exporting most of its pre-war average monthly supply of five million tons of grain.
However, Russia insists its blockade and dominance of the sea is still nearing completion. It has shown no indication that it will allow Ukrainian ships leaving the port of Odessa to pass safely.
Natalia Humeniuk, a spokeswoman for the southern command of the Ukrainian army, said on Tuesday that Ukraine destroyed three anti-aircraft missile systems recently installed on the island. She said the most recent attack had rendered the radar station useless, making it impossible to provide assistance to Russian forces on the island.
The fortress island had been a target for the Russians since the first day of the invasion, when Russia’s Black Sea flagship, the Moskva, arrived to order the surrender of the soldiers manning the small Ukrainian outpost. The soldiers’ salty refusal became a rallying cry for the nation.
The sinking of the Moskva in April, one of Ukraine’s most celebrated victories in the war, has increased the island’s importance to both Ukraine and Russia.
Russia has moved to bring powerful surface-to-air missile systems to the island to support its ground forces. The Russian navy also began operating further off the Ukrainian coast, out of range of land-based anti-ship missiles.
But the danger to Russian ships increased when more powerful Western anti-ship systems arrived in late May. Around June 20, Ukrainian forces launched their renewed assault on the island, attacking a Russian tugboat that was on a mission to bring weapons and personnel to the island.
The Ukrainian “almost certainly” used newly delivered harpoon missiles in the attack, according to the British military, which said it was their first demonstrated use.
But the battle for the island continued. Satellite images released over the past week showed the results as seen from space – new large scars on the 46 acres of rock and grass rising from the sea.
During the latest attack on Thursday morning, the Ukrainian army said it had used missiles and artillery to knock out yet another Russian anti-missile defense system. “Snake Island is covered in fire, explosions can be heard,” the Ukrainian command said.
The last Russians there were seen boarding two boats and rushing away. But given the vulnerability, it was unclear whether the Ukrainians would attempt to re-establish their own garrison on Snake Island.