Ukraine mounts missile strike on Russian Black Sea fleet HQ in Crimea

A Ukrainian missile attack has hit the headquarters of Russia’s Black Sea fleet in occupied Crimea, the latest high-profile Ukrainian strike on the annexed peninsula.

Russia’s defence ministry said that one military serviceman was missing as a result of the assault, which hit the navy headquarters in the port city of Sevastopol.

The Mocow-appointed governor, Mikhail Razvozhayev, urged people to stay away from the city centre where the navy building is located.

Footage posted on social media showed clouds of white smoke billowing from the rooftop of the Black Sea fleet headquarters. Russian sources reported that the strike was carried out using Storm Shadow missiles provided by the UK and launched from Ukrainian aircraft.

Russian-installed authorities also said air defences downed another missile on Friday near the Crimean town of Bakhchysarai.

Ukraine’s military confirmed on Friday that its forces had “successfully” struck the headquarters of Russia’s Black Sea navy in the Crimean port of Sevastopol, without providing additional details.

Shortly after the strike, Oleksiy Danilov, the secretary of Ukraine’s security council, wrote on X, formerly known as Twitter, that “the Russian Black Sea fleet will be sliced up like a salami.

“There are two options for the future of Russia’s Black Sea fleet: voluntary or forced self-neutralisation,” Danilov wrote.

Separately, Oleg Kryuchkov, an official with the Crimean administration, said internet service providers on the peninsula were under an “unprecedented cyberattack”, leading to interruptions in service.

In recent weeks, Ukraine has sharply increased the pace of strikes on Crimea as it seeks to inflict strategic and symbolic blows against Russian troops that illegally annexed the peninsula in 2014.

On Wednesday night, Ukrainian officials said that the country’s forces had struck a major military airbase near the city of Saky in Crimea.

Last week, a Ukrainian missile strike on a shipyard in Sevastopol severely damaged and possibly destroyed a Russian landing ship and a Kilo-class submarine.

The latest strikes on Crimea came as Ukrainian forces appeared to have breached the main Russian defensive line in the south-east of the country using armoured vehicles.

Earlier this month, Ukrainian forces first broke through Russia’s defensive line near southern Zaporizhzhia after weeks of painstaking mine clearance. Since then, its troops have been clearing anti-tank obstacles and concrete blocks to allow armoured vehicles to further expand the breach.

The Institute for the Study of War (ISW), a thinktank based in Washington DC that regularly publishes analysis of the conflict, wrote: “Geolocated footage posted on 21 September indicates that Ukrainian armoured vehicles advanced south of the Russian anti-tank ditches and dragon’s teeth obstacles that are part of a tri-layered defence and engaged in limited combat immediately west of Verbove.

“It is unclear if Ukrainian forces retain these positions, however. This is the first observed instance of Ukrainian forces operating armoured vehicles beyond the Russian tri-layer defence,” ISW added.

Kyiv also saw a noticeable setback this week, as the White House rejected President Volodymyr Zelenskiy’s request for Army Tactical Missile Systems (ATACMS) to be sent to Ukraine as part of a new military aid package to bolster the country’s counteroffensive. Jake Sullivan, the national security adviser, told reporters on Thursday that Biden would not provide ATACMS, but that he had not taken it off the table.

Meanwhile, Russia’s defence spending is set to surge next year, swelling to a record 6% of gross domestic product (GDP), up from 3.9% in 2023, according to a Russian budget draft seen by Bloomberg.

The evolution of Russia’s budget appears to suggest the Kremlin plans to continue the fighting in Ukraine next year as it aims to sustain its war economy.

Russia had already doubled its defence spending target to $100bn, a third of all public expenditure.

That boom in state spending has fuelled the Russian economy over the past 18 months, but academics have argued that the spending on the war in Ukraine is threatening the country’s financial stability.