Ukraine says it has sunk another Russian warship in Black Sea drone attack – in fresh blow to Putin’s forces

Ukrainian forces have destroyed another Russian warship off the southern coast of occupied Crimea, Kyiv’s military has said, in its latest drone attack on Moscow’s Black Sea fleet.

The Ukrainian intelligence services (GUR) posted a video said to show multiple naval drones attacking the 90-person, 113m-long Caesar Kunikov Ropucha-class landing ship in the early hours of Wednesday. It is another embarrassing blow for Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Black Sea fleet, and a significant success for Ukraine.

“The Ukrainian Armed Forces, together with the Defence Ministry’s intelligence unit, annihilated the Caesar Kunikov large landing ship,” a statement from the GUR read. “It was in Ukrainian territorial waters near Alupka at the time of the hit.”

They added: “The Caesar Kunikov suffered critical holes in its port side and began to sink.”

Kyiv has gradually sought to counter Russia’s early dominance in the Black Sea, using drones and long-range missiles. The strikes in the Black Sea have gained increased significance as the situation on the front line has become more difficult. The Magura V5 drone used in the latest attack, which looks like a sleek black speedboat, was unveiled by Kyiv last year. It reportedly has a top speed of 42knots (50mph) and an explosive payload of 320kg.

The newly appointed head of Ukraine’s armed forces, Colonel General Oleksandr Syrskyi, has called the situation along key parts of the 600-mile land front “extremely complex and tense”.

Speaking to German TV channel ZDF, Col Gen Syrskyi said: “At this time, the situation can be assessed as difficult ... the enemy is now advancing along almost the entire front line, and we have moved from offensive operations to conducting a defensive operation.

“The objective of our defence operation is to exhaust the enemy’s forces, inflict maximum losses on him, using our fortifications, our advantages in terms of technology, in terms of using unmanned aircraft, means of electronic warfare, and maintaining prepared defence lines.”

Col Gen Syrskyi has said that units trying to keep Russia from taking the key town of Avdiivka in eastern Ukraine, will be reinforced. “We are doing everything possible to prevent the enemy from advancing deep into our territory,” he wrote on social media.

But he has also spoken about the importance of innovative use of technology, such as drones, in Ukraine’s fight against Russian forces. After the latest drone attack, Ukrainian outlets posted footage of a column of smoke rising off the coast of Alupka, 40 miles southeast of Russia’s Black Sea fleet headquarters in Sevastopol Bay.

A screenshot of footage provided by the Ukrainian GUR appears to show the vessel on its side (Telegram)
A screenshot of footage provided by the Ukrainian GUR appears to show the vessel on its side (Telegram)

One witness told a local Telegram channel Crimean Wind that they saw “flashes in the sea then explosions”.

Moscow declined to comment on the latest attack, although the Defence Ministry said earlier that it had destroyed six drones in the Black Sea. Russian military bloggers have, however, acknowledged the attack. “Time after time the Black Sea fleet turns out to be incompetent and unable to repel attacks from Ukrainian units,” wrote Rybar, a popular Russian military blogger.

“Two years have passed since the start of the [invasion],” he added. “There are not the best reviews about the command of the Black Sea fleet among subordinate military personnel: and this could still be chalked up to ordinary grumbling, if not for the fact of systematic fire destruction of Black Sea fleet facilities by the Ukrainian Armed Forces. At this point I just want to say: ‘It’s time to change approaches.’ What’s the point?”

Thord Are Iversen, an independent defence analyst focused on the Russian navy, said the footage suggested Ukraine had scored multiple drone hits and consequently sunk the warship.

“The Ropucha was attacked by multiple unmanned surface vehicles (USVs), which scored multiple hits, before starting to go down by the stern and then capsizing,” he told The Independent.

Retired captain Andrii Ryzhenko, a former veteran officer in the Ukrainian Navy, told The Independent the destruction of the Caesar Kunikov amounted to the fifth Russian Ropucha-class warship out of 13 to be badly hit since the full-scale invasion.

“This means that Russia now has very limited capability in the Black Sea. It also means logistics from mainland Russia are quite limited,” he said. “It is a small but important step to prevent Russian dominance at sea.”

He added that there had been some indication that the Ropucha-class had been carrying Iranian-made Shahed drones to Crimea from mainland Russia, in preparation for attacks on Ukrainian civilian cities.

The attack marks the second successful attack on a ship in the Black Sea this month. At the start of February, the GUR posted footage of a Ukrainian naval drone strike on the Ivanovets, a Russian missile carrier, off the coast of Crimea.

On that occasion, Ukraine’s military intelligence published a grainy video showing several sea drones attacking the Russian corvette, with the ship eventually listing and sinking with explosions going off on board. Ukraine has sought to attack Russian warships to try to drive them out of the western parts of the Black Sea, making it possible to open a shipping corridor along a traditionally key export route.

As the “breadbasket of Europe”, Ukraine’s ability to export grain through the Black Sea is vital to its economy, but Russia has blocked the routes since pulling out of a United Nations-brokered deal last year.

In December, Ukrainian cruise missiles struck another large Russian landing warship in Crimea. That same month, a senior Ukrainian security official claimed they had destroyed 20 per cent of the Russian Black Sea fleet. The Ukrainian military says that it has destroyed 25 Russian military vessels and ships and one submarine during the war to date.

Dozens of warships had already been relocated from Crimea to the Russian port of Novorossiysk, more than 100 miles from the occupied peninsula, following several deadly attacks earlier in the year.

Corporal Frisk, a military blogger focused on naval movements, suggested the sinking of the Caesar Kunikov was a significant blow to Russia.

“They [landing ships] are hard-working, and are next to impossible to replace in the Black Sea during the duration of the war, and difficult to replace in general for the Russian navy,” he wrote on Twitter/X.

The Caesar Kunikov was previously damaged by a Ukrainian missile strike while it was berthed in Russian-occupied Berdyansk in March 2022.

The ship was named after the Second World War naval officer Caesar Lvovich Kunikov, who was killed 81 years ago today. Ukraine’s attack was likely deliberately conducted on the anniversary of his death.