On February 24, the primary day of the invasion of Ukraine, Russian troops occupied Snake Island, a small however strategically vital outpost within the Black Sea about 70 nautical miles south of Odessa. The 13 Ukrainian troops stationed there have been reported to have “twice bravely repulsed the assaults of the Russian occupiers” however had been unable to proceed combating as a result of they ran out of ammunition.
Footage of Ukrainian defenders defiantly giving a Russian warship the finger and audio of them telling it to “go fuck your self” went viral. The defenders had been believed to have all been killed and had been posthumously honoured by the Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky – however have subsequently been reported to have survived.
So when it was reported on June 30 that Ukraine had retaken Snake Island, it was an unlimited and much-needed morale enhance. And, because the warfare on land drags on, this success at sea has strategic implications far past the Black Sea that can resonate within the months, and even years, to come back.
By taking Snake Island so early within the invasion, Russia secured a vital piece of the puzzle that enabled Moscow to train management over the northwestern Black Sea. For Moscow, this was of operational and strategic significance for 3 causes. It meant that the Russian Navy might contribute to the bombardment of Ukraine with cruise missiles. In the meantime it gave the invaders the flexibility to threaten Odessa with an amphibious assault and enabled them to disclaim entry to and from Ukrainian ports – in different phrases, to blockade Ukraine.
Whereas most commentators have centered on the warfare on land, Ukraine has been making an attempt arduous to undermine Russia’s naval dominance. The primary main victory for Kyiv was sinking the cruiser Moskva on April 14. Along with the status of sinking the flag ship of the Black Sea fleet, this demonstrated that the Russian navy couldn’t function safely within the neighborhood of Ukraine’s coast because of the everlasting risk that anti-ship missiles represented – notably the Ukrainian-developed Neptune and western-supplied Harpoon missiles.
The Moskva was an vital piece of the Russian long-range theatre air defence system. On account of its loss, Snake Island’s strategic significance elevated as a base for digital warfare and air defence methods, and Ukraine had tried to regain management over the island a number of instances.
However now the Ukrainian flag is flying once more over Snake Island – though Ukraine just isn’t anticipated to station troops within the quick time period. What issues most, past the image, just isn’t an Ukrainian presence on the rock however the truth that Russian forces can not profit from its strategic place anymore.
From the navy to the diplomatic enviornment
Russia’s lack of management of the northwestern Black Sea had already been flagged by British intelligence on June 21. However till Ukraine reoccupied Snake Island, Russia was nonetheless hoping to keep up its capacity to blockade Ukraine and was unexpectedly laying extra mines.
Blockading Ukraine had turn into a robust blackmailing device for Moscow that has tried to weaponise meals and to place the blame on western sanctions in a bid to rally the worldwide south in opposition to the west. It’s hanging that Russia’s sudden declaration that it’s keen to “enable” for the free passage of grain from Ukrainian ports coincides with its now confirmed incapability to totally management the approaches, or deny entry, to Odessa (though the Russian navy nonetheless poses a considerable risk within the space).
Additional to this strategic setback, Russia will now attempt to preserve the higher hand within the diplomatic enviornment by blaming Ukraine and the west for the worldwide meals disaster and shifting duty for the necessity to demine the hall.
The flexibility of the west to facilitate the institution of a protected hall can be essential, not solely in “assuaging the worldwide meals disaster” but additionally in exposing Moscow’s diplomatic recreation and underlining that – as Nato confused in its Madrid summit declaration – the meals disaster is fully Russia’s doing. That is notably vital in regard to the worldwide south, whose criticism of Putin’s warfare has been minimal to this point.
A profitable operation to revive the free movement of grain from Ukraine (whether or not through the Turkish Straits or utilizing different routes) will additional isolate Russia on the world stage. However any setback or failure will play in favour of Moscow’s narrative that it’s the west’s fault.
Lengthy wars are hardly ever received solely in mild of navy successes – financial dominance and political affect play a vital function. Whereas the west, as a coalition of seafaring nations dominates the worldwide maritime order, it has not but managed to isolate Russia on the diplomatic stage.
That is how the destiny of a small rock within the northwestern Black Sea has not solely shaken the stability of energy between Ukraine and Russia within the Black Sea but additionally the diplomatic established order. The political confrontation between Russia and the west on the world stage has solely simply begun, and the victory over Snake Island would possibly effectively have initiated a tide whose long-term results are nonetheless to be absolutely comprehended.