The Black Sea Battlefield: Putin’s Navy Chief Dismissed After Losses

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Recently, Vladimir Putin has discharged Russian Navy chief Admiral Nikolai Yevmenov. The removal of Yevmenov is the most major shakeup among Russia’s military administration in almost a year, contemplating mounting frustration in Moscow over the nation’s heavy losses in the Fight of the Black Sea.

Putin’s patience seems to have finally run out in early 2024 following the drop of multiple Russian warships in the space of just a few weeks. These failures were the latest in a long line of humiliating reversals for the Russian Black Sea Fleet, which is presently losing the war at sea to a country without a navy.

When the full-scale Russian aggression on Ukraine first started just over two years ago, few could have predicted the effectiveness of Ukraine’s naval operations. On the eve of the attack, Russia imposed a complete siege on Ukraine’s ports, cutting the nation off from maritime commerce and dealing a major setback to the Ukrainian economy.

With a lack of warships of its own, Ukraine initially seemed to have little hope of contesting Russia’s naval dominance. However, it soon became apparent that the outgunned Ukrainian military had no preference for conceding possession of the Black Sea to the Kremlin. Instead, Ukraine has employed a combination of innovative drone technologies and foreign firepower to balance the odds and impose a string of defeats on Putin’s fleet.

Ukraine scored its first major success at sea in April 2022, sinking the flagship of the Russian Black Sea Fleet, the Moskva, with a brace of domestically produced Neptune missiles. This forced Russian warships to pull back from the Ukrainian coastline, relieving the immediate threat of an amphibious landing close to Odesa.

Ukraine carried this momentum into the summer of 2022, propelling Russian troops to retreat from the strategically critical Snake Island and establishing the first drone strikes against Russian naval targets in occupied Crimea.

The Battle of the Black Sea escalated especially in 2023 when Britain and France started providing Ukraine with cruise missiles. This enhanced strike capability allowed Ukraine to deliver a series of punishing impacts to Russia’s fleet that severely impaired or destroyed multiple warships and a submarine. In one particularly extended strike, Ukraine bombed the Black Sea Fleet command in Sevastopol.

The remarkable series of Ukrainian victories at sea has persisted into 2024, with the reported plunge of a further three Russian warships since the beginning of the year. These most recent episodes have been carried out by Ukraine’s rapidly developing fleet of domestically produced marine drones. By early March, Ukraine was arguing to have sunk or incapacitated around one-third of the entire Russian Black Sea Fleet.

Ukraine’s victory in the Battle of the Black Sea will not be militarily decisive in a land war, but it has provided a substantial boost to the country’s war effort. The sinking of so many Russian warships has caused Putin to move the bulk of his caravan away from occupied Crimea to the relative security of Russian ports, making it more challenging for the Russian Navy to play a logistical position in the invasion or employ missile attacks on Ukrainian targets.

Crucially, Ukraine’s improvement at sea has made it feasible to break the blockade of the country’s southern seaports and continue maritime commerce. By early 2024, export volumes were once again coming to prewar levels, supplying Ukraine with a vital economic lifeline.

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