Why Russia Faces a Growing Threat to Its Navy off Ukraine

COMMENTARY Defense

Why Russia Faces a Growing Threat to Its Navy off Ukraine

Apr 1, 2022 1 min read
COMMENTARY BY
Brent Sadler

Senior Research Fellow, Center for National Defense

Brent is a senior research fellow for naval warfare and advanced technology in the Center for National Defense.
A patrol boat sails off Ukraine's Black Sea port of Mariupol on February 11, 2022. ALEKSEY FILIPPOV / AFP / Getty Images

Key Takeaways

Russia hadn’t lost a warship to an attack since World War II. Until last week.

It isn’t known what smashed the ship involved, but Ukraine is known to have attacked Russian warships with artillery and mines.

If Russia continues to lose ships and senior officers it is doubtful Russian President Vladimir Putin will be able to achieve even scaled-back war aims.

Russia hadn’t lost a warship to an attack since World War II. Until last week.

On Thursday, the Ukrainian navy announced it destroyed a Russian amphibious warship, the Saratov, that was conducting resupply missions in the Ukrainian port of Berdyansk. While the details are fuzzy, it's yet more proof that Russia’s war in Ukraine isn't going well.

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Following the invasion, Turkey invoked the 1936 Montreux Convention and denied entry to all foreign warships not previously based in the Black Sea. What’s there now, and perhaps what Russia can bring by canal from the Caspian Sea, is all the navy Russia will have for this war. Before the invasion, Russia moved warships from around the world to bolster its combat power near Ukraine. In total, 12 large surface and nine amphibious warships massed in the Black Sea and the Sea of Azov on Ukraine’s southern coast.

It isn’t known what smashed the ship involved, but Ukraine is known to have attacked Russian warships with artillery and mines. The ship's demise, however, should encourage the United States and NATO to deliver anti-ship cruise missiles to Ukraine. One example might be the truck-mounted version of the Harpoon missile system. The Norwegian helicopter-launched Penguin anti-ship missile could also be brought into play.

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Compounding its logistics problems, Russia is losing an increasing number of flag officers. Capt. First Rank Andrei Nikolayevich (a rank between a captain and a rear admiral in the U.S. Navy) was recently killed while leading marine troops in the siege of Mariupol. While leading from the front is often expected of military leaders, getting too close and subsequently being killed hobbles Russia’s already stumbling war effort.

If Russia continues to lose ships and senior officers, potentially accelerated by the arrival of new anti-ship missiles, it is doubtful Russian President Vladimir Putin will be able to achieve even scaled-back war aims.

This piece originally appeared in the Washington Examiner