The Russian Navy, on paper one of the most powerful on the planet, has lost 4 or 5 vessels to enemy action. In a land war, against a country with barely any navy.
March 22, Raptor Assault Boat Near Mariupol
Things started in a low-key way. A video was shared online showing Ukrainian forces engaging a small boat with an anti-tank missile. The weapon appears to have hit its mark. The vessel was identified, in the commentary to the video, as a Raptor. These are small assault boats used by Russian forces. They are similar to the Swedish CB-90 design.
March 24, Landing Ship in Berdyansk
Much more spectacular than the attack two days earlier, an Alligator Class landing ship was blown sky-high in Berdyansk on March 24. The exact mode of attack remains unclear. A leading theory is that Ukraine fired an OTR-21 Tochka Ballistic Missile at the port. It had done so two days earlier, with parts of that missile landing on the pier. The missile would have carried small cluster munitions, but one of these appears to have landed in the landing ships’ hold. The explosion and fire then caused ammunition to cook-off.
The chain of explosions were dramatic, and the ship sunk at the pier. Two Ropucha class landing ships which were docked nearby were also damaged, though they sailed away. The captain of one of them later died of wounds. Russia does not appear to have used the port in a similar way since then.
April 13, Cruiser Moskva East Of Snake Island
Undoubtedly the most symbolic, and strategically relevant, loss was the Slava Class cruiser Moskva. She was reportedly hit by two Neptune missiles on April 13, and sunk under tow the next day.
An preliminary analysis by Chris Carlson, a retired U.S. Navy Intelligence officer, shows that the two missiles hit amidships on the port side. The impacts were close together and, based on analysis of Russian plans of the ship, may have destroyed the local damage control spaces.
This ‘perfect shot’ may have contributed to the eventual loss of the ship. Carlson observed that the impacted compartments are “very important. It is the room from which all types of energy are distributed on the ship and control is carried out in the fight for the survivability of its combat and technical means.”
Carlson adds that it likely caused “a complete loss of propulsion and electrical power, and disabled their damage control capability.” The impacts may have caused a major fuel-fed fire and flooding. This was not contained and ultimately caused the loss of the ship.
May 2, Two Raptor Assault Boats Near Snake Island
On May 2 Russian forces experienced another setback. Two Raptor assault boats were engaged by Ukrainian Navy TB2 drone near Snake Island, which Russia had captured from Ukraine at the start of the war. The two engagements took place just minutes apart and resulted in both vessels hit. While their total loss is unconfirmed at this point, it seems likely from the footage.
Implications Of These Losses
Ukraine’s ability to deploy a drone over Snake island is illustrative of the damage dealt by the attack on Moskva. The cruiser had provided area air-defense over that sector of the Black Sea. So we may expect to see further losses caused by drones unless Russia changes its pattern of operations.
Yet, counterintuitively, one reason for Russia’s losses at sea is a result of their initial success. Ukraine cannot lose ships at sea because, short of a few coastal craft, they don’t have any.
The Ukrainian Navy has also suffered losses. As proportion, much more so than the the Russian Navy. Mostly scuttled, captured in port or non-operational vessels sunk at the pier. But the Ukrainian losses do not surprise anyone, it was to be expected in such a mismatched conflict. In this David versus Goliath fight, it’s clear which navy is David.
Despite these visible set backs, the Russian navy still enjoys total superiority at sea. And this has translated into achieving some strategic goals. Principally, the blockade on merchant vessel traffic to Ukraine is absolute. Attacks on some merchant vessels at the start of the war, strong warnings, and active patrolling have effectively starved Ukraine of its important imports and exports.
Russia may all the same try to replace the lost Moskva. Currently two more Slava Class cruisers are operating in the Mediterrean. These cannot transit through the Bosporus, the narrow waterway separating them from the Black Sea, because Turkey has closed them to warships. But Russia may try to force this. If it does, it will no doubt lead to further rise in tensions with NATO.