Russia withdrawing Black Sea fleet from its main base in Crimea

(AP Photo/Andrew Lubimov, File)

It has been three weeks since a Ukrainian attack seriously damaged a Russian submarine and a Russian landing vessel which were both in dry dock at a port in Crimea.


After that, Ukraine sent another strike into the building which was the headquarters for Russia’s Black Sea Fleet.

Ukraine claimed that strike had killed a Russian admiral in that strike but in fact he had survived.

In any case, all of this follows’s Russia’s biggest loss of all in the area, the sinking of the flagship Moskva:


After all of that it’s probably no surprise that the Black Sea Fleet has decided it’s time to relocate.

Russia has withdrawn the bulk of its Black Sea Fleet from its main base in occupied Crimea, a potent acknowledgment of how Ukrainian missile and drone strikes are challenging Moscow’s hold on the peninsula.

Russia has moved powerful vessels including three attack submarines and two frigates from Sevastopol to other ports in Russia and Crimea that offer better protection, according to Western officials and satellite images verified by naval experts. The Russian Defense Ministry didn’t respond to a request for comment.

The move represents a remarkable setback for Russian President Vladimir Putin, whose military seizure of Crimea in 2014 marked the opening shots in his attempt to take control of Ukraine. His full-scale invasion of last year has now boomeranged, forcing the removal of ships from a port that was first claimed by Russia in 1783 under Catherine the Great…

James Heappey, U.K. minister of state for the armed forces, called the dispersal of the ships “the functional defeat of the Black Sea Fleet” at a conference in Warsaw this week.

Strategically, this is a good move for Russia as the ships will be safer somewhere else and can still fire cruise missiles into Ukraine. But as a matter of pride, this is another embarrassment for Putin. Once again, his forces need to redeploy farther from the front.


This is made worse by the fact that Putin has framed Crimea, in the PR that he has been spinning internally in Russia for the past decade, as the spiritual home of Russia.

In December 2014, Russian President Vladimir Putin stood in the middle of the Kremlin’s St. George’s Hall, delivering his annual address to the country’s Federal Assembly. Nine months removed from his formal annexation of Crimea, the Russian president unspooled a historical overview of Crimea’s supposed importance to the Russian body politic.

Crimea, as Putin claimed, was far more than simply a wayward chunk of rightfully Russian land. Rather, the peninsula was the “spiritual source” of the entire Russian nation—a province that presented “invaluable civilizational and even sacral importance” for all Russians. The language mirrored Putin’s annexation announcement that March, when he’d claimed that “in [Russians’] hearts and minds, Crimea has always been an inseparable part of Russia.” As Putin saw it, Crimea stood as the Temple Mount of Russia—as a Russian “holy land.” And this was, Putin assured his listeners in December, “exactly how we will treat it from now on and forever.”…

In the face of continued drone attacks, long-range missile fires, sabotage operations, and annihilation of military assets across Crimea, Russians have hardly treated the Ukrainian peninsula as some kind of sacred land. Rather than rushing to protect Crimea, Russians have instead begun fleeing the region en masse. Rather than seeing Russians lining up to enlist to aid the Kremlin’s defense of the peninsula, Moscow continues mooting the potential of a second, and far broader, forced mobilization. And rather than resulting in any kind of nuclear conflagration, Russians’ subdued reaction to the continued bombardment of Crimea has dissolved Putin’s claims that the peninsula is some kind of special, sacrosanct land. As McGill University professor Maria Popova recently posted on X (formerly known as Twitter), “Crimea isn’t special, let alone a red line.”


Having built Crimea up in this way, having to pull his fleet back doesn’t look good.

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