Russian Black Sea fleet ships flee Sevastopol after Ukrainian strikes

More ships from Russia’s Black Sea Fleet appear to be leaving their main naval base in Sevastopol amid continued attacks by Ukrainian forces, according to reports from the Crimean peninsula annexed by Moscow.

More ships from Russia’s Black Sea Fleet appear to be leaving their main naval base in Sevastopol amid continued attacks by Ukrainian forces, according to reports from the Crimean peninsula annexed by Moscow.

The Telegram channel Krymsky Veter (Crimean Wind) cited witnesses observing the departure of two Tarantul-III class missile corvettes from Sevastopol on Friday. The Soviet-designed corvettes, known as the Project 1241 Molniya-1 class, are small warships around 56 meters (184 feet) long and equipped with anti-ship missiles.

The reported exodus follows recent strikes by Ukraine that have squeezed Russia’s naval forces in Crimea. On May 19, Ukraine’s military confirmed it had destroyed the Tsiklon, the Russian Black Sea Fleet’s last surface ship carrying Kalibr cruise missiles while it was docked in Sevastopol.

In February, Ukrainian special forces had already sunk one of the three Tarantul-III corvettes, the Ivanivets, leaving only the R-60 and R-239 Naberezhnye Chelny of that class remaining for Russia’s Black Sea Fleet based in Crimea.

The destination of the latest two corvettes to depart was unclear. Some reports speculated they could be heading to ports elsewhere in Russian-occupied Crimea or to Novorossiysk in Russia, where Moscow has been working to bolster naval infrastructure.

According to British intelligence assessments, Russia has increasingly shifted its Black Sea Fleet from Sevastopol to Novorossiysk out of the range of Ukrainian missiles and drones as Kyiv’s forces have stepped up naval attacks.

The bombardment has significantly disrupted Russia’s control of Black Sea maritime trade since its full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022. It has also undermined Moscow’s perceived naval supremacy in the region.

For Ukraine’s military, being able to threaten Sevastopol helps challenge Russia’s maritime dominance and could potentially push Moscow to retaliate with further strikes on Ukrainian cities and infrastructure. But it’s a risk Kyiv likely feels is necessary to regain control over its territorial waters.