Ukrainian sea drones attacked a Russian oil tanker near the strategic bridge linking Russia to the annexed peninsula of Crimea, potentially bringing the war into a new phase that threatens Russia’s vital shipping lanes in the Black Sea. The attack occurred late Friday night in the Kerch Strait, where the tanker Sig was transporting fuel for Russian forces. The vessel’s engine room sustained damage from the explosion, but there were no casualties among the 11 crew members, according to Russian officials.
The Ukrainian Security Service claimed responsibility for the attack, saying that it used a sea drone filled with 450 kilograms (992 pounds) of TNT. The service said that such operations are conducted in the territorial waters of Ukraine and are completely legal. It also said that the explosions are “an absolutely logical and effective step with regard to the enemy.”
The attack briefly halted traffic on the Kerch Bridge, the 19-kilometer (12-mile) bridge linking Moscow-annexed Crimea to Russia, as well as ferry transport. Tugboats were deployed to assist the tanker, which is under United States sanctions for helping provide jet fuel to Russian forces fighting in Syria.
A Second Attack in One Day
The strike on the Sig was the second sea attack involving drones in one day, after Ukraine struck a major Russian port earlier on Friday in an attack that underlined Kyiv’s growing naval capabilities as the Black Sea becomes an increasingly important battleground in the war. The strike on Novorossiysk halted maritime traffic for a few hours and marked the first time a commercial Russian port has been targeted in the nearly 18-month-old conflict.
The port has a naval base, shipbuilding yards and an oil terminal, and is key for exports. It lies about 110 kilometers (about 60 miles) east of Crimea. Ukraine said its sea drones also damaged a warship in the port, but did not provide any details. Russia confirmed that there was an explosion near a naval vessel, but did not acknowledge any damage or casualties.
A Response to Russian Aggression
The Ukrainian sea drone attacks are seen as a response to Russia’s aggression and provocation in the region, which have escalated since Moscow withdrew from a key grain-export agreement that allowed Ukraine to sell millions of tons of grain on world markets. The withdrawal, which took effect nearly three weeks ago, was seen as a punitive measure against Kyiv for its refusal to recognize Russia’s annexation of Crimea and its support for pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine.
Since then, Russia has launched several strikes on Ukrainian ports and infrastructure, using cruise missiles, drones and cyberattacks. Ukraine has accused Russia of trying to strangle its economy and undermine its sovereignty. The two countries have also engaged in a series of tense naval confrontations in the Black Sea and the Sea of Azov, where Russia has imposed restrictions on Ukrainian ships and detained dozens of sailors.
A Challenge for International Diplomacy
The Ukrainian sea drone attacks pose a challenge for international diplomacy, as they risk escalating the conflict and triggering a wider confrontation between Russia and its Western adversaries. The United States and its European allies have expressed support for Ukraine’s territorial integrity and sovereignty, and have imposed sanctions on Russia for its actions in Crimea and eastern Ukraine. They have also provided military assistance and training to Ukraine, including anti-tank weapons and radar systems.
However, they have also urged restraint and dialogue between the two sides, and have called for a peaceful resolution of the conflict based on the Minsk agreements, which were signed in 2015 and envisage a ceasefire, a withdrawal of heavy weapons and a political settlement. The agreements have been repeatedly violated by both parties, and have failed to end the fighting that has killed over 14,000 people since 2014.