How We Found the Russian Navy Useless

More than 500 days into the war in Ukraine, it is evident to all that the Russian military took on a task it could not achieve. 

What was considered before February 24, 2022, as one of the three most powerful militaries in the world now holds a humbler status as the second-most powerful force in Ukraine. 

Of the four Russian armed services fighting in Ukraine, the Russian Navy has probably played the smallest part. 

The Russian Navy in Ukraine

In the first weeks of the invasion, the Russian Navy’s Black Sea Fleet kept an amphibious force off the southwestern coast of Ukraine, most likely as a reserve to attack the key port of Odesa. But as the ground campaign unraveled, Russian warships stayed mostly at a distance, firing the occasional cruise missile against Ukrainian forces and cities.

Then, in April 2022, the Ukrainians — using U.S. targeting data — managed to sink the guided-missile cruiser Moskva, the flagship of the Black Sea Fleet, with two well-placed anti-ship missiles.

The sinking of a major surface combatant changed the face of the sea war. 

Russian warships retreated back to their ports on the Crimean Peninsula and in southern Russia, and they stopped playing a significant role in the conflict. Since then, the Ukrainians have made sure to keep Russian warships in their ports by continuously attacking them with suicide drones and sabotage. In response, the Russian Navy’s Black Sea Fleet has been investing a lot in the defenses of its main base in Sevastopol.

Only Russian submarines have continued to play a significant kinetic role in the conflict. Starting in earnest in October, the Kremlin has launched more than 2,000 ballistic and cruise missiles against Ukrainian urban centers and critical infrastructure. Russian submarines have fired dozens of them. 

The Ukrainians don’t really have a way to deal with Russian submarines besides intercepting incoming munitions with their air defenses. However, last week, Ukrainian military intelligence managed to kill a submarine commander in Russia in an attempt to punish those responsible for the killings of civilians. 

In the future, the Russian Navy will likely be relegated to logistical duties. In July, the Kremlin established the Azov Naval District in the Sea of Azov that divides southern Ukraine and Russia. 

“The Azov Sea is a vital maritime area for Russia because it links its inland waterways to international maritime routes. In the context of the war, it also offers an alternative military resupply option should Russia’s over-land routes to southern Ukraine be disrupted,” British Military Intelligence assessed in a recent estimate.

Current State and the Wagner Group Mutiny

The Wagner Group mutiny in June shook the Russian national security apparatus. In less than 24 hours, Yevgeny Prigozhin and his mercenaries were able to seize the headquarters of the Russian military’s Southern District and come within striking range of Moscow before suddenly stopping. 

The close ties between the mutineers and some military officers might be affecting the Russian Navy. 

Last week, Russian state media reported that no nuclear submarines of the Russian Navy’s Northern Fleet will be taking part in the Navy Day fleet review in Saint Petersburg later this month. 

This will be the first time in recent history that Russian nuclear submarines won’t be taking part in the event. Although logistical and operational reasons might explain the absence of the Russian nuclear subs, emerging backlash from the mutiny might also be a reason. 

“There is . . . a realistic possibility that internal security concerns since Wagner Group’s attempted mutiny have contributed to the decision,” British Military Intelligence assessed.

A 19FortyFive Defense and National Security Columnist, Stavros Atlamazoglou is a seasoned defense journalist specializing in special operations, a Hellenic Army veteran (national service with the 575th Marine Battalion and Army HQ), and a Johns Hopkins University graduate. His work has been featured in Business InsiderSandboxx, and SOFREP.


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