This week, Kyiv, for the second time – after an unsuccessful attack in May – tried to seize the tactically important Zmeiny Island, popularly known as Snake Island, located 35 km from the coast of the Odesa region and 120 km from Odesa proper. The current attempt took place on Monday around 5:00 am.
The Armed Forces of Ukraine (AFU) expected to inflict massive air and artillery strikes on the island “with subsequent landing and capture,” the Russian Defense Ministry explained. More than a dozen Ukrainian attack and reconnaissance drones took part in the raid. Two Turkish-made Bayraktar TB-2 UAVs led the combat drones.
The anti-aircraft cover of Ukrainian UAVs was provided by S-300 anti-aircraft missile systems from combat positions in the Tuzla (Odesa region) and Ochakov (Mykolaiv region) regions. “Rocket and artillery strikes on Zmeiny Island were carried out by Ukrainian Tochka-U ballistic missiles, Uragan multiple launch rocket systems and 155mm M777 howitzers from firing positions west of Odesa and on Kubansky Island,” said Russian Defense spokesman Igor Konashenkov.
The Russians say the Americans controlled the operation of the Ukrainian military. A US Air Force Global Hawk RQ-4 strategic reconnaissance drone was spotted at high altitudes in the airspace near Zmeiny Island. According to RIA Novosti, a few days before the Ukrainian troops attempted to take possession of the island, U.S. commercial satellites Worldview-3 and Worldview-1 took pictures of it. The first filmed on June 14, and the second on the 17th.
The same American satellites photographed the area of the Chernomorneftegaz drilling platforms, which were hit by anti-ship missiles and Bayraktars of the Armed Forces of Ukraine simultaneously on Monday morning, say the Russians.
Plans for a massive air attack on the island, which was to be followed by an amphibious landing, failed. “Shot down in the air: 13 unmanned aerial vehicles, four Tochka-U missiles and 21 Uragan multiple rocket launchers. None of the Ukrainian fire weapons reached the target on Zmeiny Island,” Konashenkov said, adding that as a result, the enemy refused to land.
The Russian side attacked the control centres in Odesa and Ochakov with 14 missiles.
Why is Ukraine stubbornly attacking Snake Island?
The small treeless island, with only 0.17 square kilometres, is located near the Ukrainian-Romanian sea border – a tactically important area in the northwestern Black Sea. A radar on the island can control all this region’s shipping routes. No single steamship, ship, ship from Ukraine to Romania, Bulgaria and back can pass by it without being noticed. It is also convenient to control the approach of ships from the southeastern part of the sea, from Turkey to Odesa, from the island. The negative is that the Ukrainians found it difficult and costly to maintain and replenish the island, even during peacetime.
Holding Snake Island also allows the control of the mouth of the Danube and coastal waters south of the Odesa region. Ukraine can track air and sea from the island and detect the ingress of aircraft and ships. In the Soviet days, an air defense radar company was deployed on the island.
Harpoons change the picture
If the Ukrainian Armed Forces had continued to hold the island, it would allow them to threaten the Russian Black Sea Fleet with the American Harpoon anti-ship cruise missiles.
The U.S. has transferred to Ukraine the Danish RGM-84L-4 Harpoon Block II with a reported range of 187 miles (300 kilometres) and is capable of striking sea and land-based targets.
From the Snake Island, the new modification of the Harpoon can target the Russian Sevastopol Naval Base in the disputed Crimean peninsula. It is no surprise that the Russian Navy took over the island the second day after the start of the special military operation. At that time, only the Ukrainian border garrison, numbering about 80 people, was stationed at Zmeiny (who were later sent to Ukraine after a prisoner exchange). The operational occupation of the island prevented its transformation into an Ukranian stronghold. The island is currently under the control of the Russian Black Sea Fleet. Like the Ukrainians, the Russians too find the islands ‘inconvenient’. The scene was complicated by the sinking of a supply boat, risking Russian access to the only landing jetty. The area has been since cleared.
The island is a good platform for Russia to land and conduct an amphibious operation. But it can be done after the main objectives in the east are solved, namely, taking over Lysychansk and the Donetsk region. Completing the objective can help take over Mykolaiv (Nikolaev), which will give the Russians access to pro-Russian Transnistria and also keep a check on Moldova and Romania.
After the sinking of Moskva cruise missile carrier, the Russian naval ships have withdrawn about 200 km away from the Ukrainian shores. But this has not loosened the grip of the Russian blockade, which has driven the price of wheat high worldwide.
If Ukraine succeeds in installing the Harpoon missile on the island, the Russian ships will have to move 400 km away minimum to be out of the missile range. Ukraine is expected to make more attempts to take back the island in the near future.