Russia said on Tuesday that its air force had destroyed two small Ukrainian naval vessels in the Black Sea in the past day, in apparent incidents that could further raise tension on waters that Ukraine is seeking to use as an export route.
It was not possible to confirm the incidents independently, and there was no immediate comment from Ukraine’s Navy. Russia’s Navy, which includes an aerial component, dominates the Black Sea, but reports of military aircraft firing at naval ships are rare.
A Russian fighter jet destroyed a Ukrainian reconnaissance vessel overnight near a gas platform in the northwestern Black Sea, the Ministry of Defense in Moscow said. In a separate incident, it said that one of its aircraft had destroyed a high-speed military boat carrying Ukrainian troops around 26 miles east of Snake Island.
The small but strategically important island off the coast of the Ukrainian port city of Odesa fell to Russian forces at the start of their full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022 but was retaken by Ukraine four months later.
A 38-second video of Tuesday’s incident released by the Ministry of Defense on the Telegram messaging app appeared to show a vessel trying to perform sharp S-shaped turns to evade fire from an aircraft that arcs toward it. It was not possible to verify the video, and the statements did not comment on possible casualties.
A voice in the video, which appears to be from a member of the aircraft’s crew, can be heard saying “Higher” and “Angle of attack limit” as traces of fire can be seen pouring down onto the boat. The video showed possible explosions on or near the vessel, but it was not possible to determine whether the boat had been hit or the incident’s outcome.
“The high-speed surface target actively maneuvered and attempted to evade the fighter jet’s fire, but was successfully hit by an aircraft gun,” said a Ministry of Defense statement.
Tensions have risen in the Black Sea since mid-July, when the Kremlin announced it was terminating a deal that had allowed Ukraine to export its grain and produce across the Black Sea under an agreement made with Turkey and the United Nations. Since then, Russian missiles and drones have repeatedly struck the port at Odesa and also hit two of Ukraine’s ports on the Danube river.
Earlier this month, Russian forces also fired warning shots to halt a cargo vessel on the Black Sea and then boarded it for inspection. Moscow had previously warned that it would consider all ships heading to or from Ukrainian ports to be potential carriers of military cargo.
In recent weeks, Ukrainian sea drones have targeted the Kerch Strait Bridge, which connects Russia with the Crimean Peninsula, a region that Moscow annexed illegally in 2014. Ukraine has also hit several Russian naval vessels.
President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine has led efforts to revive Black Sea grain shipments, and last week a container ship that had departed from the port of Odesa arrived in Istanbul after navigating a coastal route west from Odesa into the waters of Romania and Bulgaria, both of which are NATO countries.
While the incidents claimed by Russia over the past 24 hours concerned naval vessels, any insecurity near Ukraine’s coast could make it harder to establish an alternative export route.