August 5, 2023

Institue for the Study of War: Ukraine attacks a Russian oil tanker, warns of more attacks on Russian ports

Institute for the Study of War

Ukrainian forces struck a Russian oil tanker on August 4 with a naval drone in the second attack on Russian ships in the Black Sea in two consecutive days. The Moscow Times identified the tanker as the chemical tanker SIG, which is currently under US sanctions for supplying jet fuel to Russian forces in Syria.[1] Sources within the Ukrainian Security Service (SBU) confirmed to the Ukrainian outlet Suspilne that the SBU and the Ukrainian Navy struck the ship near the Kerch Strait Bridge using a naval drone.[2] The Russian Federal Agency for Sea and Inland Water Transport (Rosmorrechflot) reported that the strike on the SIG occurred 27 kilometers south of the Kerch Strait Bridge, and Russian milbloggers claimed that the attack caused Russian authorities to suspend traffic on the bridge.[3] Russian news aggregator Baza reported that the naval drone punched a two-by-one meter hole in the SIG’s engine room, and state Russian outlets claimed that the incident did not result in an oil spill.[4] A Russian milblogger claimed that the Ukrainian naval drone intentionally targeted the SIG’s engine room because targeting the stern creates the least likelihood of an oil spill and is where the most expensive and difficult-to-repair equipment is located.[5] The nature and location on the ship of the attack suggest that Ukrainian forces intended to disable the ship without generating significant ecological consequences. Ukrainian forces have long targeted the Kerch Strait Bridge in order to degrade Russian military logistics in southern Ukraine, and the attack on the SIG is likely part of a wider effort to disable ships involved in supplying Russian military forces and the location of the attack near the bridge suggests that it was part of a larger effort to disrupt Russian logistics along a key Russian ground line of communication (GLOC).[6]

Ukrainian officials issued a notice to mariners that Ukraine may strike vessels near Russia’s Black Sea ports – a measured response to continued Russian strikes against Odesa – Ukraine’s main port – since July 17.[7] The Ukrainian State Hydrographic Service at the State Service of Maritime and River Transport posted a notice to mariners on August 4 announcing a “military threat” in the vicinity of the internal and external roadsteads at the ports of Taman, Anapa, Novorossiysk, Gelendzhik, Tuapse, and Sochi, until further notice.[8] The Ukrainian Ministry of Defense also cryptically tweeted ”Two can play that game,” without further context on August 5 – likely a reference to the Russian military’s continued strikes against Odesa’s port infrastructure since July 17.[9] This Ukrainian warning may deter merchant activity and international commercial shipping to and from Russia in the Black Sea.

Ukrainian naval strikes are likely part of a deliberate interdiction campaign aimed at setting favorable conditions for larger counteroffensive operations. A Ukrainian naval drone struck the Russian Olenegorsky Gornyak Ropucha-class landing ship on the night of August 3 to 4.[10]  Ukrainian Main Military Intelligence Directorate (GUR) Representative Andriy Yusov stated on August 5 that the damage to the Olenegorsky Gornyak is very significant and suggested that the ship will not be operational for some time.[11] The UK Ministry of Defense (UK MoD) reported that images of the ship show it listing at 30 to 40 degrees, which suggests either that several watertight compartments were breached by the drone strike or that the crew’s efforts to control the damage were ineffective.[12] UK MoD reported that the Olenegorsky Gornyak is typically assigned to Russia’s Northern Fleet but has lately been ferrying military and civilian traffic between Russia and occupied Crimea following traffic disruptions to the Kerch Strait Bridge caused by previous Ukrainian strikes.[13] Previous Ukrainian interdiction efforts have mainly focused on Russian military targets on land, but it seems that Ukrainian forces are now expanding their efforts to include naval targets as part of these efforts. Ukrainian officials have repeatedly stated their commitment to a deliberate interdiction campaign against Russian military targets in order to degrade Russian logistics and defensive capabilities to set favorable conditions for future Ukrainian counteroffensive activity.[14] Ukrainian forces are thus continuing to set conditions for future decisive operations via an interdiction campaign as they did before and during counteroffensive operations in Kharkiv and Kherson oblasts in 2022, now striking much deeper into Russian rear areas and incorporating maritime targets.

Key Takeaways:

  • Ukrainian forces struck a Russian oil tanker on August 4 with a naval drone in the second attack on Russian ships in the Black Sea in two consecutive days.
  • Ukrainian officials issued a notice to mariners that Ukraine may strike vessels near Russia’s Black Sea ports – a measured response to continued Russian strikes against Odesa – Ukraine’s main port – since July 17.
  • Ukrainian naval strikes are likely part of a deliberate interdiction campaign aimed at setting favorable conditions for larger counteroffensive operations.
  • Ukrainian forces continue to draw Russian forces to the Bakhmut area and fix them there despite a slower tempo of Ukrainian operations there.
  • Ukrainian forces conducted limited ground attacks in southern Ukraine on August 5, part of a continuing pattern of limited Ukrainian ground attacks accompanying Ukrainian efforts to interdict Russian logistics and headquarters in rear areas.
  • Senior officials from reportedly 40 countries, including the US, China, and India, began talks in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia on August 5 aimed at drafting a set of key principles to guide the future settlement of the war in Ukraine.
  • Russian forces conducted offensive operations northeast of Kupyansk, along the Svatove-Kreminna line, in the Bakhmut area, along the Avdiivka-Donetsk City front, in the western Donetsk-eastern Zaporizhia Oblast border area, and in western Zaporizhia Oblast and advanced along the Svatove-Kreminna line and the Avdiivka-Donetsk City front.
  • Ukrainian forces conducted offensive operations along the Svatove-Kreminna line, along the Avdiivka-Donetsk City front, in western Donetsk Oblast, in the western Donetsk-eastern Zaporizhia Oblast border area, and in western Zaporizhia Oblast and advanced along the Svatove-Kremmina line.
  • Pardoned Wagner Group convict fighters continue to increase recidivism rates in Russia.
  • Russian officials continue to transport Ukrainian children from occupied regions to Russia under the guise of summer vacations.
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