Ukraine says Russia is ‘sinking ships’ to protect Crimean bridge – here’s what we found

World

Russia has “sunk” a number of vessels by the Crimean bridge using what analysts call a “200-year-old strategy” to defend itself against the emerging threat of Ukrainian sea drones.

Satellite images gathered by Sky News show six dark objects in a row appearing over a seven-day period by the Crimean bridge, also known as Kerch Bridge.

The bridge is the only direct link between the transport network of Russia and the Crimean peninsula and has come under repeated attacks throughout the war.

It follows claims made by Ukraine’s intelligence ministry (GUR) that Russia planned to “sink at least six watercraft” by the bridge to create a “protective lane” in front of it.

The GUR also said Russia “intended to install barriers between the sunken ferries” to protect the bridge “from damage”, in a Telegram post last Tuesday.

In satellite imagery taken by Planet Labs PBC on 19 August, no objects are visible in the water south of the bridge, but on 21 August two vessels appear.

Two days later on 23 August another vessel can be seen on the surface of the water.

However, by 26 August, six objects in the exact same positions around 30 metres in length appear in a darker colour – which experts suggest could mean they have been sunk and are below the water.

Image:
Two of the six vessels have been highlighted in this satellite image taken on 26 August. Pic: Planet Labs PBC

‘Old response to new threat’

Security and defence analyst Professor Michael Clarke said the use of “block ships” – vessels sunk in a strategic place to form a physical barrier – is “an old response to a new threat” of Ukrainian sea drones.

“This is a large area so you’d need to have a series of ships then some sort of barrier in between it, it could be chains or steel nets, to stop anything getting through,” he said.

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‘Sea Baby’ drone used to attack Crimean bridge

However, he added: “The Ukrainians have developed a clever new technology and Russia is responding with a 200-year-old strategy of sinking ships in front of it.”

In terms of its effectiveness, Prof Clarke said the defence strategy is “probably the best way for Russia to prevent sea drone attacks”.

In July, Ukraine’s domestic intelligence agency (SBU) claimed responsibility for the first time for a sabotage operation that badly damaged Kerch Bridge on 8 October last year.

Image:
Aftermath of attack on Kerch Bridge on 8 October last year. Pic: AP

Read more:
What are sea drones?
Prigozhin’s ‘death’ seems to reveal a Russian principle

The SBU also told CNN it carried out an attack on the bridge on 17 July this year using a sea drone – an unmanned vessel that operates on or below the water’s surface.

Kerch Bridge is strategically important for Russia as it serves as a crucial supply route for its forces after its invasion of Ukraine, sending forces from Crimea to seize parts of southern Ukraine’s Kherson and Zaporizhzhia regions.

Prof Clarke said the use of block ships is not an entirely new defence strategy, but it is the first time we’ve seen Russia use it since its invasion of Ukraine last February.

The Data and Forensics team is a multi-skilled unit dedicated to providing transparent journalism from Sky News. We gather, analyse and visualise data to tell data-driven stories. We combine traditional reporting skills with advanced analysis of satellite images, social media and other open source information. Through multimedia storytelling we aim to better explain the world while also showing how our journalism is done.

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