Moscow has likely moved its Kilo-class submarines from the Crimean peninsula to southern Russia over fears of them being struck by long-range Ukrainian fire, according to British intelligence.
In a daily briefing on Tuesday, the United Kingdom’s defence ministry said those submarines had “almost certainly” been moved to Krasnodar Krai in mainland Russia, instead of a naval base at Sevastopol on the Crimean peninsula.
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“This is highly likely due to the recent change in the local security threat level in the face of increased Ukrainian long-range strike capability,” the British ministry said. “In the last two months, the fleet headquarters and its main naval aviation airfield have been attacked.”
Moreover, the ministry said that “guaranteeing” the Black Sea Fleet’s Crimea base was one of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s “motivation for annexing” the peninsula in 2014.
“Base security has now been directly undermined by Russia’s continued aggression against Ukraine,” it added.
Latest Defence Intelligence update on the situation in Ukraine – 20 September 2022
Find out more about the UK government's response: https://t.co/gmR2GIiKs1
— Ministry of Defence 🇬🇧 (@DefenceHQ) September 20, 2022
Moscow considers Crimea as Russian territory, but the peninsula is internationally recognised as part of Ukraine, which wants it back.
Ukraine’s counteroffensive, which began on September 6, has taken Russia by surprise, both in terms of speed and the dynamism of advances.
Kyiv forces swept through the Kharkiv region this month after bursting through the front line, sending thousands of Russian troops fleeing while abandoning their tanks and ammunition.
Russia’s losses over the past few weeks have shaken a Kremlin public relations campaign that has never veered from the line that the seven-month-old “special military operation” is “going to plan”.
Officially, Russia announced it was moving some troops out of the Kharkiv region to regroup elsewhere. But the losses are being openly acknowledged on state television by local commentators calling for escalation.
Putin has promised to continue, recently warning of a “more serious” military response to Ukraine’s “acts of terrorism”.