Ukraine Reclaims Gas Platforms from Russia in Black Sea Power Shift

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Ukraine has successfully reclaimed four gas drilling platforms in the northern Black Sea, near the Crimean Peninsula, platforms that Russia had been utilizing for military purposes since their capture in 2015. Ukraine reports that the operation took place last month and included the removal of Russian military equipment.

These platforms, known as the Boyko Towers, initially fell under Russian control following the unlawful annexation of Crimea. Ever since, a struggle for control has ensued, with the strategic waters becoming a key battleground.

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Recently issued video footage and a statement dubbed “Battle for the Sea” by Ukraine’s military intelligence offer a unique look into this dimension of the conflict. In the footage, which remains unverified by the BBC, Ukrainian special forces are seen journeying across the Black Sea on rigid inflatable boats.

The footage reveals voyage close to Snake Island, or Zmiinyi Island, which was briefly seized by Russia during its full-scale invasion last year, only to be taken back four months later. Upon reaching the platforms, Ukrainian troops are recorded extracting Russian supplies, including crucial radar equipment.

As the video’s narration explains it, the Russians had set up ammunition and helicopter fuel warehouses on the drilling platforms. Radar stations were also established, allowing them to monitor the whole Black Sea. The Neva-B radar they deployed served as a repeater, broadening Russia’s view of the critical waters between Ukraine and the Crimean Peninsula.

As the footage continues, it displays frantic efforts by Ukrainian troops to fend off a circling Russian Su-30 fighter jet. Celebratory scenes follow as a shoulder-held anti-aircraft missile is fired, causing the jet to retreat. While there is no immediate proof of additional combat, a military intelligence spokesman indicated Russian soldiers on one of the platforms were killed.

Drama unfolds throughout the operation, including a 14-hour hunt for a fallen soldier, rescuing him only after a drone spotted him at sea.

While Ukraine’s account remains unverified, skirmishes around the gas platforms were tweeted about by Britain’s Ministry of Defence on 27 August. The platforms, rich in hydrocarbon resources, could serve as forward deployment bases, helicopter landing sites, or locations to station long-range missile systems, they noted.

The fight for control of the northern Black Sea remains largely hidden, yet vital to both sides. Just last year, the control of Snake Island and the Boyko platforms symbolized Russia’s intimidation of Ukraine’s Black Sea ports. Now, Russia seems to be on the defensive as Ukraine carries out raids in the northwest corner of Crimea.

The communication from Kyiv shows their intention to reclaim the Crimean Peninsula. With the reclamation of the drilling platforms, they have stripped Russia of their full control over the Black Sea waters, bringing them a step closer to regaining control of Crimea.

Reducing Russia’s visibility in the northern Black Sea is seen as essential for slowly loosening Moscow’s hold. Although reclaiming Crimea might seem far off, these recent operations have brought Ukraine several nautical miles closer to achieving their goal.