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Satellite images have shown how Vladimir Putin is running scared from Ukraine’s assault on Crimea, revealing that the bulk of his Black Sea Fleet has performed a major retreat. Russian warships were evacuated from Sevastopol some 237 miles to Novorossiysk on Russia’s southern coast, in what British Defence Minister James Heappey called ‘the functional defeat of the Black Sea Fleet’.

The exodus of around ten vessels came after Ukraine destroyed the Sevastopol headquarters of the Black Sea Fleet in a missile strike on September 22. Nine days earlier Ukrainian missiles also hit the £250 million Kilo-class attack submarine Rostov-on-Don and large landing ship Minsk in a repair shipyard in naval port Sevastopol.

The Rostov-on-Don suffered massive damage and was likely beyond repair, analysts said. OSINT analyst MT Anderson highlighted satellite images dated October 1 which indicate the move. Two Russian Project 11356 frigates Admiral Essen and Admiral Makarov, three diesel submarines, five large landing ships and several small missile ships appeared to have been moved to Novorossiysk.

The images highlight the analysis of the British Ministry of Defence this week that most of the forces of the Black Sea Fleet appear to have relocated from Sevastopol to Novorossiysk. The move of the fleet is seen as a tangible gain from Ukraine’s strategy of targeting Crimea – which Russia invaded in 2014 – with missiles and drones. Ukrainian strikes have triggered explosions and fires in Novorossiysk, but Sevastopol has proved a much easier and more fruitful target.

Under agreements with Western nations, it cannot use Storm Shadow and HIMARS missiles to attack sovereign Russian territory. Such missiles can be used against areas of Ukraine invaded by Putin, like Crimea. But the move threatens Putin’s naval dominance in the Black Sea, and his ability to defend Crimea.

Sevastopol was claimed by Russia in 1783 under Catherine the Great. Until 2014, it was a naval port shared by Russia and Ukraine. Putin has used his warships and submarines to launch deadly missile strikes on Ukraine from the Black Sea – and will still have this capability despite the retreat.

But it will be harder to use Russian warships to prevent Ukraine using its own grain corridor to export vital food supplies. However Britain has warned that Putin’s forces may lay mines in the sea which they will then blame on Ukraine.

‘Russia almost certainly wants to avoid openly sinking civilian ships, instead falsely laying blame on Ukraine for any attacks against civilian vessels in the Black Sea,’ said the Foreign Office. ‘By releasing our assessment of this intelligence, the UK seeks to expose Russia’s tactics to deter any such incident from occurring.’

Foreign Secretary James Cleverly said ‘the world is watching’, warning of ‘Russia’s cynical attempts to lay blame on Ukraine for their attacks’.

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Source: | This article originally belongs to Dailymail.co.uk

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