Russian ships are shelling targets in the suburbs of Odesa as naval activity ticks up in the Black Sea, the Pentagon said on Wednesday.
“We do see increased naval activity in the northern Black Sea,” a senior defense official told reporters on Wednesday.
We also have observed on our own the shelling of some town outside of Odessa near Odessa, but not in Odessa. We believe these are… from Russian warships in the Black Sea.
The official did not say if the shelling was a precursor to an amphibious landing near the port city.
“It could be that they are preparing the way for some sort of ground assault on Odesa,” the official said.
“We would not see them surprised in taking Odesa given its strategic location.”
The shelling follows a Tuesday mobilization of Russian amphibious warships off the coast of Odesa in the Black Sea that ultimately turned back to their staging area near Crimea.
Fourteen Russian ships were seen operating in off the southern coast of Ukraine, according to open-source analysts H I Sutton and Damien Symon earlier tracked a Russian amphibious assault group and two surface combatants operating near the coast of Odesa in the Black Sea.
“Two [groups] are made up of combatants, and one has several landing ships. The landing ships appear to have sailed directly from their staging position off the Crimean coast,” they wrote in Naval News.
In total, the pair saw 14 ships, led by a Russian minesweeper, approach the coast off Odesa and then turn back toward Crimea. Pentagon officials confirmed the basic details on Wednesday.
In late February, thousands of Russian troops landed on the Sea of Azov coast without resistance as part of the ongoing Mariupol siege. They have not yet made an amphibious landing in the Black Sea.
The Kremlin has moved six amphibious landing ships into the Black Sea since the start of the year to join landing ships that were already part of the Black Sea fleet.
These include three Ropucha-class tank landing ships, which are capable of landing 10 main battle tanks and 350 troops ashore. The larger Ivan Gren-class, also in the Black Sea, can move 13 main battle tanks and 300 troops while also fielding two attack helicopters.
According to notices to mariners, the sea approaches to Odessa and surrounding beaches are heavily mined, which would complicate a landing.
Russian amphibious forces aren’t skilled at contested amphibious landings and would need an uncontested beach to deploy vehicles and naval infantry.
The total of Russia’s amphibious forces in the Pacific could be heading to support the war effort in Ukraine, Japanese officials said on Wednesday.
All of Russia’s amphibious forces in the Pacific are on the move, possibly on their way to support Russian forces in Ukraine, Japanese officials said on Wednesday.
Japanese officials say four Russian Navy amphibious warfare ships transited the Tsugaru Strait on Tuesday and Wednesday, and the Japan Ministry of Defense posted on social media on Wednesday that they might be transporting troops and vehicles for operations in Ukraine.
The first two ships were sighted Tuesday traveling westward about 44 miles east-northeast of Shiriyazaki. The release identified the ships by pennant numbers and class as Landing Ship Tanks (LST) RFS Nikolay Vilkov (081) and RFS Oslyabya (066), with photos showing Nikolay Vilkov’s open vehicle deck carrying a number of Russian trucks. Two more ships – LSTs RFS Admiral Nevelskoy (055) and RFS Peresvet (077) – were sighted on Wednesday morning 135 miles east-northeast of Shiriyazaki. On both occasions, the ships subsequently sailed west through the Tsugaru Strait and into the Sea of Japan. They were surveilled by the Japan Maritime Self Defense Force (JMSDF) destroyer JS Shiranui (DD-120) and JMSDF P-3C Orions of Fleet Air Wing based at Hachinohe Air Base, Honshu, according to the release.
The four ships represent the entire complement of the Russian Navy Pacific Fleet’s amphibious ships. Japan tracked the Nikolay Vilkov, Admiral Nevelskoy and Oslyabya operating in the Sea of Japan and the southern part of the Sea of Okhotsk in February as part of the Russian Navy’s global fleet-wide exercises held in January and February. The photo release then by Japan of Nikolay Vilkov showed it traveling with an empty deck, making it likely that Nikolay Vilkov is now transporting vehicles from the Russian garrison in the Kuril Islands to Vladivostok where they will be transported by rail as replacements for losses in Ukraine.
The Tsugaru Strait divides Honshu and Hokkaido. Japan’s territorial waters extend only three nautical miles in the strait, allowing foreign warships to transit it without violating Japan’s sovereignty. However, Japan has expressed concerns about transits by Russian and Chinese naval vessels and regularly tasks JMSDF ships and aircraft to shadow vessels from the two nations in the strait. A Russian Navy 10-ship group transited Tsugaru Strait on March 10.