Intentions of Russian Amphibious Warships in Black Sea Still Unclear

March 21, 2022 6:07 PM
Ivan Gren-class amphibious warship RTS Pyotr Morgunov (117) entering the Black Sea on Feb. 9, 2022. Photo by Yörük Işık‏ used with permission

About a dozen Russian warships remain in the Black Sea, raising concerns that Moscow is still considering an amphibious assault on the Ukrainian city of Odesa.

It is unclear what Russia is planning for the ships, which include amphibious and surface combatants vessels, Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby told reporters Monday. The Pentagon noted the increased naval activity last week, USNI News previously reported.

“Is it the prelude to an assault on Odesa? Is it a diversionary tactic to sort of hold and fix Ukrainian troops in the south so that they can’t come to the relief of their comrades in Mariupol and Kyiv? It’s difficult to know,” Kirby said.

Ships could be positioned in such a way that Moscow could do an amphibious assault on Odesa, similar to the country’s tactics with Mariupol, which remains under Ukrainian control despite a Russian assault of the city.

It does not appear that Odesa is under imminent threat of an amphibious assault, a senior defense official told reporters Monday morning.

An amphibious assault on Odesa was possible, according to plans shared by the Belarusian president, but still has not happened 26 days into the Russian invasion on Ukraine, wrote Tayfun Ozberk for Naval News. Such an assault would be costly – in terms of lives – for the Russians, but it is not out of the realm of possibilities for Moscow, according to Naval News.

Assembling ships in the Black Sea could have another use, Ozberk suggested in his article. Moscow could be using the ships as a terror tactic.

Graphic by H I Sutton used with permission

“Russia creates the perception that there is a threat in this region by constantly performing amphibious demonstrations off Odesa, thus keeping Odesa on constant alert, which causes it to keep soldiers in this region,” Ozberk wrote. “This situation precludes troops waiting to defend the Odesa coastline from supporting forces fighting in other places.”

Russia is also likely using the ships to bombard Odesa, the senior defense official said. The defense official could not give a percentage of missiles coming from the Black Sea, as the Pentagon is no longer keeping count of how many missiles are coming from Belarus, Russia, the Black Sea and inside Ukraine.

Despite almost a month passing since Russia began its assault on Ukraine, Moscow has seen little progress, Kirby said, adding that the troops are “flummoxed” and “frustrated.” Much of the Russian movement, including at sea, is happening in “silos,” leading to some of the Russian struggles, he said.

While the Russians have taken the Ukrainian city of Kherson, the Ukrainians have launched an attack to reclaim the city. The Russians are in control of Berdyansk, which they captured on the way to Mariupol, but the troops have not managed to control port city Mariupol.

“When you look at what they’ve managed to do in 26 days, it’s not that impressive,” Kirby said.
It is likely that Russia aims to take Mariupol because controlling the port city would allow them to have a land bridge to Crimea and isolate the coast of Ukraine, the senior defense official said.

If Russia manages to isolate the eastern part of the country, it could prevent Ukrainian troops from helping to defend Kyiv and other population centers, the defense official said.

“So they are very much trying to fix the Ukrainians in the east and taking Mariupol would be a key part of that ability,” he said.

Heather Mongilio

Heather Mongilio

Heather Mongilio is a reporter with USNI News. She has a master’s degree in science journalism and has covered local courts, crime, health, military affairs and the Naval Academy.
Follow @hmongilio

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