Ukraine's bold moves in Black Sea challenge Russia's might
Ukraine's recent success in breaking the Russian naval blockade and reclaiming control in the Black Sea shows a potential shift in the dynamics of the war
Although the 1,000-kilometer conflict front line has barely moved in the past twelve months, events in other areas indicate that a military breakthrough may still be a real possibility, writes Peter Dickinson in an article for the Atlantic Council.
Ukraine, lacking warships, compelled the Russian fleet to withdraw from Crimea and break the blockade of its ports, a potential turning point in the conflict. The Defense Forces of Ukraine achieved a significant victory on September 13, 2023, successfully countering Russia's Black Sea Fleet in Sevastopol. Despite the ongoing land stalemate, Ukraine's naval prowess has reshaped the narrative, challenging the once-dominant Russian forces.
Ingenuity and access to unrestricted Western weapons allowed Ukraine to shift the power dynamic in the Black Sea, despite Western leaders' initial reluctance due to fear of escalation. The use of Storm Shadow and SCALP-EG missiles, notably supplied by Britain and France, played a pivotal role in Ukraine's success. The deployment of domestically produced cruise missiles and naval drones demonstrated Ukraine's ability to adapt and utilize Western weaponry effectively.
Western leaders, fearing Moscow's response, initially withheld key weapons from Ukraine, limiting its battlefield advantage, including in Crimea. Contrary to early doubts, Ukraine's naval victories have not only broken the blockade but also forced Russia's Black Sea Fleet to withdraw. The effectiveness of these operations questions the prior emphasis on avoiding escalation, suggesting that a robust military response is essential for countering Russian aggression.
The belief in Russia's invincibility in the Black Sea was shattered when Ukraine sank the Moskva, Russia's flagship, in April 2022. Subsequent drone attacks on warships and critical infrastructure further weakened Russian naval dominance. By October 2023, Russia had withdrawn the majority of its naval assets from Crimea.
Putin's restrained response to Ukraine's attack on Crimea suggests a strategic mocking of Western indecision, showcasing their hesitancy.
The renewed maritime trade following Russia's retreat has been crucial for Ukraine's economy, contributing to a noteworthy five percent GDP growth in 2023.
The success in the Black Sea challenges the Western mantra of "don't escalate," emphasizing the need to provide Ukraine with the necessary tools to secure victory.
The Black Sea battle serves as a lesson, urging Ukraine's partners to draw strategic conclusions for a victorious future in 2024. Ukraine's progress at sea underscores the futility of fearing Russian escalation and the imperative for the West to reassess its approach. As Ukraine's partners evaluate the lessons from the Black Sea, there is a pressing need to discard self-imposed restrictions and empower Ukraine with the resources to conclude the conflict. The fear of Russian escalation should no longer hinder decisive action in support of Ukraine's quest for peace and security.