11 Sept 2023
Kyiv has said that it has reclaimed control of strategically vital gas and oil drilling platforms in the Black Sea that had been seized by Russia.
Ukraine's Main Intelligence Directorate (GUR) said in a Telegram post that GUR units had taken back control of the so-called Boyko Towers, located between Crimea and Odesa in the northwestern Black Sea.
One maritime expert told Newsweek that the move was a "major event" that could end the Russian Navy's ability to operate in that region of the Black Sea.
The GUR said on Monday that there was a battle between Ukrainian special forces on boats and a Russian Sukhoi-30 fighter jet, which was forced to retreat.
Ukraine said it took control of the "Petro Godovalets" and "Ukraine", drilling platforms, as well as the "Tavrida" and "Sivash" mobile rigs, which had been seized by the pro-Russian authorities in Crimea after Moscow's annexation in 2014.
Ukrainian military intelligence posted a 13-minute video of the operation on Telegram which appeared to show Ukrainian personnel approaching by boat and then boarding the platforms. Also captured were Russian unguided aircraft missiles and the "Neva" radar station, which can track the movement of ships, it added.
The video described how regaining control of the platforms "was of strategic importance." It added that as a result, "Russia has been deprived of the ability to fully control the waters of the Black Sea" which made Kyiv's goal of regaining Crimea "many steps closer."
The video has not been independently verified and Newsweek has contacted the Russian Defense Ministry by email for comment on Ukraine's claims.
Yörük Işık, from the Bosphorus Observer maritime consultancy based in Istanbul, said this was a significant gain for Ukraine. "This is the end of any operational ability of the Russian Navy to operate in the northwestern Black Sea," Yörük Işık told Newsweek. "This is a major event."
"Ukraine is continuing to create naval history as a country with almost no navy, by making gains against a very established Cold War navy with very big ships."
With Ukraine's land-based missiles and use of sea drones that have made high-profile strikes in the Black Sea in recent weeks, Işık said, "there is no chance Russia can capture these back—we are seeing step by step, Ukraine is clearing the Black Sea to open it to maritime trade."
"This is another very important moment," he added as it would allow Ukraine to resume imports and exports, and not just the grain exports that have been restricted after Russia pulled out of a deal in in July to allow their safe passage through the Black Sea.
"Ukrainian ports can be open and international traffic can freely go back from Ukraine's Black Sea ports," he said, "this makes any further concessions to Russians to return to the grain deal even more senseless."
Located in the northwestern Black Sea, the platforms provide access to hydrocarbon resources. Like Snake Island to the west which Ukraine captured last year, the platforms can also serve as advanced bases for force deployment, helicopter pads, and the placement of long-range missile systems.
They were dubbed the Boyko Towers after the role that former Ukrainian Energy Minister Yuriy Boyko played in the purchase of the rigs in 2011 under pro-Russian President Viktor Yanukovych in a deal that has faced allegations of fraud, that Boyko denies.
British defense officials said in August there had been skirmishes around the strategically important gas and oil platforms operated by the Chernomorneftegaz company.
It said that since the start of the war, "Ukraine has struck several Russian-controlled platforms" and that both sides "have also periodically occupied them with troops."
The Russian Defense Ministry has repeatedly claimed its forces had destroyed high-speed Ukrainian boats which contained troops seeking to land on the site although one incident was dismissed by Ukraine as a fake.