Latest Russia-Ukraine War News: Live Updates

Credit…Burak Kara/Getty Images

Russia has replaced the commander of its Black Sea fleet, the country’s state news agency reported Friday, after a series of setbacks including a recent powerful attack on one of its Crimean bases and the loss of the its flagship in April and control of a small island in June that played an outsized role in Russia’s naval operations.

The shake-up suggested the seriousness of the setbacks in Black Sea Fleet operations. While there have been unconfirmed reports of similar major changes in the leadership of other forces, the Russian government has not made them public.

In a report by the state news agency, Tass, on Friday, the new commander, Vice Admiral Viktor N. Sokolov, he was quoted as saying who had been appointed by the country’s defense minister last week.

The comment came as he spoke to junior officers in Sevastopol, Crimea’s largest port city and the base of the fleet since Russia illegally seized the Ukrainian peninsula in 2014.

“The Black Sea Fleet is participating in the special military operation and is successfully completing all the tasks set for it,” Admiral Sokolov, 60, told officials. seconds Tass, using Kremlin terminology for the conflict.

Admiral Sokolov, who previously served as the head of the St Petersburg-based Kuznetsov Naval Academy, Russia’s officer training school, added that the fleet expected to receive 12 new ships this year, along with aviation and ground vehicles.

He replaces Vice Admiral Igor V. Osipov, who had commanded the fleet since 2019. In May, Britain’s Defense Intelligence Agency reported that Admiral Osipov had likely been suspended following the sinking of the flagship of the fleet, the cruiser Moskva. Asked about the report at the time, a senior Pentagon official went further, saying the commander had been removed.

Pro-Kremlin military analysts have cited the Black Sea Fleet as the weakest link in Russia’s military effort. Since the start of the war in February, it has suffered repeated and embarrassing setbacks. Ukraine said it used Neptune missiles to sink the Moskva in April, an attack Russia has never acknowledged. It was the largest warship lost in combat in decades.

The Black Sea Fleet is an integral part of the Russian war effort and has been crucial in Moscow’s efforts to exert control along the Ukrainian coast, devastating Ukraine’s economy. The fleet has also launched sea-based long-range missiles to strike targets deep inside Ukraine.

“Most of Russia’s naval victories have been achieved here by the Black Sea Fleet,” Admiral Sokolov reportedly told the officers. a video report of the event by the local television network.

The change in leadership came as Ukraine has increasingly used sabotage and sophisticated long-range weapons to attack Russian-controlled territory. But Russia has demonstrated a strong ability to absorb losses and retains superior military power.

And it remains unclear exactly what cost the fleet suffered in the attack on its Saki air base in Crimea earlier this month, which Ukraine suggested was carried out by special agents and local partisans. Satellite images analyzed by the New York Times showed at least eight planes destroyed.

At a briefing for reporters on Friday, a Western official said the attack had “put out of service more than half of the combat aircraft of the Russian Black Sea Fleet’s naval aviation.” He added that “the Russian system is busy trying to assign blame for the debacle.”

But U.S. officials disputed the notion that that proportion of the fleet’s aviation assets had been decommissioned. Recent Ukrainian attacks on Crimea have been significant, they said, and the explosions and damage Ukraine has caused have been real, including the loss of some fighter jets. However, they warned that the damage was not decisive and that the recent attacks were not enough to bring about a change in the war.

In June, Russian troops withdrew from the small snake island in the Black Sea after repeated assaults by Ukrainian forces, limiting their control over Ukraine’s sea routes.

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