The Russian army has consolidated its control over Zmiinyi Island (Snake Island) in the Black Sea, mobilizing various defense systems, a move that indicates it intends to maintain this strategic point despite the threat of new Ukrainian artillery and missile systems.
The latest satellite images of this islet located off the Ukrainian and Romanian coasts make it possible to distinguish different types of ground-to-air defense. The Russians also installed defense systems on nearby ships to bolster protection.
“The Russians have deployed various anti-aircraft systems on the island that cover various threat spectrums: SA-13, Pantsir, Tor, ZU-23-2 anti-aircraft guns”, highlights French researcher Pierre Grasser, an expert in Russian Defense.
“Recently, they consolidated their position (…) Strategically, all this follows a logic, even before the new Ukrainian resources”, analyzes a French military source, who asked not to be identified.
Westerners gave Ukraine several mobile artillery systems that would theoretically allow it to bomb the island from coastlines located about 30 km away. Among them are the French Caesar cannons, but above all the Himars multiple rocket launchers sent by the Americans – currently in use somewhere between Western Europe and Ukraine.
“These systems will soon participate in combat, and we are committed to continuing to fuel the flow of munitions,” said US Under Secretary of Defense Colin Kahl this week.
The anti-aircraft systems currently deployed by the Russians “will not be able to intercept the guided rockets launched by Himars, that’s for sure”, said Grasser, who, at the same time, relativizes this possible limitation.
Because they are mobile systems, however, “the Russians can do what the Ukrainians have done very well since the beginning of the war: move them as soon as they perceive an imminent threat,” even “on a small island,” this expert noted.
– Assault repelled –
The Russian defenses “are there, above all, to repel attempts to bring Ukrainian commandos to the island”, he explains, noting that Kiev has already tried to do this at least once, on the night of May 7-8. Commandos were terminated.
The island is of fundamental importance.
From the first day of the Russian offensive, on February 24, the invaders had secured their control and then fought to maintain it, losing men and material. Not far away, the cruiser “Moskva” was hit by a Ukrainian missile, inflicting its greatest humiliation on the Russian Navy in decades.
On Friday (17), the Ukrainians said they had bombed, with a missile, a Russian auxiliary ship near the island, equipped with an anti-aircraft system on board.
“Initially designed for rescue at sea, this ship served as an improvised anti-aircraft platform. A Tor system was installed on it,” says Grasser.
On Twitter, defense analyst HI Sutton, a specialist in naval themes, considers that these ships “are used to supply the island”, which “has a strategic importance” – not only from a military point of view, but also from an economic point of view.
The island is located at the mouth of the Danube, one of the continent’s most important rivers and a European commercial artery. Whoever controls the island can attack this point. It could also serve as a launch pad towards Odessa, or even Romania. In addition, it has hydrocarbon deposits nearby.