Drone Boat Attack On Russian Ship In Black Sea Story Keeps Getting Weirder

Conflicting imagery and accounts add to the mystery of what really happened to the Russian Navy’s Ivan Khurs intelligence ship.

byHoward Altman|
What really happened to the Russian Navy's Ivan Khurs intelligence ship remains a mystery.
Twitter Screencap


New video has emerged on social media showing what's purported to be another view of the uncrewed surface vessel (USV) attack on the Project 18280 Yuriy Ivanov class intelligence ship Ivan Khurs in the Black Sea Wednesday about 90 miles northeast of Turkey's Bosphorus Strait.

This video - along with one published yesterday showing a USV view of it approaching the Ivan Khurs - indicates a possible hit on the ship contrary to official Russian claims of it being unscathed. However, several videos and images have also emerged on social media claiming to show the vessel sailing into its home port of Sevastopol today with no apparent signs of damage.

"In the conditions of the [special military operation], our telegram channel… never publishes fresh photos of Black Sea Fleet ships. But in light of the ... hysteria, let's make an exception," the Black Sea Fleet Telegram channel said in a post that included several photos it claimed to be of the vessel entering Sevastopol. "The medium reconnaissance ship 'Ivan Khurs' returns to Sevastopol..."

A photo claiming to show the Ivan Khurs returning to Sevastopol today. (Black Sea Fleet Telegram photo)
(Black Sea Fleet Telegram photo)
(Black Sea Fleet Telegram photo)

The new grainy video of the USV attack, provided today by “military sources” to the Ukrainian Pravda media outlet, is a view from the starboard side of the Ivan Khurs and appears to show the results of an explosion on the port side. That explosion is followed seconds later by another apparent explosion that appears to be a short distance away from the vessel.

The location of that second apparent explosion could be a view of what the Russian MoD on Wednesday said was one of three attacking USVs being destroyed by the Ivan Khurs’ deck-mounted 14.5mm machine guns. 

If this video is real, it appears to lend partial credence to some of the information being provided by both sides in this conflict.

The ship appears to be hit, or at least a blast occurred very close to it, which backs up Ukraine's contention, while at least one of the USVs attacking appears to have been destroyed without getting very near the ship's hull, as Russia has claimed.

Other than a snarky tweet issued yesterday by the Ukrainian Defense Ministry, showing the supposed USV view of it attacking the Ivan Khurs released by Ukrainian sources, Kyiv has not officially said anything about this incident.

The Russian Defense Ministry (MoD) on Friday noted the ship's return to Sevastopol under its own power.

“The reconnaissance ship Ivan Khurs of the Black Sea Fleet has completed its planned transition from her area of operations to the permanent deployment base in Sevastopol,” the Russian MoD reported Friday on its Telegram channel.

“While in the Black Sea since late April 2023, the crew carried out tasks to ensure safe operation of the Turkish Stream and Blue Stream gas pipelines in the exclusive economic zone of the Republic of Turkey and also monitored the surface situation in the southwest part of the Black Sea to ensure the safety of navigation under the 'grain deal.’”

A map of Turkey's Black Sea Exclusive Economic Zone. (Turkish Marine Research Foundation map)

Despite the video emerging showing what could have been an impact at or near the ship, the MoD made no mention of damage and stuck to its previous story about destroying three Ukrainian UGVs with the ship’s 14.5 mm machine guns.

“The ship will replenish its supplies at its home base, after which she will continue her missions,” according to the MoD.

While the official Russian TASS news agency essentially repeated the Russian MoD's statement verbatim without mentioning the issue of damage to the ship, other Russian media outlets have made a point to counter any suggestion the vessel suffered any problems as a result of this encounter.

“Skeptics and dreamers about the death of the reconnaissance ship Ivan Khurs, which was recently attacked by enemy naval drones, will have to come to terms again today that the ship is safe and sound,” the Russian Readovka media outlet reported on its Telegram channel. “First, they demanded to show them a fresh photo and video of the ship, then close to the starboard side, and then the left. The footage shows that the starboard side of the Khurs is in good condition, like the rest of the ship, which smoothly entered its native Sevastopol harbor without fatal or minor damage.”

However, even pro-Russian Telegram channels like the one run by Igor Girkin have raised doubts about the status of the Ivan Khurs. Girkin, a former military leader in the so-called Donetsk People's Republic who is also known by the name Igor Strelkov, is one of the more influential and controversial Russian milbloggers.

"Subscribers dropped it into the chat - apparently, the Khurs is being towed, there is reason to believe that it is to Novorossiysk, although it may also be to Sevastopol," Girkin wrote on his Telegram channel earlier on Friday.

"I wonder what Konashenkov will say now?" Girkin wrote, referring to Russian MoD spokesman Lt. Gen. Igor Konashenkov. "How did it happen that such an expensive and valuable ship has only machine guns on its pedestals for self-defense? The answer to this question, like to any other, sounds like this: the command of the Navy is not able to understand that the fleet is intended for war."

There have been even wilder claims, including that there were five USVs involved, not three, and that several Russian sailors were killed in the incident. Those claims however are completely unverified.

And for whatever reason, there seems to be continued interest in the general area where the attack supposedly took place by the U.S. Air Force, which is running an RQ-4B Global Hawk drone, callsign FORTE10, over the southern Black Sea in unusual vertical racetrack patterns for two days in a row.

We reached out to U.S. Air Forces in Europe and will update this story with any information provided.

So much about this incident remains unclear. But one thing both Ukraine and Russia agree on is that the Ivan Khurs came under a USV attack.

It would not be out of the realm of possibility that Russia could have staged this to spark international outrage at Ukraine for attacking its ship inside Turkey's Exclusive Economic Zone and that Ukraine took advantage of that to show it can strike far out into the Black Sea.

But if it was a Ukrainian attack, even if the ship suffered no significant damage or any damage at all, that it could be hit by a USV so far from the nearest Ukrainian-controlled shoreline - about 200 miles - would indicate a significant capability expansion of Ukrainian USV operations. They could have also been launched from a mothership.

As we have written previously, Ukraine has been working to build out its fleet of USVs, including through a crowdsourced fundraising campaign by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s UNITED24 organization.

But, as we have also previously written, prior USV attacks, particularly on the port of Sevastopol, headquarters of the Black Sea Fleet in October and November 2022 and March 2023, have caused limited damage. However, they have forced Russia to ramp up its port security and change how they deploy ships.

This attack, in the southern part of the Black Sea, seems to indicate that no place is safe for Russian vessels traversing those waters.

We will continue to update this story as more information develops.

Update 6:08 EST:

Satellite imagery posted on social media by @MT_Anderson shows the Ivan Khurs back in port in Sevastopol. The War Zone has reviewed similar imagery that confirms that is indeed the case.

Contact the author: howard@thewarzone.com