Ukraine Situation Report: Drone Boat Attacks Tanker Ship Near Kerch Strait

Ukraine appears to have launched another round of aerial drone and uncrewed surface vessel (USV) attacks against Russian targets near the Kerch Bridge Friday night. This comes a day after Ukrainian USVs attacked targets near the Russian port of Novorossiysk, landing a blow on a Russian amphibious landing ship.

Update: 3:45 am EST—

Video taken from the drone boat as it made its attack run on Russian flagged tanker Sig has been posted:

Now back to our original story:

Russian Telegram channels are reporting an attack on the Sig, a Russian tanker ship. The attack reportedly took place some 30 miles west of the bridge, damaging the vessel and causing minor injuries to crew. These are initial reports coming in the early morning hours Saturday local time, so solid confirmation is extremely difficult to establish. But Christiaan Triebert (@trbrtc) a New York Times visual investigations journalist, confirmed that the vessel was at least located where the report was claimed to have occurred. Treibert Tweeted that the location information was confirmed both by and Planet Labs, via a satellite image.

Vladimir Rogov, a Russian-installed official, claimed on his Telegram channel that a Ukrainian USV attack on the Sig caused an explosion, resulting in “several members of the tanker’s crew slashed by glass.”

There were no deaths, he added.

“The detonation due to the explosion on the ship was visible from the peninsula, which the locals considered an explosion in the area of ​​the settlement Yakovenkovo ​​near the Crimean bridge.”

The Kremlin-connected Rybar Telegram channel also claimed the Sig was damaged by Ukrainian USVs.

“Information about hitting the Sig tanker is confirmed. The crew is alive, but the engine room was flooded,” Rybar reported.

The Sig has been sanctioned for supplying jet fuel to Syria, Triebert reported.

There was no official comment from either Russia or Ukraine about this incident.

Meanwhile, Rogov, Rybar and a Russian official are also reporting drone attacks near the Kerch Bridge, which has already been successfully attacked twice, most recently July 17 by Ukrainian USVs

“Currently, there is a massive attack of [Ukrainian] combat drones on the Crimean bridge,” Rogov also reported Friday on his Telegram channel, using the Russian reference to Vladimir Putin’s prized $4 billion bridge.

Ukraine was attacking with aerial drones and USVs, three of which were destroyed “in the area of the Kerch Strait and approaches to the Crimean bridge,” said Rogov.

Russian air defenses were striking the aerial drones, Rogov added, something Rybar confirmed.

“Also, air defense systems shot down at least one drone, which fell in the area of ​​​​the Crimean bridge,” Rybar reported.

The bridge so far appears undamaged, according to Rogov. But lighting on the bridge was turned off and traffic was blocked, according to Rybar.

The bridge itself was not attacked, Oleg Kryuchkov, an advisor to the occupation Crimean governmen, said on his Telegram channel Friday.

 “Once again, there were no attacks directly on the Crimean bridge and explosions in its area,” he said. “The bridge is closed due to the threat of attack, the second or third time today. All Crimean specialized services and ministries are available around the clock.”

We don’t know for sure what exactly has happened and these events unfolded in the dark of night and in the fog of war. We will provide more information as it becomes available.

However, as noted at the opening of this article, hours earlier, a Russian Navy ship and an oil facility were damaged by Ukrainian USVs.

The Russian Navy Ropucha class vessel Olenegorsky Gornyak amphibious landing ship appears to have been badly damaged as the result of a Ukrainian drone attack early Friday morning near Novorossiysk, a major Russian port on the eastern coast of the Black Sea, rougly 65 miles from the Kerch Strait and 420 miles from Ukrainian-held shores.

There were also reports that explosions occurred in the area of ​​Yuzhnaya Ozerievka, where the Caspian Pipeline Consortium’s marine terminal is located, close to the scene of the attack on the landing ship. Once again, drone boats are said to have been used, in this case, to attack oil infrastructure.

You can read more about Friday morning’s attacks in our previous story here.

Clearly Ukraine, which has carried out numerous attacks on the bridge, Black Sea Fleet port facilities and individual ships, is ramping up its efforts to take the fight to Russian maritime and logistics assets over great distances. Two strikes in one day using USVs after months of repeatedly tries, is also a major revelation.

We will continue to closely monitor these events and update them as more information comes in.

Before we head into the latest news from Ukraine, The War Zone readers can catch up on our previous rolling coverage of the war here.

The Latest

The first group of Ukrainian pilots who will take part in F-16 training have been identified. But as Politico is reporting, there is a catch.

Only a few have the requisite language skills.

Just “eight Ukrainian pilots who are fluent in English are ready to begin training on the fighter jet as soon as a formal training plan is drawn up by a handful of European allies and approved by the United States,” Politico reported, citing a U.S. official and a person familiar with Ukrainian planning, who weren’t authorized to speak on the record about the plans.

However, the “exact timing of that instruction remains unclear,” the publication reported.

The U.S. official further said 20 pilots that speak some English are available to start language courses in the U.K. as soon as this month. 

In total, 32 Ukrainian pilots — enough for two squadrons — have been identified to potentially take part in the training program, “but English proficiency remains a sticking point.”

A coalition of 11 NATO countries will help Ukrainians learn how to fly and maintain the American 4th generation fighter, with much of the instruction expected to take place in Denmark and Romania. The Biden administration is still awaiting a formal training proposal from European allies, but the U.S. official said Washington is “hopeful” the request will come within weeks.

Ukrainian pilots, however, have already proven they are competent fighter pilots. Speaking of which, watch their MiG-29 Fulcrum and Su-27 Flanker pilots land on a highway, a good skill to have during a time of war. Ukraine has kept its fighters moving around the country, especially early on in the conflict, to keep them from being destroyed by standoff missile strikes.

Wagner mercenary group troops in Belarus pose no military threat to neighboring countries, the head of Ukraine’s Defense Intelligence Directorate (GUR) told The War Zone Thursday.

Yevgeny Prigozhin’s organization has neither sufficient troop numbers nor the heavy equipment needed to create a viable threat, Ukrainian Maj. Gen. Kyrylo Budanov told us. Recall that last month, Wagner turned over more than 2,000 heavy weapons, including tanks, to Russian authorities after his failed mutiny attempt.

Budanov’s analysis of the situation came as Poland and Lithuania announced they are shifting troops to the area because of an influx of Wagner forces near Grodno, which is located in a strategically sensitive area. 

The city is near the tri-nation border of Belarus, Lithuania and Poland and close to a 40-mile- long strip of land known as the Suwalki Gap between Lithuania and Poland. That’s the shortest land route between Belarus and the highly militarized Russian enclave of Kaliningrad sandwiched between Poland and Lithuania.

On Thursday, Lithuanian President Gitanas Nausėda met with Poland’s Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki on the Polish side of the Suwalki Gap, where they stressed the two countries were closely monitoring the movements of Wagner mercenaries in Belarus, according to the Lithuanian LRT news outlet.

“Some Wagner fighters are close to our border, having taken up positions in the Grodno region, which means that this situation is very convenient for provocations both on the Polish-Belarusian and Lithuanian-Belarusian borders,” Nausėda said.

According to Nausėda, measures have already been taken to reinforce security on the border, including by updating plans on deploying the military.

Nausėda said to the publication that any hostile actions by the Wagner troops would be considered actions taken by Russia.

Both Polish and Lithuanian officials say the presence of Wagner in Belarus, expelled from Russia following their short-lived rebellion in June, poses a threat.

Meanwhile, Latvia also sent troops to its border with Belarus out of concern over Wagner.

Last weekend, Morawiecki said over 100 mercenaries had moved close to the Suwalki Gap, adding that the situation “is becoming even more dangerous.” On Tuesday, two Belarusian helicopters violated Polish airspace at the eastern border, Poland claimed.

“According to our data, there are about 4,000 mercenaries [in Belarus], maybe a bit more,” Morawiecki said.

Budanov told The War Zone Ukraine estimates about 6,000 Wagner troops are in Belarus.

Morawieki last week suggested that there is a plan to disguise Wagner forces as Belarusian border guards and assist migrants trying to illegally cross into Poland, what the prime minister called an “unconditional step” towards a hybrid attack on Poland. As Russian troops poured into Belarus and massed ahead of their invasion of Ukraine, Warsaw and Minsk came into crisis amid significant unrest over migrant riots along their borders in late 2021.

While he says Wagner poses no military threat to Poland, Lithuania or even Ukraine, Budanov did suggest that Poland beef up its border police presence “to protect the border better from any provocations, including immigrants.”

The presence of Wagner forces in Belarus has sparked concerns in Poland, Latvia and Lithuania. (Google Earth image)

Speaking of Lithuania, that country on Friday highlighted its support for Ukraine. In a Tweet, the Lithuanian Defense Ministry pointed out it’s provided Ukraine with helicopters, anti-tank weapons, armored personnel carriers and “millions of rounds of ammunition” in the first seven months of this year alone.

A month after Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said that reactor roofs at the Zarporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant (ZNPP) had been mined, International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) on Friday said its experts found none.

Inspectors “have observed no mines or explosives on the rooftops of Unit 3 and Unit 4 reactor buildings and the turbine halls at Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhya Nuclear Power Plant (ZNPP), after having been given access yesterday afternoon,” Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi said Friday.

The IAEA had been repeatedly asking for access to the rooftops and they were only able to visit them after their ninth visit to the plant, Europe’s largest, the IAEA said.

Inspectors on Friday finally had “unimpeded access to the rooftops of the two reactor units and could also clearly view the rooftops of the turbine halls,” according to IAEA. “The team will continue its requests to visit the roofs of the other 4 units at ZNPP.”

Grossi did not say whether it was possible the mines were once there and subsequently removed, however he did note the plant remains in a war zone.

“On the night before the rotation the team reported hearing a series of detonations in the vicinity of the plant,” according to the IAEA. “The team was informed by the ZNPP that there was no impact on the site, the neighboring industrial area or the city of Enerhodar as a result of these detonations.”

Russia is using drones instead of missiles to carry out attacks against Ukrainian ports on the Danube River because of their proximity to Romania, the U.K. Defense Ministry (MoD) says.

On Aug. 2 Russian drones struck Izmail and on July 24 they hit Reni.

The U.K. MoD assess that the drones, which are “acceptably accurate” and have smaller warheads than cruise missiles, are much less likely to risk a relation from a NATO member like Romania.

Russia’s all-out war on Ukraine is having a huge impact on its economy and it is dramatically boosting defense spending, Reuters is reporting.

“Russia has doubled its 2023 defense spending target to more than $100 billion – a third of all public expenditure,” Reuters reported Friday, citing a government document it said it reviewed.

The figures show that in the first half of 2023 alone, “Russia spent 12%, or 600 billion rubles ($6.2 billion), more on defense than the 4.98 trillion rubles ($54 billion) it had originally targeted for 2023,” according to Reuters.

Russia’s government and finance ministry did not respond to requests for comment on the numbers.

“Rising war costs are supporting Russia’s modest economic recovery this year with higher industrial production, but have already pushed budget finances to a deficit of around $28 billion – a figure compounded by falling export revenues,” according to Reuters.

Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu visited a forward operating post, where he visited with troops and inspected captured Ukrainian equipment, the Russian Defense Ministry (MoD) said Friday.

At the command post, Shoigu heard a report from the regional group’s commander Lieutenant General Andrei Mordvichev, as well as commanders and staff officers, according to the MoD.

Shoigu “thanked the commanders and the group’s military personnel for conducting successful offensive operations in Krasny Liman direction and for mastering more advantageous positions by our troops.”

He also “drew particular attention to the need of inflicting an effective preemptive fire attack on the enemy when knocking him out of held positions during combat operations. These measures will make it possible to ensure maximum preservation of the lives and health of Russian servicemen,” the MoD stated.

The group’s commander presented Shoigu with “one of the many enemy armored vehicles, captured in the course of the battle, in particular the Swedish-manufactured CV-90 infantry fighting vehicle.”

The MoD claimed it “was disabled and abandoned by retreating Ukrainian servicemen after being hit by a shot from RPG-7 shoulder-launched, anti-tank, rocket-propelled grenade launcher.”

Mordvichev told Shoigu about “the lack of spare parts, tools and accessories in the armored vehicles, supplied by Western countries, which makes it impossible to carry out operational repairs in the areas of combat operations.”

The MoD also claimed that the CV-90 has a “low rate of fire. It is fired with three magazines of eight shells each, after which it requires reloading, which can take up to one minute. In addition, the Swedish-manufactured armored vehicles, supplied to Ukraine, lack guided weapon systems and have low survivability due to their high silhouette.”

However, contrary to those claims, the CV90 is considered one of the most capable infantry fighting vehicles in Europe, which you can read more about in our story here.

Scoff as they may about the CV-90, Russia is about to face off against a few more, as you can see in this video below.

While Shoigu might sneer at Sweden’s IFV, his own BMP-3s appear to be fitted with some logs, which aren’t exactly as protective as explosive reactive armor. They certainly didn’t help in this case, where one already disabled, log-laden BMP-3, was put out of its misery by a Ukrainian First Person Video (FPV) drone.

Ukrainian officials have frequently bemoaned how Russia’s wide-scale mining has slowed its counteroffensive.

Reuters took a deep dive into that issue, pointing out that Russian forces have even mined corpses in their effort to stop Ukraine’s advance.

The Russians “mine everything. Open doors, boxes and crates, even toys,” one soldier told the publication. Even their own dead.

“They know that our medevac groups lift the wounded and the dead, under which they then find these explosives. And this is very dangerous for us.”

Landmines inflicted “a colossal toll” in the first month of the counteroffensive launched in June, Oleksandr, an anesthesiologist with the 128 Brigade who treats battlefield wounds at a front-line field hospital, told Reuters.

Since the mines forced commanders to slow the advance, the number of wounded arriving at his hospital has tapered off markedly. But the sappers are still getting killed.

“In this direction, the area is heavily mined and that’s why it is being overcome so slowly,” he said.

We’ve seen a lot of innovations on the battlefield in this war. Now check out another one. The combat kayak, kitted out with a 40mm automatic grenade launcher, a fearsome weapon wherever it is used.

A Russian ammunition depot containing rockets for the Grad multiple launch rocket system (MLRS) was destroyed southeast of Chelyny, Donetsk Oblast, the Ukrainian CyberBoroshno Telegram channel claimed.

You can see rockets cook off and big plumes of grayish-white smoke as a result in this video below.

And finally, Ukrainians are so happy about having the Patriot air defense system to protect its skies that they’ve put it on their coins.

“The National Bank of Ukraine on Friday presented a new limited edition 10 UAH coin (27 cents) with a Patriot anti-aircraft missile system on the reverse, in a symbolic nod to the equipment that has boosted Ukraine’s air defenses,” reported.

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Howard Altman

Senior Staff Writer

Howard is a Senior Staff Writer for The War Zone, and a former Senior Managing Editor for Military Times. Prior to this, he covered military affairs for the Tampa Bay Times as a Senior Writer. Howard's work has appeared in various publications including Yahoo News, RealClearDefense, and Air Force Times.