If there is one geographical feature of Ukraine that Putin’s War has moved to the forefront of people’s minds, it is Zmiinyi Island, also known as Serpent Island or Snake Island. This tiny speck is located in the Black Sea about 20 miles from the Danube mouth. It measures 700 yards by 700 yard, which equals 0.08 sq. miles. On February 24, two Russian ships, the guided missile cruiser and the guided ship Russian-based submarine cruiser, brought Snake Island into public attention. Moskva (see BREAKING. Russian Flagship Falls While Being Town to Port Vasily Bykov demanded the surrender of the 13 Ukrainian border guards stationed on the island and received the epic response “Russian warship, go f*** yourself.”
Russians began to fortify Snake Island using surface-to-air SA-15 Gauntlet missiles, and close-range defense with ZS 223-2 guns. Strela missiles. A few patrol boats were also stationed on the island. It could have a significant impact on the outcome of the conflict in south Ukraine if the Russians decide to send their S-300. The S-300’s range is approximately 120 miles. The Ukrainian Air Force would be prevented from flying over Odesa or Ukrainian territories between Odesa (and the Danube). It is now more concerning because Russia could conduct an amphibious attack south of Odesa in order to weaken Ukrainian defenses, and connect with separatists from the Transnistria area of Moldova.
Russians may be looking to seize Besarabia. It is located in Odesa and separated from the main Odesa area with Dniester Gully. Only one bridge connects it. If occupied after a landing, it opens the road to Modlova, and via Russia-occupied Transnistria – to Odesa backyard. /1 https://t.co/yCEpRqrLAi pic.twitter.com/DN9s9YkdJN
— Sergej Sumlenny (@sumlenny) April 26, 2022
You can read my take on that operation in 10 Days Into Putin’s ‘New Phase’ of Russia’s Invasion of Ukraine, There Are Minor Advances but the Clock Is Ticking.
For the past week, we’ve seen the Ukrainians begin a deep shaping operation directed at Snake Island. “Deep” and “shaping” are not merely adjectives; they are terms of art. An operation that disrupts uncommitted enemy units is called a deep one. You can describe depth in terms either of the distance the enemy forces would need to get to the battlefield or the time they would take. A shaping operation sets the conditions for success in the commander’s planned decisive operation.
It began with the Ukrainian Bayraktar on April 30 TB2 Unmanned Combat Aerial Vehicles (UCAVs) carrying out attacks on Snake Island’s close-range air defense systems.
#UkraineThe Black Sea’s Snake Island is the source of some of the footage.
A Ukrainian Bayraktar T-B-2 drone strikes a Russian ZU-23-2 Autocannon position – during the same incident, a Strela-10 SAM system was hit. pic.twitter.com/w0zuKFzsnA
— 🇺🇦 Ukraine Weapons Tracker (@UAWeapons) May 2, 2022
Unconfirmed strikes by Russian forces on Snake Island in another Ukrainian TB2 UCAV Video https://t.co/0yPcB4PT4Y pic.twitter.com/0dVDZ2WM70
— Rob Lee (@RALee85) May 3, 2022
This attack eliminated the immediate threat to the UCAVs. The UCAVs then came after the patrol boats on May 2.
Two Russian Raptor-class patrol boats were hit by a TB2, reportedly close to Snake Island pic.twitter.com/3F1o5JlIOb
— OSINTtechnical (@Osinttechnical) May 2, 2022
Two #RussianSee navy vessels east of Snake Island
These are hours after the TB2 attack on Assault boats. It does not seem that the attacked boats were able to sail off.
Incorrect typo in original graphic#OSINT #Ukraine pic.twitter.com/Vd2n0xpeuh
— H I Sutton (@CovertShores) May 2, 2022
On May 6, the UCAVs seized the SA-15 (Russian name: TOR), and its Transporter-Launcher and Radar, TLAR.
After the Ukrainian Bayraktar TB2 attacks, Russian Tor explodes on occupied Snake Island pic.twitter.com/WmlFQui75g
— WorldOnAlert (@worldonalert) May 6, 2022
#Ukraine: New footage from the famous Snake Island – a Russian 9A330/9A331 Tor surface-to-air missile TLAR was destroyed by a Ukrainian Bayraktar TB2 UAV. pic.twitter.com/06IaahmPb2
— 🇺🇦 Ukraine Weapons Tracker (@UAWeapons) May 6, 2022
The Russians attempted to rebuild the SA-15 that was destroyed on May 7. The UCAVs waited.
#Ukraine– A drone from Ukraine Bayraktar TB-2 struck Snake Island and damaged what appeared to be Project 11770 Serna class landing craft. pic.twitter.com/w7qrgzWaPo
— 🇺🇦 Ukraine Weapons Tracker (@UAWeapons) May 7, 2022
A Tor surface-to air missile TLAR can be seen on the landing craft. It is possible that the Ukrainian TB2s hit Snake Island twice as Russian forces sought to reinforce the island’s garrison and rebuild the Tor. pic.twitter.com/ht5Dv3BR4s
— Oliver Alexander (@OAlexanderDK) May 7, 2022
Below are images of Battle Damage Assessment (BDA) photos.
The TB2 UCAVs of the Ukrainian TB2 have destroyed 9 Russian A2/AD assets on Snake Island and nine naval vessels.
Russian assets have been destroyed on the island by the Ukrainians, and they have successfully destroyed their reinforcements. pic.twitter.com/ebkU6YsgPH
— Kemal (@kemal_115) May 7, 2022
Still visible smoke from the attack at latest #Ukraine️ Navy TB2 attack on #RussianSnake Island forces in Sat Image 09:07 UTC.
The Hit Serna Class Landing Craft is still visible. Most likely a wreck
2 assault boats (e.g. The Raptor is seen moving towards Ukraine pic.twitter.com/2sMWYsKFg5
— H I Sutton (@CovertShores) May 7, 2022
Two SU-27s from the Ukrainian Air Force visited the island shortly after the landing craft had been smoked.
A new TB2 video was released showing the Ukrainian attack on Snake Island. The footage shows the attack of 2 Ukrainian SU-27s on Snake Island.
This is why the entire area around the lighthouse was destroyed between Friday morning and Saturday morning. pic.twitter.com/E91V7PooJW
— Oliver Alexander (@OAlexanderDK) May 7, 2022
All of that can you take to mean anything? There are two possible interpretations. One possibility is that the Ukrainians plan to keep the island uninhabited. It does not have long-range air defence systems and its primary purpose is to protect the Russian Black Sea Fleet vessels operating from Crimea. Since the Russian Navy appears less interested in conducting operations near Ukraine than the Russian Navy, the garrison at the island would manage approximately 9 miles worth of airspace that Ukraine should be able avoid without any problems. Russia must exert considerable effort to remove the defense system and may take great risks in order to supply the island with food and other supplies. That said, I’ve seen no previous indication that Ukraine is willing to focus this kind of attention on a target without a purpose.
It is the second alternative that’s more appealing. Snake Island is about 170 miles from the Black Sea Fleet’s homeport of Sebastopol. Neptune is capable of traveling a maximum distance of 170 miles.
Snake Island to Sebastopol – 174 Miles
Maximum range for the Neptune antiship missile is 174 miles pic.twitter.com/NRnlzn6jLm
— streiff (@streiffredstate) May 7, 2022
The shaping attack is intended to remove the Russians’ ability on Snake Island to resist an air attack operation by Ukraine in preparation of a deep attack on neutralizing the Black Sea Fleet.
The Russian Navy could be neutralized in the Black Sea by using a combination of British Brimstone and Neptune missiles. This would allow for the operation of Ukrainian air forces in the region, provided that there is sufficient support from air defense units located on Snake Island as well as the Ukrainian coast. It could serve as an unstoppable defense for Ukraine, if it is able to maintain the garrison. This could prevent Russia from conducting an amphibious operation in Ukraine or exercising naval power.