The Russian army has increased its hold on Snake Island in the Black Sea and deployed several defense systems, suggesting that despite the threat of new artillery systems and Ukrainian missile fire, it has no intention of simply letting go of this strategic point.
The latest open-source satellite images of this island off the Ukrainian and Romanian coasts make it possible to distinguish different surface-to-air defense systems, and the Russians have also installed them on ships positioned nearby to further strengthen the protective bubble .
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“The Russians have deployed several anti-aircraft systems on the island, covering different spectrums of threats, SA-13, Pantsir, Tor, ZU-23-2 anti-aircraft guns,” notes French researcher Pierre Grasser, a Russian defense specialist associated with the Sirice laboratory Sorbonne.
“They’ve been cementing their position lately, using various ground-to-air systems on the island and on buildings around the island. Strategically, it makes sense, even given Ukraine’s new assets, such as the Caesars or the Himars,” a French military source analyzed on condition of anonymity.
The West has provided Ukraine with several mobile artillery systems that would theoretically allow it to strike from the most distant coasts, some thirty kilometers away, including the French Caesar guns, but above all the American-supplied Himars multiple rocket launchers, which are currently located somewhere in between Western Europe and Ukraine.
“We expect to see these systems deployed in combat soon, and we are committed to continuing to feed the flow of ammunition,” US Undersecretary of Defense Colin Kahl said this week.
The anti-aircraft systems currently deployed by the Russians “will not be able to intercept the guided missiles fired by the Himars, that’s for sure,” assesses Grasser, who puts it into perspective: “They are all mobile, so the Russians can do what the Ukrainians have done since the beginning of war are very good at: relocating them as soon as they perceive an imminent threat. You have to be reactive, but it’s effective, even on a small island.”
“The Himars cannot make saturation fire” to plow the entire surface of the island with the quantities available to the Ukrainians, he adds.
The Russian defenses “are primarily there to counter the advance of Ukrainian commandos on the island,” he explains, recalling that Kyiv has already attempted a coup at least once, on the night of May 7-8. The commands had been decimated.
Because the island is an important topic. From day one of the Russian offensive on February 24, the attackers secured this flat, empty confetti. Struggling to hold it, they lost men and materiel. Not far from that country, the cruiser Moskva was also hit by a Ukrainian missile, inflicting the biggest snub on the Russian Navy in decades.
On Friday, the Ukrainians claimed to have hit a Russian support ship with an anti-aircraft system on board with a missile near the island.
“This ship, originally designed for sea rescue, served as an improvised anti-aircraft platform. A gate system was installed on it,” notes Mr. Grasser.
On Twitter, defense analyst HI Sutton, a naval affairs specialist, believes “these buildings are for supply” to the island, which is “of strategic importance.” It’s not just a pebble, it’s territory. And it is not only strategically located militarily, but also economically,” he recalls.
The island is in fact situated at the mouth of the Danube, one of the most important rivers in Europe and a trade artery of the continent. Whoever controls it may be able to target that mouthpiece. It could also serve as a firing platform towards Odessa or even Romania. Finally, there are hydrocarbon deposits nearby.