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Ukrainian forces are engaged in a fierce battle to regain control of Snake Island amid fears Russia could dominate the north-western Black Sea if it consolidates its position in the strategic location, the British military has said.
Moscow has sought to reinforce its exposed troops on the island, also known as Zmiinyi Island, 11 weeks since the invasion started, but Kyiv’s assaults on Russian troops stationed there had disrupted the invading forces from expanding their influence, UK intelligence officials said.
In an update on Twitter, the UK’s Ministry of Defence said Russia’s efforts to bolster its forces on the tiny island “offer Ukraine more opportunities to engage Russian troops” and equipment.
“If Russia consolidates its position on Zmiinyi Island with strategic air defence and coastal defence cruise missiles, they could dominate the north-western Black Sea.”
The ministry also said Ukrainian troops had “successfully struck Russian air defences and resupply vessels with Bayraktar drones”.
The Turkish-made drones have become legendary in Ukraine’s defence and are the subject of a catchy folk song, which claims the unmanned vehicles “make ghosts out of Russian bandits”.
The British army said Russia's resupply vessels had minimum protection after the Russian navy retreated to Crimea, following the loss of the Moskva.
This assessment was backed up by satellite imagery analysed by the Associated Press showing fighting in the region.
Russia’s poor performance in the war is probably down to President Vladimir Putin’s flawed decision-making, an expert in Russian and Central Asian defence and security issues said.
In an article published by British think tank RUSI, Roger McDermott argued Mr Putin’s misjudgements in the 11 weeks of war stemmed from “badly crafted intelligence ― especially from the FSB [Federal Security Service] ― but also from his largely successful previous experience of using military force.”
“This predisposed him to underestimate the military of a country lacking ― in his view — legitimate statehood or nationhood, and was further compounded by his failure to recognise that the war in Ukraine would be fought on a scale way beyond his experience ― or that of his senior generals,” Mr McDermott wrote.
President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said on Tuesday that Kyiv’s military had made small gains, pushing Russian forces out of four villages near Kharkiv.
Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba voiced what appeared to be increasing confidence — and expanded goals, suggesting Ukraine could go beyond only forcing Russia back to areas it held before the invasion began on February 24.
Mr Kuleba told the Financial Times that Ukraine initially believed victory would be the withdrawal of Russian troops to positions they occupied before the invasion began. But the focus shifted to the eastern industrial heartland of the Donbas after Russian forces failed to take Kyiv early in the war.
“Now if we are strong enough on the military front, and we win the battle for Donbas, which will be crucial for the following dynamics of the war, of course the victory for us in this war will be the liberation of the rest of our territories,” Mr Kuleba said.
Meanwhile, Ukraine’s natural gas pipeline operator was expected to stop Russian shipments through a key hub in the east of the country on Wednesday.
The pipeline operator said Russian shipments through its Novopskov hub, in an area controlled by Moscow-backed separatists, would cease. It said the hub handles about a third of Russian gas passing through Ukraine to Western Europe. Russia’s state-owned natural gas company Gazprom put the figure at about a quarter.