Russian forces withdraw from Snake Island in Ukraine

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RIGA, Latvia – Russian forces have said they have withdrawn from Ukrainian Snake Island, a hotly contested tract of land in the Black Sea they captured shortly after the war began – presenting a small but strategic victory for Ukraine on Thursday.

Their retreat has given Ukraine a welcome morale boost as it continues a bloody and bitter fight in the east, where artillery exchanges and shifting control of vital ground have produced few recent victories.

On Thursday, President Biden told a NATO meeting in Madrid that the United States would commit an additional $800 million in security assistance to Ukraine, on top of the billions provided by allies. Americans and Europeans and signaling what analysts believe is a protracted conflict. Biden also announced an increase in the US military presence in Eastern Europe, although some of this move was considered months and years before the invasion.

The alliance will support Ukraine “as long as it takes, Biden said, vowing to “defend every inch of NATO territory.” Before the war, he had warned Russian President Vladimir Putin that an invasion of Ukraine would only strengthen NATO. “That’s exactly what we see today,” he said.

The Russian Defense Ministry presented the withdrawal from Snake Island as a “goodwill gesture” and an effort to create a humanitarian corridor for the export of agricultural products such as grain from Ukraine. However, officials in the nearby port city of Odessa in southern Ukraine said Russian troops only evacuated after long missile and artillery strikes by Ukrainian forces.

Snake Island, also known as Zmiinyi Island, lies approximately 25 miles off the southern coast and is a key outpost to control shipping lanes for Ukrainian grain export and access to port Odessa key.


Attached by

Russia in

2014

Source: Maxar via Google Earth

Attached by

Russia in

2014

Source: Maxar via Google Earth

Attached by

Russia in 2014

Source: Maxar via Google Earth

“On June 30, as a sign of goodwill, the Russian Armed Forces completed their assigned tasks on Snake Island and withdrew the garrison stationed there,” the Russian Defense Ministry said in a statement.

“[We] demonstrated to the world community that the Russian Federation does not interfere with UN efforts to organize a humanitarian corridor for the export of agricultural products from the territory of Ukraine.

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The Russian Army previously described the withdrawals from Kyiv and other parts of central Ukraine as “goodwill gestures” after facing fierce resistance from Ukrainian forces and suffering significant casualties.

The Ministry of Defense added in its statement Thursday that “it is now up to Ukraine” to clear its ports and resume grain shipments.

The war has cut off vital shipping lanes, leaving tons of Ukrainian agricultural produce stranded in silos. Western leaders have accused Moscow of holding food-insecure countries hostage by disrupting supplies and contributing to world hunger.

Moscow responded by saying it would not impede grain shipments or use the minesweeping of ports as an opportunity to renew an attack on Odessa, but Ukrainian officials were wary of such assurances.

Western analysts called Russia’s expulsion from Snake Island a symbolic and strategic victory for Kyiv. For the Russian forces, said Mason Clark of the Institute for the Study of Warfare, it was “a significant defeat”. The Kremlin, he noted, needed the island “to threaten the sea route to Odessa along the Romanian coast, which is the safest way for ships to circumvent the Russian blockade of Ukrainian grain and other exports.

Still, Jeffrey Edmonds, a senior analyst at the Center for Naval Analyses, a Virginia-based think tank, said while the loss of Snake Island took some Russian capabilities out of the equation, its navy may still threaten trade with ships. of war and submarines.

“Militarily, it weakened the blockade,” he said, “but it’s not essential to the blockade.”

Covering just 0.06 square miles, Snake Island made headlines at the start of the war when the crew of a Russian warship ordered a small team of Ukrainian border guards to surrender or facing an attack. The Ukrainians responded with a profane insult, prompting the Russians to open fire.

It was initially thought that the resisters had been killed, but later they would have been taken prisoner. Their defiance was celebrated across Ukraine on stamps and posters and hailed as a moment of rallying in defense of their country.

Ukraine’s armed forces confirmed the Russian withdrawal on their Facebook page on Thursday and thanked fighters from nearby Odessa for helping reclaim the “strategically important” territory.

“BOOM! More Russian troops on Snake Island. Our armed forces have done a great job,” said Andriy Yermak, chief of staff to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. tweeted.

The Ukrainian army recently undertook a new mission to retake the island and launched multiple attacks against Russian forces there.

Last week, the Southern Ukraine Operational Command said it had used “targeted strikes with the use of various forces” on Snake Island, causing “significant casualties” among Russian troops and the destruction of Russian air, radar and vehicle defense systems.

The announcement of the Russian withdrawal came just days after Moscow boasted of repelling attacks from Ukraine by destroying more than a dozen drones and 21 incoming missiles. The Washington Post could not independently verify these claims.

Ukraine’s success in the push to Snake Island is partly attributed to new arms shipments from the West. British intelligence estimated that using donated Harpoon anti-ship missiles Ukraine had “almost certainly” succeeded in sinking the Russian naval tug Spasatel Vasily Bekh, which had delivered Russian weapons and personnel to Snake Island .

War reporters and pro-Russian bloggers also linked Ukraine’s increased combat capabilities to the French CAESAR artillery system, stationed in Odessa, as one of the reasons for the withdrawal, signaling a victory for Kyiv and its Western allies. CAESAR has a firing range of approximately 26 miles.

“After the transfer of the French self-propelled howitzers CAESAR and [tactical missiles] Tochka-U in the Odessa region, the density of artillery fire from the Odessa region has increased in many ways,” a popular Telegram blogger known as Rybar wrote on Thursday.

In pro-Kremlin media, Russia’s withdrawal from the island was described as a setback for Moscow but also as a necessary measure to save the lives of Russian soldiers.

Meanwhile, NATO leaders meet in Madrid on Thursday for a third and final day. President Biden announced at the rally on Wednesday that the United States would increase its military presence in NATO territory in Europe, citing Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The new deployments will include a permanent headquarters for the US 5th Army Corps in Poland.

Suliman reported from London. David Walker in Britain and Claire Parker and Alex Horton in Washington contributed to this report.

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