Russia withdraws from Snake Island

Snake Island off the far south-west of Ukraine in the Black Sea and a final delineator of the Ukraine-Romania border, has been evacuated by Russian troops, which seized it in late February after a fierce battle at the beginning of the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Snake, or Zmiinyi, Island achieved has achieved an almost mythical status in the war. Although it is nothing more than a small rocky outcrop in the Black Sea, “if Russian troops had succeeded in setting up their long-range air-defence systems, they would have controlled the sea, land and air in the north-west part of the Black Sea and in the south of Ukraine, Ukrainian military expert Oleh Zhdanov told the BBC back in May.

Historically, Snake Island was Romanian territory until it was ceded in 1948 to the Soviet Union, which used it as a radar base.

Russia put a brave face on the withdrawal, stating that the move showed the global community that “the Russian Federation is not hampering the UN’s efforts to organise a humanitarian corridor to ship farming produce out of Ukraine”. Indeed Russia seemed at the same time to be stating that it would not stand in the way of grain being exported out of Ukraine by ship, through the Bosphorus and into the Eastern Mediterranean. Previously Russia had said that sanctions would have to be relaxed before it would permit this.

Before Thursday June 30th, it had seemed that, despite ongoing losses, Russia was determined to consolidate its grip on Snake Island. Artillery, missiles and men were deployed there en masse.

The final decision, which saw the entire Russian force on the island evacuated in just two speedboats, appeared to be the result of a sustained artillery attack by Ukraine, enveloping the exposed land in smoke.

In the past couple of weeks Ukraine had been conducting more technically innovative attacks with fast jets, successfully destroying Russian systems on the island. Justin Bronk from the Royal United Services Institute defence think tank told the BBC that the island had always been a difficult place for Russia to defend. It had been forced to ship in new systems continually, and these had been attacked on the way in.

“With a lack of cover and given how small Snake Island is in terms of ability to conceal things, it is just an untenable military position for them to try and hold now,” Bronk said.