Russia is believed to have withdrawn its potent attack submarines from their home port in Crimea over fears they are prone to long-range Ukrainian air strikes, British intelligence has said.
Sightings of Kilo-class submarines were once a regular thing at the port of Sevastopol, the capital of the peninsula that was annexed by Moscow in 2014.
Now, British military officials think the boats have been relocated to Novorossiysk.
Yesterday, the Ministry of Defence said: “The command of Russia’s Black Sea Fleet has almost certainly relocated its Kilo-class submarines from their home port of Sevastopol in Crimea to Novorossiysk in Krasnodar Krai, southern Russia
“This is highly likely to be due to the recent change in the local security threat level in the face of increased Ukrainian long-range strike capability.
"In the past two months, the fleet headquarters and its main naval aviation airfield have been attacked.
“Guaranteeing the Black Sea Fleet’s Crimea basing was probably one of Russian president Vladimir Putin’s motivations for annexing the peninsula in 2014.
"Base security has now been directly undermined by Russia’s continued aggression against Ukraine.”
Early in the war, the Russian navy’s four diesel-electric Kilo-class submarines were deployed close to the Black Sea port of Odesa and often used to fire Kalibr cruise missiles at targets on land.
However, recent long-range attacks, most probably carried out by Ukrainian special forces and pro-Kyiv partisans, have unnerved Russian commanders over the safety of their military assets stationed in Crimea.
Sevastopol was the main base of the Black Sea Fleet in Soviet times but Novorossiysk, about 200km east in Krasnodar Krai, was always a back-up.
Plans to upgrade the facilities at Novorossiysk slowed after Moscow agreed Crimea access and basing rights with Kyiv following Ukraine’s independence from the Soviet Union in 1991. It was not until 2005 that serious upgrades began.
The base is optimised for surface vessels, meaning a lot of infrastructure will need to be built to accommodate the Kilo-class submarines.
As well as refuelling and other facilities, the submarines will need specially built areas to hold and load weapons to boats, a process that could take years to complete.
Meanwhile, Ukraine’s tank forces appeared to be close to receiving new hardware after Slovenia agreed to send 28 M55 self-propelled howitzers to Kyiv.
The plan will see Germany sending equipment to Slovenia in exchange for its guns being sent to Ukraine.
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