Russia sacks naval commander after humiliating Black Sea losses

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President Vladimir Putin has sacked the commander of Russia’s navy after it suffered a series of humiliating losses in the Black Sea, according to Ukrainian officials with knowledge of the shake-up.

Putin sacked Admiral Nikolai Evmenov, who had led the navy since 2019, and replaced him with Alexander Moiseev, commander of its Northern Fleet, two Ukrainian officials told the Financial Times.

The decision underscores how Ukraine has forced Russia to retreat in the Black Sea even as Putin’s forces gain ground elsewhere along the 1,000km front line more than two years since the start of their full-scale invasion

Using advanced weaponry supplied by western countries and its own home-made drone capabilities, Ukraine has sunk several Russian warships and shot down many high-value aircraft, forcing Russia to relocate its Black Sea fleet and halt round-the-clock air reconnaissance of the battlefield.

Ukrainian officials who confirmed the change in Russia’s navy leadership also told the FT that an attack by Ukraine at the weekend had critically damaged two Russian A-50 long-range radar detection planes at an aircraft repair facility in the southern port city of Taganrog.

A Russian Air Force A-50 aircraft flies with fighter jets above the Kremlin in Moscow. Ukraine says it critically damaged two A-50s at the weekend © Reuters

Izvestia, a newspaper owned by one of Putin’s closest friends, reported that Moiseev had replaced Evmenov on Sunday, citing anonymous sources.

Dmitry Peskov, Putin’s spokesman, declined to comment on the report. “There are decrees classified as ‘secret’ and I can’t comment on them. There have not been any open decrees for publication on this matter,” Peskov told reporters on Monday.

Ukraine’s Black Sea successes have also broken Moscow’s blockade of Ukrainian ports, allowing Kyiv to restart exports of grains to the global market. Last month those exports reached their highest levels since the Russian invasion began, with more than 8mn tonnes of diverse products shipped, including 5mn tonnes of agricultural goods, according to the Ukrainian Agri Council, a Kyiv-based NGO.

Pushing Russia’s Black Sea fleet further east also limits Moscow’s capability to launch missiles that have wreaked death and devastation on Ukrainian cities in past years.

Pro-war bloggers with close ties to the Russian military reported in February that Russia’s Black Sea Fleet’s commander, Viktor Sokolov, had been relieved of his post, though the ministry has yet to confirm this.

The International Criminal Court issued an arrest warrant last week for Sokolov and Sergei Kobylash, commander of Russia’s long-range aviation, on charges of crimes against humanity for directing missile strikes against Ukraine’s energy infrastructure.

In addition to attacks on the Russian navy, Ukrainian officials said that Kyiv’s forces on Saturday had successfully used domestically produced drones to critically damage the two Russian A-50s.

Satellite images appeared to support their assessment. They showed blast marks in the area where one of the long-range radar detection aircraft had been parked on the tarmac at the time of the attack and on the rooftop of the hangar where the other plane is believed to have been located.

A representative for Ukraine’s military intelligence directorate said on Monday that the agency was still working to clarify the extent of the damage to the planes and declined to provide further information. Ukraine’s air force declined to comment.

Serhiy Prytula, a Ukrainian public figure with connections to the military whose charity has hugely contributed to Kyiv’s wartime fundraising and production of its drone programme, boasted to his donors on X that their efforts had contributed to the success of the attack on the Taganrog facility.

Russia’s defence ministry claimed on Saturday that it had shot down 41 drones in the area but did not comment on reports the facility had been hit. One emergency services worker was taken to hospital, according to local officials.

Kyrylo Budanov, Ukraine’s chief of military intelligence, told the FT in January that Russia had eight operational A-50 long-range radar detection planes prior to one being shot down by Kyiv’s forces over the Sea of Azov at the time. The three attacks since then means that Ukraine has now destroyed or badly damaged half of Russia’s A-50s in under two months.

The destruction of just one A-50, Budanov said in January, would probably affect Russia’s ability to operate and communicate in the war zone “around the clock”. The destruction of three more could have a huge impact on its reconnaissance and communications abilities, officials said.

After the second loss of an A-50, British defence intelligence said that Russia had “highly likely grounded the fleet from flying in support of Ukraine operations”.

Russia’s defence ministry has not commented on the loss of the first two planes, which pro-war bloggers ascribed to “friendly fire”.

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