Satellite images show Russia moved military ships after Ukrainian attacks

A Ukrainian sea drone takes aim at a Russian military vessel in the Russian port of Novorossiysk on August 2nd, 2023 — Ukrainian Security Services

(LONDON) — Satellite images confirm that multiple ships in the Russian Black Sea fleet, which analysts and Ukrainian navy sources tell ABC News would usually be kept in the Crimean port of Sevastopol, have been moved to the Russian port of Novorossiysk.

This comes after sustained Ukrainian attacks on Sevastopol over the last few weeks.

The images, provided by Planet Labs, were taken Oct. 1 and they show the protected port on Russia’s Black Sea coast with a variety of military vessels visible, including landing ships, frigates and patrol ships.

Dmitry Gorenburg, Senior Research Scientist at the Center for Naval Analyses, tells ABC News that at least eight of the ships visible “were definitely previously based in Sevastopol.”

Gorenburg does add, however, that some of the ships in the port have previously been based in Novorossiysk, and the submarines seen up close in these images have spent time moving between Sevastopol and Novorossiysk.

Therefore, he says he, “would be cautious about attributing their relocation to these recent attacks.”

Overall though, he says the timing is auspicious.

“While it is difficult to attribute the move with 100% certainty, the timing and scale of the relocation are highly suggestive of it being caused by the perception that Sevastopol is highly vulnerable to Ukrainian strikes.”

Sevastopol has been a key port for Russia in the Black Sea since they annexed the Crimean Peninsula in 2014.

The Russian Black Sea fleet has been active in the war against Ukraine and is headquartered in Sevastopol.

However, Ukraine has successfully attacked the port multiple times over the last several weeks. On Sept. 22 , they targeted the Black Sea Fleet Headquarter building with storm shadow missiles provided by the U.K. and France.

Dmitry Gorenburg says all this has likely all factored into Russia’s decision to move the ships.

“I would expect the move to be long-term, until the Russian military determines at some future point that the danger has passed.”

The Ukrainian Navy also confirmed to ABC News that Russia has “pulled most of the warships” from Sevastopol.

They note that while Russia is always moving ships between several ports to avoid them becoming targets, this transfer appears to be larger than usual.

Ukraine has struck the port of Novorossiysk before using sea drones but it is hampered from using the kinds of cruise missiles used in attacks on Sevastopol because these are supplied by international partners.

The missiles are provided with the requirement that they only be used within the borders of Ukraine.

Russia may even be looking to move the fleet even farther from Ukraine.

The leader of the Georgian breakaway republic of Abkhazia, Aslan Bzhania, claimed in an interview with Russian newspaper Izvestia, that he had signed an agreement with Russia for a new permanent base in the south of Abkhazia.

The precautions appear to be pervasive across Russian activities in the Black Sea.

Samir Madani, an open-source analyst who tracks oil tankers in the Black Sea also adds that it isn’t just military ships taking precautions.

He tells ABC News that “there are a number of Russian-affiliated oil tankers that have shut off their AIS transponders upon entering the Black Sea as of late. We have seen them load oil both at port and out at sea from other vessels via transshipment.”

He believes they are behaving this way for the same reasons the military ships have been moved to Novorossiysk.

“This is likely due to the looming security threat imposed by Ukraine.”

ABC News’ Layla Ferris and Chris Looft contributed to this report.

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