Russian Black Sea commander 'sacked after Ukraine downs warship'

Ukraine claims it used sea drones to sink Russian war ship in Black Sea (Ukraine's military intelligence agency, GUR/Twitter)
Ukraine claims it used sea drones to sink Russian war ship in Black Sea (Ukraine's military intelligence agency, GUR/Twitter)

The commander of Russia’s Black Sea Fleet has been sacked after Ukrainian forces claimed to have sunk a Russian landing ship off the coast of occupied Crimea, according to local media reports.

Ukraine's main directorate of intelligence (GUR) published a video on Wednesday of what it said was the Russian Black Sea fleet's Caesar Kunikov burning and sinking a few miles off Alupka on the southern tip of Crimea.

Announcing the successful strike on the vessel on messaging platform Telegram, Ukraine's armed forces declared "Veni, vidi, vici" - I came, I saw, I conquered - a Latin phrase popularly attributed to the Roman general Julius Caesar.

The GUR said its special operations unit, Group 13, had attacked the warship with Magura V5 naval drones. The vessel was an amphibious ship, used to move troops to land fast in enemy territory.

The popular Telegram channel Rybar announced on Thursday that Viktor Sokolov has been dismissed as the commander of the Black Sea Fleet and had been succeeded by an unnamed chief of staff.

Osvedomitel and Dva Mayora, two Telegram channels offering ongoing commentary on Russia's war in Ukraine, suggested that the destruction of the Caesar Kunikov seemed to be the "final straw" for Sokolov’s superiors.

Roman Saponkov, another blogger, attributed a sequence of commands that compromised security and resulted in a 20 per cent reduction of the Black Sea Fleet's strength to Sokolov.

These bloggers generally do not reveal the sources of their information.

No formal confirmation has been provided for the claims regarding Mr Sokolov's dismissal or the naming of his replacement.

The Ukrainian drone, unveiled last year and which looks like a sleek black speedboat, reportedly has a top speed of 42 knots (50mph) and a payload of 320kg.

The explosions damaged the vessel on its left side, the GUR said.

The UK-headquartered private maritime intelligence firm Ambrey said the video showed that at least three drones were involved in the attack and that the ship probably sank after listing heavily on its port side.

The Caesar Kunikov was more than likely part of the Russian fleet escorting merchant vessels that call at Crimean ports, Ambrey said.

Ukraine's armed forces poked fun at the incident, posting on X, formerly Twitter, that the Russian ship was "upgraded to a submarine" and that fish in the Black Sea "will definitely like Caesar salad".

Kremlin spokesperson, Dmitry Peskov, refused to comment on the claim during a conference call with reporters on Wednesday, saying that any questions should be addressed to the Russian military.

If confirmed, it would be another embarrassing blow for the Russian Black Sea fleet and a significant success for Ukraine 10 days before the second anniversary of Russia's fullscale invasion on 24 February 2022.

Earlier this month, the GUR claimed to have destroyed Russia's Ivanovets missile boat in the Black Sea, and, in December, Ukrainian cruise missiles are believed to have struck another large Russian landing warship in Crimea.