Britain has declined to confirm reports that Wednesday’s early-hours strike on Russia’s Black Sea Fleet (BSF) in the occupied Crimea used UK-supplied Storm Shadow cruise missiles.
But the Ministry of Defence offered a more detailed appraisal of the strike’s impact, underlining the probable damage to Russian naval forces ahead of a visit to Washington next week by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.
Ukraine’s attack on the Sevmorzavod shipyard within the base at Sevastopol hit the landing ship Minsk and Kilo 636.3-class submarine Rostov-na-Donu as the vessels were undergoing maintenance in dry docks.
“Despite the Russian Ministry of Defence downplaying the damage to the vessels, open-source evidence indicates the Minsk has almost certainly been functionally destroyed, while the Rostov has likely suffered catastrophic damage,” the MoD said.
“Any effort to return the submarine (Rostov) to service is likely to take many years and cost hundreds of millions of dollars. There is a realistic possibility that the complex task of removing the wreckage from the dry docks will place them out of use for many months,” it said.
“This would present the BSF with a significant challenge in sustaining fleet maintenance.
“The loss of the Rostov removes one of the BSF’s four cruise-missile capable submarines which have played a major role in striking Ukraine and projecting Russian power across the Black Sea and Eastern Mediterranean.”
Britain is Ukraine’s second-biggest supplier of military aid, behind the United States.
Mr Zelensky is set for White House talks next Thursday as Joe Biden urges Congress to give up to $24 billion in aid to help Ukraine fend off Russia’s invasion.
US officials said that the Ukrainian leader was expected to meet the US president and also head to Congress, on a visit to the US for the UN General Assembly.
Rishi Sunak is understood not to be making the trip for the annual UN meeting, after the Prime Minister met other world leaders at the recent G20 summit in India. Russia’s Vladimir Putin was a notable absentee from the G20.
Zelensky’s sensitive visit has yet to be publicly announced but would come after Putin received North Korean supremo Kim Jong-un at a space port in Russia’s far east on Wednesday.
The meeting intensified Western concerns that a Moscow-Pyongyang alliance could bolster Russia’s war in Ukraine with more ammunition, and also provide isolated North Korea with advanced military tech.
President Biden is pushing the Republican-led Congress to adopt his big new package of support despite growing rumbling about the slow pace of Ukraine’s counter-offensive against Putin’s occupying forces.
The US package includes $13.1bn in additional military aid and $8.5bn in humanitarian support for Ukraine.
Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen announced a new package of US sanctions against more than 150 individuals and entities linked to the Kremlin. She said it underlined “our relentless work to target Russia’s military supply chains and deprive Putin of the equipment, technology, and services he needs to wage his barbaric war on Ukraine”.