Russian forces have decided to pull out of Snake Island in a small but strategic win for Ukraine. Russia’s Defense Ministry framed the decision to leave as “a gesture of goodwill” and an attempt to open up a humanitarian corridor to export Ukrainian agricultural products. Snake Island, whose proper name is Zmiinyi Island (острів Зміїний), lies about 40 km off the southern coast of Ukraine and holds a critical function in controlling shipping lanes in the Black Sea and overseeing ships going into and out of the port city of Odessa.
If you listen to the Russians, they make it sound like they just one day decided to be nice guys and leave the island. The complete statement from the Russian Defense Ministry reads:
“On June 30, as a gesture of goodwill, the Russian Armed Forces completed their assigned tasks on Snake Island and withdrew the garrison stationed there. [We] demonstrated to the world community that the Russian Federation does not interfere with the efforts of the UN to organize a humanitarian corridor for the export of agricultural products from the territory of Ukraine.”
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Come on. This is the same “Defense” Ministry that launches missile attacks at apartment buildings and shopping malls. Previous “goodwill gestures” were taken in Kyiv and parts of Central Ukraine after Russians fighting in those areas faced fierce defenses and suffered significant losses. For example, after announcing their departure from Zmiinyi Island, the Russians said it was now up to the Ukrainians to clear its ports of mines (a considerable task) and resume grain shipments. They even went the extra mile in promising they won’t prevent the shipping of grain or attack Ukrainian seaports again once they were de-mined. Not surprisingly, Ukrainian officials are wary of that promise.
Pressure from Western governments likely had something to do with the Russians exiting their Black Sea stronghold. Leaders from the west had accused Moscow of holding food-insecure countries hostage by blocking grain flow from the world’s breadbasket.
The tiny (just 0.06 square mile) island made global headlines early in the war when a Russian warship ordered a team of Ukrainian border guards to stand down or face an attack. In the real-life badass line of the year, the salty Ukrainians responded, “Russian warship, go f**k yourself.” After hearing this, the Russians opened fire, and initial reports were that all of the brave Ukrainians had died. But, as often happens in times of war, the initial reports were wrong.
The Russians took the defiant Ukrainians prisoner and exchanged them for 11 Russian civilian sailors captured by their enemy.
Ukrainians were quick to memorialize the heroic Snake Island stand on postage stamps and posters. If you are so inclined, you can buy one on eBay and other auction sites. Zoom in on the Ukrainian soldier on the front of the stamp. Yep, that’s him giving the finger to the Russians…on a government-issued postage stamp.
After the Russians got hold of the island it became sink hole of men and materials for them. Ukraine was content to allow the Russian army and navy to continually reenforce the island only to attack it and blow up trucks, supplies, munitions, landingcraft, gunboats and even anti-aircraft missile defence systems as they rolled them onto the beach.
It’s quite a tally for what amounts to a rock.
The Cruiser Moskva
Patrol ship Vasily Bykov
4 “Raptor”class patrol boats
A Serna class landing ship
The ocean going tug Vasily Bekh tugboat
3 air defense systems
1 Mi-8 helicopter with troops
3 Pantsir missile systems
And several hundred troops.
As for the future. Having the Russians off Snake island opens Ukraine’s shipping traffic back up into the Black Sea for her grain exports.