BlackSky sat images showing the addition of defensive naval structures at the Russian port of Sevastopol between September 9 and December 20, 2022

BlackSky sat images showing the addition of defensive naval structures at the Russian port of Sevastopol between September 9 and December 20, 2022 BlackSky

New sat images show Russian vessels fleeing Black Sea ports

Ukrainian drone attacks have also prompted Russian patrols and harbor defenses, according to BlackSky images.

Ukrainian drone attacks in the Black Sea are forcing Russian ships to bounce from port to port and the Russian Navy to build harbor defenses, all of which complicates naval operations, according to new satellite imagery and analysis.

Real time, space-based intelligence company BlackSky has been collecting images over the Black Sea since January 2022. Making up to 15 passes a day, the company’s imagery and AI-enabled analytics platform has accumulated 70,000 ship detections.

One analyst with access to the imagery and accompanying BlackSky data said that after Ukrainian missiles struck warships and the naval base at Sevastopol last September, ship traffic dropped 18 percent at the Crimean port. During the same time, ship traffic increased by more than 20 percent in Feodosia (100 miles away, on the other side of Crimea) and Novorossiysk (more than 200 miles away on Russia’s Black Sea coast) between September and December of 2022.

In December of last year, many of the Feodosia-stationed vessels moved on to the base at Novorossiysk. And just last week, the ships departed again for unknown ports further away from Ukraine, the analyst said. 

BlackSky images and graph data showing migration of ships away from Sevastopol toward other harbors.

The satellite images also show Russian forces setting up defensive buoys and booms and staging small vessels at Sevastopol to hinder Ukrainian drones. 

“We're seeing patrols of ships around the front of the harbors. And so all of these things are indicating that there is a well-known threat to the Russians,” the analyst said. 

BlackSky sat images show new defenses around Sevastopol harbor

Ukrainian rockets and naval drones have "destroyed or disabled" more than 20 Russian ships during the war, almost a third of the entire Black Sea Fleet. 

The analyst said  the buoys and barricades will almost certainly slow down operations.

The Biden administration’s decision to provide ATACMS missiles that can hit ports in Crimea will deepen Ukraine’s ability to hold the Russian fleet in check. But observers have marveled at what Ukrainian forces have achieved with homegrown weapons.

“The combination of Ukraine’s innovative weapon systems—such as long-range unmanned attack vehicles and reconstituted land-based Harpoon missile launchers—as well as low-cost situational awareness tools and risk-taking tactics has worked to pin down and neuter the Russian Black Sea fleet,” said Mark Montgomery, a retired rear admiral who serves as senior director of the Center on Cyber and Technology Innovation.

“The Ukrainian Navy has done a lot with a little, using non-traditional and MacGyvered tools to limit Russia's freedom of maneuver in the Black Sea and prevent Russia from threatening Ukrainian shores with amphibious assault," he continued. "This has also contributed to Ukraine's ability to continue vital shipments of grain out through the Black Sea."

"To me, these maritime efforts have been one of the Ukrainian military’s most impressive achievements," Montgomery said.