Russian City Famous for Hosting Olympics Hunkers Down After Drone Attacks on a Nearby Naval Base

By sea and air, Ukraine is demonstrating to Russia its own vulnerability.

AP
A Russian warship at Novorossiysk, July 30, 2023. Russia accused Ukraine of attacking its Black Sea naval base in the port with sea drones. AP

Remember Sochi? It is the Russian summer resort city on the Black Sea coast that hosted the Winter Olympics in 2014, right around the time that Russia invaded and subsequently annexed Ukraine’s nearby Crimean peninsula. Nearly a decade later, the mood is less festive as the city girds for potential attacks following an uptick in drone strikes against Russian naval targets not only in occupied Crimea but now east of it, too.

Early Friday, Russia accused Ukraine of attacking its Black Sea naval base in the port of Novorossiysk with sea drones. The attack signifies the first time that a commercial Russian port has been targeted in a war that began with Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine. By sea and air, Ukraine is rubbing Russia’s nose in its own vulnerability: Russia’s defense ministry said that overnight it shot down 13 drones aiming for targets in Crimea. 

In addition to hosting a naval base, Novorossiysk is home to shipbuilding yards and an oil terminal, and is also a key port for Russian exports. Sochi is less than 180 miles down the road. Officials there are watching developments along the Black Sea littoral with growing concern. 

Following news of the attack on Novorossiysk, the mayor of Sochi, Alexei Kopaygorodsky, hastily called an operational meeting to assess and prepare for possible threats. On his Telegram channel, he wrote, “The interdepartmental working group is improving protection measures, taking into account the experience of other Black Sea port cities. We are strengthening the security perimeter of the seaport. Particular attention is paid to the berth complex.”

The southern Russian city with a population of nearly half a million people already has an estimated 3,000 security cameras trained on its popular beach strip. The mayor said that more than 200,000 tourists are vacationing at Sochi. The berth complex he mentioned was a reference not to naval vessels but to the thousands of leisure boats registered at the resort city. 

As with the spate of drone strikes on commercial buildings much farther north at Moscow, it is unlikely that drone attacks at Sochi, should they occur, would cause much material damage. But as with Crimea and now Novorossiysk, it would sow fear and show how President Putin has through his war on Ukraine jeopardized the safety of something that until recently Russians took for granted: a simple walk on the beach.

In a harbinger of what may come for other Russian port cities like Sochi, maritime traffic at Novorossiysk was halted temporarily in the wake of the attack by what the Russian defense ministry characterized as two Ukrainian sea drones. The ministry also said that Russian ships patrolling the perimeter of the naval base destroyed the drones. 

But Ukrainian agencies carried unverified footage from social media channels that they suggested showed a Russian ship listing to one side after the attack. 

The governor of the Krasnodar region where the Novorossiysk base is situated said there were no casualties. 

There has been spillover from the war in Ukraine in other directions in recent days. On Wednesday morning Russia used ​​Iranian-made Shahed-136/131 attack drones to strike port and grain storage facilities in the south of Ukraine’s coastal Odessa region, including the inland port of Izmail, which is directly across the Danube River from Romania.

A Romanian press media outlet, Digi24, said via social media that “some of the suicide drones Russia used to strike the city of Izmail actually crossed into Romanian airspace.” According to some witnesses, it reported, one of the Russian drones crashed in a forest on the Romanian side of the border.

A Romanian government representative told local press that “a team of specialists from the Romanian air force went to the site to investigate the reported situations” but that “to this moment, no concrete elements have been identified to prove the hypotheses circulated.”

Romania, of course, is a member of NATO, so the prospect of Russian drones breaching its airspace has broad implications. 

Russia’s vast landmass, though, is another matter altogether. Russia and Ukraine are at war, so for Kyiv virtually any Russian target is fair game. Along the sandy Crimean shore and elsewhere east of Odessa, Russian beach-goers this summer might need more than sunblock and parasols to stay, for lack of a better word, protected.


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