A unmanned craft washed up on a beach in Russian-occupied Crimea in September 2022. Image via Telegram.
KYIV, Ukraine — You never know what the tide will drag in, especially in wartime.
Photos circulated on Russian social media channels on Wednesday, Sept. 21, showing an unusual, unmanned boat that washed up on a beach near a Russian navy base in the city of Sevastopol, within occupied Crimea. Shaped like a kayak, the vessel is painted in a subdued color scheme and equipped with a white fixture, somewhat resembling a periscope, that holds a forward-facing sensor. In the available photos from social media, there are no visible markings that identify the craft's nationality.
According to Russian social media posts, the unusual craft washed up on a beach not far from the entrance to Sevastopol’s harbor — roughly 150 miles from coastline under Ukrainian government control.
Ukraine has not yet claimed ownership of the unmanned craft. From the available photos, it’s not clear whether the small boat contained an explosive device. However, Russian authorities reportedly took the drone boat out to sea and blew it up — a decision that subsequently led some open-source intelligence investigators to assume the craft was carrying an explosive warhead.
A photo published to the Russian telegram channel, “Military Columnist” on Sept. 21 purportedly shows the detonation of a maritime drone on the Black Sea. Photo via Telegram.
In Russian-language Telegram channels, Mikhail Razvozhayev, the governor of Russian-occupied Sevastopol, is quoted as saying: “A part of an unmanned vehicle was discovered, which was examined by experts. After the survey was completed, this apparatus was destroyed at sea by an explosion. No one was hurt.”
A photo published to the Russian Telegram channel “Military Columnist” on Wednesday claimed to show the drone’s detonation over open water “in the Black Sea near Sevastopol.”
If the beached mystery craft were, in fact, an armed Ukrainian aquatic drone, it would be another headache for Russian forces on the illegally annexed Ukrainian peninsula. Over the past several months, the expanding reach of Ukrainian missiles and airborne drones have put Russian forces in Crimea on the defensive and forced the transfer of some key Russian military hardware out of the area.
On Tuesday, for example, the British Ministry of Defense reported that Russia had “almost certainly” moved its Kilo-class submarines out of Sevastopol, relocating them to a base in southern Russia beyond the range of Ukrainian missiles and drones.
According to the British Defense Ministry: "This is highly likely due to the recent change in the local security threat level in the face of increased Ukrainian long-range strike capability. In the last two months, the fleet headquarters and its main naval aviation airfield have been attacked."
On July 31, a Ukrainian drone aircraft detonated a munition at Black Sea Fleet headquarters in Sevastopol, reportedly wounding six Russian military personnel.
“Due to the attack on the headquarters of the Black Sea Fleet, the city should now be considered front-line," Razvozhayev reportedly said at the time.
On Aug. 9, a series of massive explosions destroyed a number of Russian warplanes at the Saki air base in Russian-occupied western Crimea. Ukrainian defense officials later said Ukrainian missiles had caused the explosions.
In a recent joint article, Gen. Valeriy Zaluzhnyi, commander in chief of Ukraine’s armed forces, and Lt. Gen. Mykhailo Zabrodskyi, a top defense official in Ukraine’s parliament, wrote that a major goal of Ukraine's war effort is "to physically transfer the zone of hostilities to the temporarily occupied territory of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea."
"This was done by a series of successful missile strikes on the enemy's Crimea-based air bases, first of all, the Saki airfield," the Ukrainian generals wrote.
The US and British navies have experimented with using the Wave Glider maritime drone — a Boeing-produced unmanned surface vehicle system — in submarine-hunting operations. Russia has developed a copy of the Wave Glider design called the “Fugu,” which is also meant for submarine detection.
A drone matching the general characteristics of a militarized Wave Glider washed up on a remote Scottish island in September 2020, leading to some speculation in the British press that Russia was using maritime drones to snoop on a nearby Royal Navy nuclear submarine base.
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Zelenskyy said on his Telegram channel the weapon was produced by Ukraine’s Ministry of Strategic Industries but gave no other details.