Russian troops abandoned their positions on Ukraine’s Snake or Zmiinyi Island after Ukraine applied ‘significant pressure’ on the enemy, and not as a goodwill gesture as it claims, a senior DoD official said at a briefing Friday.
"We view this development as that the Ukrainians were very successful at applying significant pressure on the Russians, including by using Harpoon missiles that they recently acquired to attack a resupply ship. When you realize how barren and deserted Snake Island is, you understand the importance of resupply. So, the Ukrainians made it very hard for the Russians to sustain their operations there [and] made them very vulnerable to Ukrainian strikes. So, that of course, is why Russia left the island," the official said.
Commander-in-chief of the Ukrainian army, Valeriy Zaluzhnyi, said on Telegram on Friday that Russian Su-30 fighters dropped phosphorous bombs over the island from the Russian-controlled Crimean Peninsula.
Snake Island is located just 35km off Ukraine's coast - well within the range of missile, artillery and drone strikes from the shore. The tiny, rocky outcrop in the north-west of the Black Sea was seized by Russian troops on the first day of its invasion of Ukraine on February 24.
When the flagship of Russia’s Black Sea Fleet’s Moskva sank in April, it weakened its anti-aircraft capabilities in the region. That could probably be the reason behind the Kremlin’s desperation to bring in anti-aircraft systems and radio-electronic warfare to the island. But it soon became a logistical nightmare for Moscow to defend the captured island because it was so far from its main naval bases in the Black Sea.
In addition to the Crimean Peninsula and the entire Sea of Azov, Russia controls a large stretch of Ukraine's Black Sea coast. Holding Snake Island completed an effective blockade of Odessa, and made export of Ukrainian grain impossible. So, Russia said it withdrew its garrison as a "gesture of goodwill" to prove it was not obstructing grain exports.
Russian missile strikes on a neighborhood in Odessa early on Friday killed at least 20 people.
“The result of this (Russia’s retreat) is that it does make it a lot easier for Ukraine to defend Odessa and in the future to be able to open those sea lanes without Russia controlling Snake Island,” the official added.
Fighting continues in the Donbas, the DoD official said, with high casualties on both sides and very little ground changing hands.
Regarding the recent deliveries of High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems (HIMARS) from the U.S. Ukrainian forces have had good success in employing these longer-range artillery systems, to include targeting Russian command posts, the official said.