August 15, 2023
Ukrainian security services have released to CNN exclusive footage showing the moment in July when they used an experimental sea drone to attack Russia’s bridge to annexed Crimea, providing new details on the attack and warning more such assaults will follow.
It’s the first time the SBU have openly claimed responsibility for the operation.
The attack on July 17 caused damage to the road lanes of the bridge, and, according to Russian officials, killed two civilians. It was the second attack on the vital crossing, and showed how hard it is to defend the only independent Russian link to the peninsula.
The bridge was opened with much fanfare by Russian President Vladimir Putin in 2018 and is symbolic of his desire to take over Ukraine and bind it to Russia forever. It’s also a vital supply link for Russia’s military operation in Crimea.
The head of the SBU, Vasyl Maliuk, told CNN the drone used, called a “Sea Baby,” was the result of months of development that began just after the invasion. “Sea surface drones are a unique invention of the Security Service of Ukraine,” he said. “None of the private companies are involved. Using these drones we have recently conducted a successful hit of the Crimean bridge, the big assault ship Olengorskiy Gornyak and SIG tanker.”
Maliuk was referring to the SIG oil tanker hit in the Black Sea which Ukrainian officials say was carrying fuel for the Russian military. The strike on the Russian assault ship demonstrated a longer range for the Ukrainian military, hitting a vessel with a possible 100 personnel on board, in the Russian naval port of Novorossisk on the eastern coast of the Black Sea.
The SBU provided CNN video of the July attack, which showed the pilot’s screen in the moments before the Sea Baby delivered up to 850 kilograms of explosives to one of the bridge’s concrete support pillars. Sources in the service also supplied two CCTV videos to CNN which showed the moment of impact of one drone on the road section of the bridge, and then another drone blast hitting the railway section about five minutes later, from the opposing direction.
Ukraine has been coy about the attacks, confirming their involvement through anonymous statements and vague references to “unidentified floating objects,” and Maliuk’s direct claim of responsibility marks an usually direct bid to alert Moscow to the threat these new drones pose.
“We are working on a number of new interesting operations, including in the Black Sea waters. I promise you, it’ll be exciting, especially for our enemies,” said Maliuk.
Maliuk also claimed responsibility for the first Ukrainian attack on the bridge, on October 8, but declined to provide details. The circumstances of the attack, which CCTV appeared to show was caused by a blast emanating from a moving truck on the bridge, remain unclear.
He said the July drone attack was the product of months of preparation. He said the Kerch attack was a joint operation with the Ukrainian navy, which he headed together with Naval Admiral Oleksiy Neizhpapa.
“At the final stage of the preparation we could not even think about sleep or food,” he told CNN. “We were fully concentrated on the operation. The final last days were quite nervous. When the explosion happened, we were so happy and started congratulating one another. This was a very emotional moment for all of us and our victory, which will definitely come soon.”
Maliuk said Ukraine’s western partners had shown an interest in their operations and desire to learn from their experience. But he said: “They do not participate in our operations or provide us with any equipment or anything else. These drones are produced at an underground production facility at the territory of Ukraine. The targets I’ve mentioned are legitimate targets according to the Ukrainian and international laws.”
The attack on the Gornyak vessel and the SIG, showed the widened threat to Russia’s naval operations in the eastern part of the Black Sea, an area which Moscow has previously considered beyond the reach of the Ukrainian military.