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Another Russian Landing Ship Falls Prey to Ukrainian Drone Boats

Group 13
Caesar Kunikov sinking after multiple bomb boat hits (Group 13)

Published Feb 14, 2024 11:43 AM by The Maritime Executive

The Ukrainian military's Group 13 unit claims to have sunk another Russian landing ship, adding to a growing tally of losses for the Black Sea Fleet. 

On Wednesday morning, the group released a video appearing to show its suicide drone boats approaching a vessel near shore. The ship - identified by Group 13 as the Caesar Kunikov - has the distinctive open foredeck and tall deckhouse of a Ropucha-class landing vessel. In succession, multiple drones appeared to approach the vessel's hull and detonate, with the explosions captured on camera by subsequent inbound drone boats. 

The video ends with the vessel appearing to settle by the stern and then listing heavily to port. Group 13 claimed that it capsized and sank. 

Official Russian defense sources have not discussed the attack, but Russian social media accounts have confirmed explosions off Crimea on Wednesday morning. Independent reports in local news also suggested that a SAR operation was under way off the coast.

Russia's tank landing ships are designed for amphibious assault, but have not been deployed for that purpose during the invasion. Instead, they have been put to work ferrying arms and ammunition from Russian-held ports in the northeastern Black Sea to areas closer to the front lines, like Berdyansk, on the Sea of Azov. 

This mission is relevant to the fight on shore, and it has made them a target of Ukraine's drone and missile operators. As the ships often carry munitions, several (Saratov, Novocherkassk) have produced large secondary explosions when hit. Two videos of a large blast aboard Caesar Kunikov during Wednesday's attack have raised speculation that the ship may also have had an explosive cargo.

In addition to Kunikov, Olenegorsky Gornyak was damaged by a drone in August 2023 and is reportedly in drydock; Minsk was functionally destroyed by a missile strike in Sevastopol in September 2023, and is slated for rebuilding; Saratov was destroyed at Berdyansk in March 2022; Caesar Kunikov was damaged in the Berdyansk attack, then sunk on Wednesday; and Novocherkassk was damaged in the Berdyansk attack, then destroyed in an airstrike in December. 

Saratov burns at Berdyansk as Caesar Kunikov and Novocherkassk flee, March 24, 2022,. As of Wednesday, all three appear to have been destroyed or sunk (Armed Forces of Ukraine)

The Ukrainian military has also damaged, destroyed or sunk a wide variety of other Russian warships, like the submarine Rostov-on-Don, the corvette Ivanovets and the cruiser Moskva.  

Ukraine has not had a conventional navy since the outset of the 2022 invasion, and it has carried out its campaign in the Black Sea using antiship cruise missiles, drone boats, aircraft and special forces.