Four More Russian Amphibs Get Under Way, Possibly Headed for Ukraine

Nikolay Vilkov under way off Japan (Japan Joint Staff)

Published Mar 17, 2022 11:53 PM by The Maritime Executive

Japan's defense ministry has warned that four more amphibs from Russia's Pacific Fleet may be making an attempt to head for the Black Sea, far from their home territory. 

The four vessels were spotted in the Tsugaru Strait, between the Japanese islands of Honshu and Hokkaido, headed from the Pacific into the Sea of Japan. Photos obtained by the Japan Maritime Self Defense Force show trucks and equipment on deck aboard one of the vessels, the Alligator-class tank landing ship Nikolay Vilkov. A spokesperson for Japan's Defense Ministry said that "it is possible" that the vessels may be attempting to head for the Black Sea coast of Ukraine, some 9,000 nautical miles away. 

Six Russian amphibs from the Northern Fleet and Baltic Fleet entered the Black Sea in February, prior to the start of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. They have played a relatively minor role in the conflict so far, putting forces ashore on an uncontested beachhead west of Mariupol and patrolling in waters off Odesa. Multiple predictions of an amphibious assault on the city of Odesa itself have not yet come to pass, though Russian Navy vessels have been shelling towns near the city in recent days. 

If the four additional amphibs intend to reinforce the battle group off Odesa, or simply deliver desperately-needed supplies, they could encounter difficulties. Assuming no mechanical problems occur aboard the 50-year-old Nikolay Vilkov while under way, she would take three weeks to arrive - potentially too late to be of use. On shore in Ukraine, the Russian advance has stalled on all fronts and Russian forces are taking heavy losses, according to recent UK intelligence assessments. Several Western analysts - notably Gen. Ben Hodges, former commander of U.S. Army Europe - expect that at the current rate of attrition, the invading force may lose combat effectiveness before Vilkov's arrival.  

In addition, Turkey has invoked the Montreux Convention and closed the Bosporus to combatant vessels, preventing Russian warships from transiting into the Black Sea.