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Russia Threatens "Further Steps" After Blaming UK for Drone Strike

drone boat
A drone boat evades incoming fire as it presses an attack on a Russian vessel off Sevastopol, October 29

Published Nov 1, 2022 10:12 PM by The Maritime Executive

Russia has accused the UK of responsibility for two recent attacks on its maritime infrastructure - charges which the UK and its Western allies vigorously deny. In a press conference Tuesday, Russian presidential spokesman Dmitry Peskov hinted that the Kremlin was considering measures to take in response to its unproven claims of British involvement.   

“Such actions cannot be put aside. Of course, we will think about further steps. It definitely cannot be left like this,” said Peskov. 

Over the weekend, Russia's Black Sea Fleet was attacked by drone boats and uncrewed aerial vehicles at Sevastopol, resulting in damage to at least one warship. Dramatic footage released by Ukrainian sources showed the remotely-controlled boats closing in on targets within the well-defended harbor.

Russia claims that debris recovered from intercepted drone boats shows UK involvement in the attack. Moscow has withdrawn security guarantees for grain shipments in the Black Sea in retaliation for the strike, and it has blamed both Ukraine and Britain for involvement.

“The grain deal was thwarted by Zelensky and his terrorists, who are led by British specialists," asserted Russian foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova in a message Sunday. 

Russia has also accused the UK of responsibility for the attacks on the Russian-operated Nord Stream 1 and 2 pipelines under the Baltic Sea, which used to connect Russian gas producers with the German gas pipeline network. Multiple investigations into the cause of the blasts are ongoing; Poland and Ukraine have both blamed Russia for the attack, and the UK has vehemently denied any involvement. 

"To detract from their disastrous handling of the illegal invasion of Ukraine, the Russian Ministry of Defence is resorting to peddling false claims of an epic scale," said the UK Ministry of Defence in a strongly-worded statement released Saturday. "This invented story says more about arguments going on inside the Russian government than it does about the West."

Drone rethink

The attack by drone boats and drone aircraft at Sevastopol on Friday was far from the first uncrewed-vessel attack, but it was conducted at unusual scale and with a high degree of coordination. Like other advances in the war in Ukraine - loitering munitions, fire-and-forget antitank missiles, precision-guided multiple rocket launchers, quadcopter attack drones - the equipment has been around for years, but a new implementation delivered an outsized effect. Analysts suggest that Ukraine's coordinated surface/air drone attack may inspire naval forces around the world to duplicate (and prepare to defend against) a cheap and potentially devastating threat. 

Notably, the boats were not autonomous, according to multiple analysts. They were connected to a remote video feed, and they maneuvered in sophisticated patterns to evade defenders - indicating that they were manually controlled. 

Analyst H.I. Sutton has suggested that the small drone boats used in the attack were handcrafted around an off-the-shelf water jet drive - photo evidence suggests a particular name brand of jet ski - along with a flat-panel satellite antenna for control, an infrared/optical camera, two fuses from a Soviet-era aerial bomb, and an unknown warhead. 

"I think people are going to be quick to accept that this is . . . an inseparable part of warfare," Sutton predicted. "It's easy to convince ourselves that we already saw this coming but in reality it is a new development, the way that they're being used en masse."