Russian troops have left Snake Island, the strategic site off the coast of Ukraine that was at the center of a since debunked myth about Ukrainian sailors’ defiance in the face of death during the opening days of the war between the nations.
Russia dubbed the withdrawal from its island garrison “a gesture of goodwill” to prove it wasn’t blocking Ukrainian grain exports. But a New York Times report suggested that Russia’s navy has been pushed back from coastal Ukraine thanks to anti-ship missiles and materiel provided by NATO.
“KABOOM! No Russian troops on the Snake Island anymore. Our Armed Forces did a great job,” Andriy Yermak, head of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s office, tweeted.
The Black Sea island, 22 miles off the Ukrainian coast, is strategically important because it can serve as a chokepoint to restrict traffic from the major port of Odessa and other Black Sea ports. But it is highly vulnerable to attack from the land, air and sea and both Ukrainian and Russian garrisons on the island have been described as “sitting ducks” by military analysts.
With the island back under Ukrainian control, grain shipments originating from Ukraine’s coast may more easily continue to foreign ports. Russia and Ukraine combine to produce roughly 30% of the world’s wheat, and the war is already being blamed for rising food costs in the U.S. It could be far more devastating in parts of Africa, where up to 80 percent of grain imports come from the region and widespread famine and starvation are increasing possibilities.
Even after abandoning the island, Russia maintains significant clout in the Black Sea with its fleet of ships and submarines. While some experts see the withdrawal as a turning point for the blockade, others believe such declarations are premature.
“Militarily, it has weakened the blockade,” said Jeffrey Edmonds, a senior analyst at the Center for Naval Analysis. “But it’s not essential to the blockade.”
But there’s no denying the withdrawal of Russian troops from Ukrainian territory offers a welcome morale boost for a battered nation. Concerns about Ukraine’s prospects in a protracted military conflict have magnified as the war drags into its fourth month. Reports on private comments made by Zelensky to members of the G7 suggest that he had hoped for an end to the war by the end of the year, before winter sets in and makes conditions even more harsh.
Russian President Vladimir Putin, by contrast, appears to believe that time is on his side and that the Western nations are unlikely to escalate their support for Ukraine or continue their economic sanctions indefinitely.
“The work is going smoothly, rhythmically,” Putin recently said of the fighting. “There is no need to talk about the timing.”