The Russian army has strengthened its grip on Serpents’ Island in the Black Sea, deploying several defense systems, suggesting that it does not intend to let go of this strategic point easily despite the threats posed by new artillery systems and Ukrainian missile fire.
The latest open-source satellite images of this islet off the Ukrainian and Romanian coasts make it possible to distinguish different surface-to-air defense systems, and the Russians have also installed them on ships positioned nearby to further strengthen the protection bubble.

“The Russians have deployed several anti-aircraft systems on the island covering different threat spectra, SA-13, Pantsir, Tor, ZU-23-2 anti-aircraft guns”, notes French researcher Pierre Grasser, defense specialist Russian associated with the Sirice laboratory of the Sorbonne.

“They have consolidated their position recently, by deploying different ground-to-air systems, on the island and on buildings positioned around the island. Strategically, this makes sense, even in the face of new means from Ukraine, such as the Caesars or the Himars”, analyzes a French military source on condition of anonymity.

Caesar cannons and rocket launchers on the Ukrainian side

The West has given Ukraine several mobile artillery systems that would theoretically allow it to strike from the coasts located about thirty kilometers at the closest, including the French Caesar guns but above all the Himars multiple rocket launchers given by the Americans and who are currently somewhere between Western Europe and Ukraine.

“We expect these systems to be in combat soon, and we are committed to continuing to feed the flow of munitions,” US Undersecretary of Defense Colin Kahl said this week.

The anti-aircraft systems currently deployed by the Russians “will not be able to intercept the guided rockets fired by the Himars, that is certain and certain”, estimates Pierre Grasser, who relativizes however: “They are all mobile, the Russians can therefore do what the Ukrainians have been doing very well since the beginning of the war: moving them as soon as they perceive an imminent threat. You have to be reactive, but it is effective, even on a small island”.

“The Himars cannot do saturation fire” to plow the entire surface of the island with the quantities available to the Ukrainians, he adds.

A constant struggle

The Russian defenses “are mainly there to counter the deposit of Ukrainian commandos on the island”, he explains, recalling that kyiv has already tried the coup at least once, on the night of May 7 to 8. The commandos had been decimated.

Because the island is an important issue. From the first day of the Russian offensive on February 24, the attackers secured this flat, empty confetti. They struggled to keep it, losing men and material. It is also not far from this land that the cruiser Moskva was hit by a Ukrainian missile, inflicting on the Russian navy its biggest snub in decades.

On Friday, the Ukrainians claimed to have struck with a missile a Russian auxiliary vessel with an anti-aircraft system on board near the island.

A military and economic challenge

“This ship, initially designed for rescue at sea, served as an improvised anti-aircraft platform. A Tor system had been installed on it”, notes Pierre Grasser.

On Twitter, defense analyst HI Sutton, a specialist in naval matters, believes that “these buildings are used to supply” the island, which is “of strategic importance. It is not a simple pebble, it is a territory. And it is strategically located, not only from a military point of view, but economically”, he recalls.

The island is indeed located off the mouth of the Danube, one of the most important rivers in Europe and a commercial artery of the continent. Whoever controls it can possibly target that mouthpiece. It could also serve as a firing platform towards Odessa, or even Romania. Finally, there are hydrocarbon deposits nearby.

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