As Russia and Ukraine battle in the Black Sea with warships, small boats and drones, a new strategic target has emerged in the disputed waters: oil and gas platforms.
The two countries said last month that their forces had clashed around a rig near Snake Island, in the northwestern part of the Black Sea. Their accounts of the encounter differ and cannot be independently verified. Russia said a fighter jet destroyed a high-speed military boat carrying Ukrainian troops, while Ukraine claimed its forces repelled the attack, destroying the plane with a missile. .
It is not known whether both sides occupied the oil and gas platform. But the Aug. 22 skirmish highlighted the military value of the drilling platforms as Russia tries to impose a de facto blockade on Ukraine’s Black Sea ports, and as Ukraine increasingly targets Russian-occupied Crimea , more than 100 miles east of Snake Island, with a long -range strike.
There are about 10 platforms in the northwestern part of the Black Sea, according to Andriy Klymenko, the Kyiv-based editor in chief of Black Sea news publication. Some are mobile barges equipped with drilling equipment and long support legs that are lowered to the sea floor.
The platforms are owned by Chernomorneftegaz, a Crimea-based oil and gas company that was seized by Russia when Moscow illegally occupied the Ukrainian peninsula in 2014. According to Mr. Klymenko, it has not been operational since June of last year, when Ukraine first attacked them .
No longer used for drilling, the platforms have gained strategic importance in the war “as forward deployment bases, helicopter landing sites, and to position long-range missile systems,” Britain’s defense ministry said in a intelligence update last week noticed increased fighting around the rigs.
The platforms can also host surveillance and reconnaissance systems to gather intelligence on enemy movements, said Seth G. Jones, a military analyst for the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a research group that based in Washington.
“They are important in using them as islands for offensive and defensive operations,” Mr. Jones said. “Which makes them important for both sides of this fight.”
Ukraine’s military intelligence service said the recent clash took place near several rigs east of Snake island known as Boyko Towers. The intelligence service was released a short video which appeared to show warships near what The New York Times verified was an oil rig in the Black Sea.
Iulia-Sabina Joja, the head of the Black Sea Program at the Middle East Institute research group, said Moscow tried to use the platforms to protect Crimea and detect incoming attacks, while Ukraine tried to undermine these defenses. Crimea is a key target for Kyiv because it is home to Russia’s Black Sea naval fleet and to logistical hubs that support Moscow’s occupation of parts of southern Ukraine.
“Ukraine has every interest to destroy military capabilities in that area,” said Ms. Joja.
It seems that the fights around the platforms continue. Rybar, an influential Russian military blogger, said in a post on the Telegram messaging app that Russia struck a high-speed Ukrainian military boat on Wednesday near the Odeske gas field, where the Boyko Towers are located. The account has not been independently verified, and Ukraine has not commented on it.
Rybar said Russia should expect more Ukrainian attacks on the rigs because radar and communications equipment could be housed there.
Haley Willis contributed reporting.