Britain has donated Royal Navy mine-hunter ships to Ukraine in a boost for Kyiv’s Black Sea operations.
The two ships that use high-definition sonar will be transferred to the Ukraine navy, which is expected to modify the vessels to operate underwater drones.
As well as rooting out mines, Ukraine’s underwater drones could be used to survey Russia’s strategic ports and submarine routes.
The donation comes as part of Britain’s commitment to a maritime coalition that will include Norway.
Grant Shapps, the Defence Secretary, says countering the threat from Russian sea mines will help restore exports of grain and other supplies essential for Kyiv’s war-torn economy.
Mr Shapps said: “These mine-hunters will deliver vital capability to Ukraine which will help save lives at sea and open up vital export routes, which have been severely limited since Putin launched his illegal full-scale invasion.”
The UK will lead the new Maritime Capability Coalition alongside Norway, delivering ships and vehicles to strengthen Ukraine’s ability to operate at sea.
The formation of the group was agreed during recent meetings of the 50-nation strong Ukraine Defence Contact Group and comes amid pressure on Kyiv’s international partners to ramp up industrial support as the second anniversary of the full-scale invasion approaches.
“This capability boost marks the beginning of a new dedicated effort by the UK, Norway and our allies to strengthen Ukraine’s maritime capabilities over the long term, enhancing their ability to operate in defending their sovereign waters and bolstering security in the Black Sea,” Mr Shapps said.
“As an island nation with a proud maritime history, the UK and Royal Navy are particularly well placed to support this endeavour, which will form part of a series of new coalitions formed between allies to ensure an enduring military commitment in support of Ukraine.”
Last summer, experts from the Royal Navy’s Diving and Threat Exploitation Group along with specialists from the US Navy 6th Fleet started training Ukrainian sailors in modern mine hunting methods.
Britain donated six drones to help Kyiv clear its coastline of Russian mines to allow the safe passage of civilian ships carrying grain. Three were provided from UK stocks, with a further three purchased from industry.
Royal Marine and British Army commandos, along with instructors from the Netherlands Marine Corps, have also trained around 900 Ukrainian marines in the conduct of small boat amphibious operations, including beach raids and the defence of Ukraine’s coastal and inland waterways.
Western officials say the battle taking place in the Black Sea has been much more “dynamic” than that on land, where the frontlines have shifted little since the culmination of Ukraine’s counter offensive last month.
Paying the Russians back
Ukraine’s use of long-range cruise missiles and explosive maritime drones – described by a Western official as “paying the Russians back in kind” – has forced Russia to move much of its Black Sea Fleet out of Sevastopol in Crimea.
This has alleviated pressure on Ukraine’s ports on the south coast and on the Danube river, allowing the recovery of the trade in commercial grain and other materials.
Ukraine’s dominance of the western Black Sea area has forced Russia to use piloted aircraft instead of drones in an attempt to evade air defences.
On Dec 5, a Russian Su-24 Fencer fighter-bomber was shot down near Snake Island, bringing to around 90 the number of Russian jets lost since the start of the full-scale invasion.