A Ukrainian maritime drone damaged a Russian warship on the Black Sea on Friday, the most serious strike on Moscow’s navy since last year, demonstrating both the escalating conflict at sea and the growing range and capability of Ukraine’s uncrewed vehicles.
The drone slammed into the ship and detonated its explosive payload near the Russian port of Novorossiysk, a key naval and shipping hub on the northeastern shore of the Black Sea, hundreds of miles from the nearest Ukrainian-controlled territory.
The New York Times verified multiple videos and photographs of a Ropucha-class landing ship listing to its port side, both being guided into the harbor and at a dock. The same type of ship is seen in a video taken by a naval drone speeding toward the ship and apparently striking it on the port side.
The Black Sea has been a vital theater of the war since Russia’s full-scale invasion almost a year and a half ago, with Russian warships there firing cruise missiles at Ukraine, including at targets hundreds of miles inland, and enforcing a blockade of Ukrainian ports. Moscow’s fleet keeps a more cautious distance from Ukraine’s coast since Ukrainian forces sank the cruiser Moskva, the flagship of the Black Sea Fleet, in April 2022, using missiles fired from shore.
The naval conflict has heated up recently as Ukraine has expanded the size and reach of its drone force. Raising the stakes still higher, Russia withdrew last month from a deal allowing grain ships to pass to and from Ukraine, stepped up its bombardment of Ukrainian ports and made threats against civilian shipping from other nations trying to reach Ukraine. Officials in Kyiv claim that since halting the agreement, Russia has destroyed more than 200,000 tons of grain bound for overseas markets.
Three Ukrainian officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive military matters, said the attack in Novorossiysk was a joint operation of the Security Service of Ukraine and the Ukrainian Navy. Publicly, Ukraine did not claim responsibility, in keeping with its usual response to attacks within Russia.
One of the officials said the damaged ship was the Olenegorsky Gornyak, a Ropucha-class ship built in the 1970s that can carry heavy cargo like armored vehicles. Landing ships are designed to deposit troops and equipment directly onshore, enabling amphibious assaults. For that purpose, many of them, including the Ropucha class, open at the bow.
The Russian Ministry of Defense insisted that the attack had caused no damage and that all the drones had been neutralized, claiming that two were shot out of the water before reaching their targets.
Novorossiysk is an important port for Russia’s own exports of grain as well as other goods, including oil. Movement of ships at the port was temporarily halted, Russian state media said, citing the Caspian Pipeline Consortium, a group that manages oil exports through the port.
Also on Friday, Ukrainian aerial drones attacked a Russian naval port at Feodosia on the Russian-occupied Crimean peninsula. The Russian Defense Ministry claimed to have shot down 10 Ukrainian drones and disabled three more, and said there was no damage to the port.
Natalia Humeniuk, a spokeswoman for the Ukrainian military’s southern command, told Radio Liberty that the Russian Black Sea Fleet uses a large oil storage facility at the port in Feodosia, and “therefore, we should continue to expect explosions there.”
The drone attacks came as the Kremlin enacted new laws expanding the pool of potential troops to fight in what increasingly looks like a long war that has already caused, by Western estimates, more than 200,000 Russian casualties. A measure signed on Friday by President Vladimir V. Putin raises the top age for conscription from 27 to 30, and prohibits anyone named in a draft notice from leaving the country.
Other measures recently signed by Mr. Putin raise the ages at which reservists can be called to active duty — up to 70 for senior officers — and increase penalties for people who fail to report to draft offices as ordered.
Ukraine has recently stepped up attacks beyond its borders — pinpricks compared to Moscow’s steady, devastating bombardment of Ukraine. But they reflect an effort to fracture Russian logistics and confidence, and signal to Russians that they are not immune to the war’s effects.
There have been several attacks on Moscow, using newly developed aerial drones, and missiles launched at targets near the southern Russian cities of Taganrog and Azov.
In March 2022, an attack on the port of the Russian-occupied city of Berdiansk destroyed the landing ship Saratov, and Ukraine claimed to have damaged two other ships — the Caesar Kunikov and the Novocherkassk. That attack reportedly used missiles. Soon after came the sinking of the Moskva, the first warship lost in combat anywhere in the world in 40 years.
Ukraine has been racing to expand its fleet of maritime drones to counter Russian naval dominance on the Black Sea. In October it used naval drones to attack the Russian fleet at Sevastopol, a Crimean port, though it is not clear how much damage was done, and it has been repeatedly accused by Russia of launching aerial attack drones over Crimea.
Last month, explosions damaged the Kerch Strait bridge linking Crimea to Russia. An attack on the bridge last year used a truck bomb, but the more recent one was carried out by two naval drones — more than 350 miles by sea from the nearest Ukrainian-held shore, the first sign that Kyiv’s uncrewed attack boats had that kind of range.
Novorossiysk is farther still, more than 400 miles away.
Russia’s Defense Ministry said on Tuesday and Wednesday that it had repelled naval drone attacks on its vessels on the Black Sea, far from shore.
Video of the attack on Friday shows a drone resembling Ukraine’s newly developed Magura V5, which was recently displayed at a defense industry event in Istanbul.
The makers of the drone say it can travel at about 48 miles per hour, deliver a payload of up to 705 pounds, and has a range of more than 500 miles.
Reporting was contributed by Victoria Kim from Seoul and Paul Sonne from Berlin.