On January 11th, 2023, Naval News reported that several Russian warships departed Novorossiysk Naval Base on the Black Sea. According to their sources:
“The group included the Project 11711 Ivan Gren class landing ship, Pyotr Morgunov, the largest amphibious ship in the Black Sea. It also contained all three Project 636.3 Improved-Kilo class submarines which were present at the base. Analysis suggests that other warships were also sailing, leaving only a few warships and support vessels in the port. It is likely the most empty that Novorossiysk has been in many months.”
This deployment, coinciding with the shuffle in command of the Russian forces in Ukraine we reported yesterday may be indicative of an upcoming strike, much like how Surovikin orchestrated large-scale aerospace attacks after he took command. However, as Naval News denoted, the departure of Pyotr Morgunov may present indicators that the Russian Armed Forces are deploying for an amphibious assault. Though this is the least likely explanation, the danger cannot be discounted.
After several strikes on Sevastopol, a majority of the major surface combatants of the Russian Black Sea Fleet have been put to see, including the amphibious landing ships deployed from the Baltic and Northern Fleets, thus making a prediction of an amphibious landing much more difficult to discern. However, it is worth noting the degradation of Russia’s Naval Infantry which have been deployed inland in Ukraine, leaving little force to conduct a major amphibious assault.
It is also possible that the Black Sea Fleet is reshuffling its forces to avoid a Ukrainian strike. After a November drone strike against at a Novorossiysk oil terminal, Ukrainian intelligence officials noted “Russian commanders will likely be concerned about threats to the Novorossiysk-based amphibious landing ship flotilla. These vessels are relatively vulnerable without escorts and have assumed a more important role in supplying Russian forces in Ukraine since the Kerch Bridge was damaged in October.”
Either way, the shuffling of these surface and sub-surface combatants is noteworthy. The military facilities at Novorossiysk were completed around 2019 after more than fifteen years of construction at the major civilian port. It included at least five berths for subsurface combatants and facilities to support more than ten major surface combatants. At least six Kilo-class submarines were reported to have been home-ported here while the majority of surface combatants were home-ported at Sevastopol.