It isn’t much to look at, and it is little more than a rocky outcrop in the Black Sea. But Snake Island, as it is now known, has become infamous in recent months. It was among the first Ukrainian military outposts to be attacked by Russia after the Kremlin launched its unprovoked invasion on February 24. The island’s defenders, which included Ukrainian border guards, infamously responded to Russian Navy demands to surrender.
That defiance has been seen as a rallying cry among Ukrainians, and a postage stamp has even been issued that depicts a Ukrainian soldier giving a “single finger salute” to the since sunk Russian guided-missile cruiser Moskva.
As of the early hours of June 30, the island has been liberated – although Moscow has said that it has withdrawn its forces as a “goodwill gesture” and that the troops had fulfilled the tasks assigned to them.
“So… Ukraine says the last Russian units have probably been evacuated from the Snake Island following a series of heavy strikes overnight. If confirmed, it’s a serious victory in the Black Sea,” Ukrainian journalist Illia Ponomarenko (@IAPonomarenko) said in a post on Twitter early Thursday.
The Russian withdrawal had come after sustained Ukrainian attacks, which almost certainly would have made it impossible for the Russian forces to hold the small speck of land that is just 22 miles (35km) off the coast of Odesa in the Black Sea. However, it remains unclear if Kyiv will have any better luck at actually securing the islet, known to Ukrainians as “Zmiinyi Island.”
Given its location, it is exposed to attacks from all directions including from the air and sea. Military experts have described any defenders as being “sitting ducks,” a fact that was certainly true of the Russians who found the island to be well within the range of missile, artillery, and drone strikes.
The liberation of the island could be seen as much as a victory for NATO as for Ukraine. Russia currently maintains control of much of Ukraine’s Black Sea coast as well as the Crimean Peninsula and the entire Sea of Azov. By holding Snake Island, Russia could have effectively blockaded Odesa, making it impossible for Ukraine to conduct its grain exports.
In addition, had Moscow maintained control of the island, it could have installed long-range air defense systems – such as the S-400 “Triumf,” which would have represented a serious threat to Romania, a key NATO member in the region. Its port of Constanta and traffic to the mouth of the Danube River would have been threatened by any Russian presence.
In addition, the region is known to be rich in reserves of petroleum and natural gas, and control of the island could have bolstered any claims by Moscow to those resources. Yet, given that it would have been impossible to hold, Russia has made the wise move in removing its forces.
Now a Senior Editor for 1945, Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer who has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers and websites. He regularly writes about military hardware, firearms history, cybersecurity and international affairs. Peter is also a Contributing Writer for Forbes.