Ukraine Strikes Novorossiysk Port and Tuapse Refinery

Aerial Assault Marks Ukraine’s First Targeting of the Port

Shankar Narayan
8 min readMay 17, 2024
Light cruiser “Mikhail Kutuzov” in the port of Novorossiysk in 2009: GNU Free Documentation License

Ukraine’s deep fire strategy is disrupting Russian plans and denying them any breathing space to devise strong countermeasures. They are mixing up their targets, the direction of their attacks, and they are also using a wide variety of weapons.

The goal of any deep battle is to cripple the enemy’s ability to wage war effectively, making them more vulnerable to frontal assaults and ultimately leading to victory.

For decades, we all lived under the assumption that Russia’s sprawling size is a huge advantage for the Kremlin’s military planners. However, Ukraine has successfully turned this into a weakness. After focusing their drone attacks deep into Russian territory over the past several months, Ukraine turned south yesterday.

The two targets: Novorossiyk port on the left. Tuapse refinery on the rightScreenshot from DeepstateMAP. Text added by me

Ukranian drones went after multiple targets for their southern mission. The full extent of the damages to the port of Novorossiysk remains unclear, while the attack on the Tuaspe refinery which lies futher to the south of Novorrossiyk port was on point. At least two drones slammed into their targets.

How do I know Ukraine’s drones reached their targets? Because the second drone hit the exact spot where the first one had already started a fire. The bad news for the Russians is that they were fully aware the Tuapse refinery in Krasnodar Krai is a vital target for the Ukrainian armed forces. But they still couldn’t stop the attack.

It is one of the oldest refineries, having started operations in 1929, and the only one on the Black Sea coast. On January 25th, Ukraine damaged the refinery’s vacuum distillation unit. After months of struggle, the Russians fixed the problems and restarted it with a refining capacity of 146,600 barrels per day on May 1, down from 240,000 barrels per day in January.

Two weeks later, Ukraine successfully attacked the refinery again.

There was no air defense whatsoever to protect the refinery.

In stark contrast, when Ukrainian drones started approaching the naval port in Novorossiysk, the night was lit up by anti-drone fire. However, there was no such support for the refinery. The wartime Russian economy places a high premium on its products for war, but not as much on the products that help them run the war.

Not that Ukraine is going to complain.

Russian air defenses are stretched thin.

They have installed protection for vital military assets but have left their economic assets wide open. Thanks to the additional stress the U.S. supplied long range ATACMS missiles have placed on air defense units in Crimea, Russia has nowhere to hide. They simply do not have the means to protect everything.

There were reports that said Russia is trying to build highly mobile defense units to address the growing drone threat. I read those reports in March. But so far, I have not seen a single report indicating they were successful. It is possible that they have a few units, but thanks to the enormous number of assets Ukraine can target over a 1,500-mile range, if Russia sets up mobile anti-drone units in one direction, Ukraine can choose another spot to attack.

The Attack on the Novorossiysk Port

After repeated attacks on the Sevastopol naval base and other ports in Crimea, Russia relocated its warships to the Novorossiysk port. As you can see from the image above, this port is indeed a safe bet for the Russians. At a distance of more than 300 kilometers from the frontline, it squarely falls outside the maximum stated range of ATACMS missiles.

Drones are the only means to reach them, but they are not an ideal weapon against naval ships, which would likely have personnel in place to intercept incoming drones. Russians would have also installed static protection in the port to guard against both naval and aerial drones.

It is still not clear what Ukraine was targeting at the port. We will get more information tomorrow after the Institute for the Study of War publishes its findings. My initial assessment of the attack suggests that Ukraine may not have targeted the ships. There are plenty of other potential targets such as command posts, depots and air-defense systems themselves. They could have also sent the drones to assess Russia’s ability to respond to the attack.

The real attack on this port must come from the long-range Neptune missiles. Ukraine rarely discloses the range of the weapons under production, but whenever they do, they end up using them.

On April 2, Mykhailo Fedorov, Minister of Digital Transformation of Ukraine, announced that Ukraine has drones capable of crossing the 1,200-km threshold. One day later, Ukraine successfully targeted a Shahed drone facility located 1,200 kilometers away from the frontline.

It has been almost a month since Ukraine made the development of the long-range Neptune missile public. These missiles have a range of 1,000 kilometers and are anti-ship missiles.

With the range extension to 1000 km, the Neptune missile system not only enhances Ukraine’s defensive capabilities but also potentially alters the operational landscape in the Black Sea region. This escalation in missile technology and production capacity highlights the ongoing intensity and technological evolution in regional military dynamics. As Ukraine prepares to deploy these advanced systems along the Azov Sea coast, the implications for naval strategy in the region remain a significant international interest and strategic calculation.

We could soon witness the arrival of Neptune missiles at the Novorossiysk Port.

Offense is the only defense in the Black sea:

It’s impossible to assess the current operational status of the Black Sea Fleet’s ships. Ukraine has destroyed and sunk several vessels, while others have sustained damage. Russia’s Black Sea Fleet has endured significant losses, though the rate of damage decreased notably after their relocation to the Novorossiysk port.

Russia is unable to deploy additional ships into the Black Sea. Under the Montreux Convention, Turkey, the gatekeeper of the Black Sea, prohibits both Ukraine and Russia from bringing their naval vessels into the region. Any ships present before the conflict may remain, but they cannot return if they leave.

Russia will be vigorously repairing its damaged ships. If left unchallenged, they will eventually begin testing the boundaries of Crimea once again. Offense is the only means of defense to control the Black Sea. As of today, Ukraine maintains control over the Black Sea, and to uphold this status quo, they have no choice but to continue targeting Russian naval ships wherever they are anchored in the Black Sea.

This implies that they need to find a way to reach the Novorossiysk port.

The Twin Benefits of Keeping the Black Sea Fleet Locked Up

Following Russia’s cancellation of the Black Sea grain deal in July 2023, Ukraine opened a new corridor the following month. Initially conceived as a humanitarian route to facilitate the departure of ships stranded in Ukranian ports since the onset of war in February 2022, it has since evolved into a major maritime trading route.

According to Infrastructure Minister Oleksandr Kubrakov, between August 2023 and March 2024, more than 36 million metric tons of goods have passed through this corridor.

More than 1,200 corgo ships.

Keeping the Black Sea fleet silent not only helps Ukraine protect its maritime corridor, but it also safeguards civilians and vital infrastructure from missiles launched by the Black Sea fleet.

Russia has resumed the use of Kalibr cruise missiles in its attacks on Ukraine, but is experiencing difficulties in their launches, Ukraine’s South Volunteer Army spokesperson, Serhiy Bratchuk, said on national TV on May 9.

Russia used its Kalibr missiles for the fourth time in the past six months during its latest mass attack on Ukraine on May 8. Their use was systematic in 2022 and 2023. Russia’s Black Sea Fleet has seen its influence in the area diminish following several successful Ukrainian attacks, forcing Russia to change how it launches its Kalibr missiles.

They now often launch from submarines in the Black Sea, which are difficult to track, Bratchuk said.

The Kalibr missiles are highly effective, with a circular error probable of 3 meters. (50% of the time the missile will fall within a 3m radius). Russia has equipped “most of its submarines and surface ships with the respective versions of the Klub anti-ship and Kalibr land-attack cruise missiles”.

Patriots and SAMP-T air-defense systems in Ukraine’s possession have a good interception rate against these missiles, but when highly accurate missiles are sent as part of a large package towards Ukrainian targets, it strains the air-defense systems. Moreover, the additional angle that is brought into consideration adds another layer of complexity.

Russia can launch its Kalibr cruise missiles from the Novorossiysk port in the southeast, it can launch its Iskander missiles from Crimea in the south, and use its fighter jets to fire its air-launched missiles from the north and the north east.

Thanks to ATACMS missiles, Russia will soon struggle to fire its missiles from Crimea. If, by that time, Ukraine manages to completely neutralize the missile threat posed by the Black Sea Fleet, it will allow the Ukranian air-defense units to focus their efforts towards the east and north. I have explained the strategy in the image attached below.

Not an impossible objective, albeit a long and difficult one. However, they have achieved partial success. The Russian air defense in Crimea is in an extremely weakened state, while the Black Sea Fleet has been denied freedom of navigation. They just need to keep increasing the pressure on Russian operations in Crimea and Krasnodar Krai.

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Shankar Narayan

He didn't care what he had or what he had left, he cared only about what he must do.