Snake Island: Russian troops withdrawn from territory, confirm both sides

The small but strategic territory became the scene of one of the first salvos of the war in Ukraine. demands from the Russian warship calling on the Ukrainian defenders to surrender, who boldly responded “Russian warship, fuck you.”

Serpent’s Island, known in Ukrainian as Serpent’s Island, is located about 30 miles (48 km) off the coast of Ukraine, close to the sea routes leading to the Bosphorus and the Mediterranean Sea.

Until this year, Moscow had never laid claim to Snake Island, and it is far from any part of the Russian mainland. It’s over 180 miles from Crimeaannexed by Russia in 2014, and therefore there is no geographical or historical basis for Russia to claim it now.

On Monday, the Ukrainian military said it hit a second missile system on the island, as well as several Russian troops, in an attempt to contain them.

In a short Telegram post on Thursday, the Ukrainian Operational Command Yug reported that “the enemy hastily evacuated the remnants of the garrison on two speedboats and probably left the island.”

Satellite images of the island taken on Thursday by Maxar Technologies showed that the Russian armed forces had abandoned the island.

A general view of Serpents' Island, Ukraine, in this still image taken by Reuters on June 30, 2022.

Andriy Yermak, head of the Office of the President of Ukraine, said in a Telegram message that the Ukrainian armed forces “carried out an outstanding operation.”

The Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of Ukraine Valery Zaluzhny later stated in Telegram that the “occupiers” left, “unable to withstand the fire of our artillery, missiles and air strikes.”

He paid tribute to those behind the production of the Ukrainian Bodogan self-propelled howitzer, noting that it “played an important role in the liberation of the island”, and said: “Thanks to foreign partners for the provided weapons.”

First on CNN: Satellite image shows damage to Serpent Island, where Ukrainian troops defiantly refused to surrender

Zaluzhny also thanked the Armed Forces of Ukraine from the Odessa region, which includes Zmeiny Ostrov, “who took maximum measures to liberate a strategically important part of our territory.”

Ukraine’s armed forces have “achieved their goal” of pushing Russian forces off Zmiyiny Island, spokeswoman for the Ukrainian Southern Command Natalia Gumenyuk said, but she warned that it might be “too early” to set up an outpost there.

“It can be stated that the powerful rocket and artillery strike that we had been conducting for some time, during the entire military operation, against this small outpost of the enemy, achieved its goal. They really understood that they had to do the right thing, gathered their things and got out, like only managed,” Gumenyuk told the Ukrainian TV channel Espresso TV.

Gumenyuk said that the island is still shrouded in thick smoke, explosions continue. Although the Ukrainian military saw Russian troops evacuate in speedboats, Gumeniuk said there was a need to investigate possible “leftover sabotage tools” before claiming the island.

“Our troops have not yet landed on the island,” she added, adding that it is not yet clear whether Russian troops have been completely withdrawn.

Gumenyuk suggested that the Russian military set fire to anti-aircraft missile systems and a radar station “to cover their tracks.”

“Once they realized that all these systems were our effective target and could no longer serve them, they realized that they had to close their outpost and leave,” Gumenyuk added.

The view shows a fire on Serpent Island, Ukraine, in this screenshot taken from a drone video obtained by Reuters on May 8, 2022.

However, Russia gave a slightly different account of the events on the island.

Russian army spokesman Igor Konashenkov said at a briefing that his troops left the island “as a gesture of goodwill.”

He added that “the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation have completed their assigned tasks on Zmeiny Island and have withdrawn the garrison operating there.”

Konashenkov hinted that the withdrawal of Russian troops should facilitate the passage of grain, “this decision will not allow Kyiv to speculate on the impending food crisis, referring to the impossibility of exporting grain due to total control over the northwestern part of the Black Sea by Russia. “

But the Ukrainian government rejected the Russian version of events, and Yermak rejected this explanation.

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“In Russia, they talk about the alleged withdrawal of troops from the Zmeiny Island and present it as a “goodwill gesture.” Like, Russia does not interfere with humanitarian corridors for the export of Ukrainian grain. But all this is a complete fake,” Yermak said in his official Telegram channel.

“Firstly, the Armed Forces of Ukraine drove the Russians out of the Snake Island,” Yermak added. “Secondly, the Russians are shelling warehouses with our grain. In the morning, a warehouse in the Dnepropetrovsk region was shelled.”

Serpent’s Island is part of the Odessa region, through which most of Ukraine’s agricultural wealth enters world markets. In normal times, Ukraine would export about three-quarters of its grain production. According to the European Commission, about 90% of this export shipped by sea, from the Black Sea ports of Ukraine.

Ukraine’s military intelligence chief, Kirill Budanov, said in May that whoever holds Serpent Island controls “the surface and, to some extent, the air situation in southern Ukraine.”

“Whoever controls the island can at any time block the movement of civilian ships in all directions to the south of Ukraine,” Budanov added.

Last year, President Volodymyr Zelensky flew to Snake Island, where there are no voters but sheep, to emphasize that this is important. “This island, like our entire territory, is Ukrainian land, and we will defend it with all our might,” he said.

CNN’s Jeevan Ravindran, Ivana Kottasova, Paul P. Murphy, and Anastasia Graham-Yul contributed to this report.