Snake Island: Russian forces withdrew from territory, both sides confirm

The small but strategic territory was the scene of one of the first salvoes of the war in Ukraine, with demands from a Russian warship calling on Ukrainian defenders to surrender, who boldly responded with “Russian warship , screw you”.

Known as Zmiinyi Ostriv in Ukrainian, Snake Island lies about 30 miles (48 kilometers) off the coast of Ukraine and is close to sea lanes leading to the Bosphorus and the Mediterranean.

Moscow had never claimed Snake Island before this year, and it is far from any part of the Russian mainland. It is more than 180 miles from Crimea, annexed by Russia in 2014, and so there is no geographic or historical basis for Russia to claim it now.

On Monday, the Ukrainian military said it hit a second missile system on the island, along with several Russian personnel in an effort to hold them off.

In a short message on Telegram on Thursday, the Ukrainian Armed Forces Southern Operation Command said that “the enemy hastily evacuated the remnants of the garrison in two speedboats and probably left the island.”

Andriy Yermak, head of the office of the President of Ukraine, said in a Telegram article that the Ukrainian Armed Forces had “carried out a remarkable operation”.

The Commander-in-Chief of the Ukrainian Armed Forces, Valeriy Zaluzhniy, later said on Telegram that the “occupiers” had left after being “unable to withstand the fire of our artillery, missiles and airstrikes”.

He paid tribute to those behind the manufacture of the Ukrainian self-propelled howitzer “Bodogan”, saying that he “played an important role in the liberation of the island”, and also said “Thank you to foreign partners for the means of destruction provided”.

CNN premiere: Damage to Snake Island, where Ukrainian troops defiantly rejected surrender, seen in satellite photo

Zaluzhniy also thanked the Ukrainian Armed Forces in the Odessa region, of which Snake Island is a part, “which took maximum measures to liberate a strategically important part of our territory”.

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

Russian military spokesman Igor Konashenkov told a briefing that his forces left the island “as a sign of goodwill”.

He added that “the armed forces of the Russian Federation have completed the fulfillment of the tasks assigned to Snake Island and have withdrawn the garrison operating there”.

Konashenkov hinted that the withdrawal of Russian troops should allow a relaxation of grain passage, “this solution will prevent Kyiv from speculating about an impending food crisis on the grounds of inability to export grain due to total control of the northern part -west of the Black Sea by Russia.”

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

But the Ukrainian government dismissed the Russian version of events, with Yermak denouncing the explanation.

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

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“First, the Ukrainian Armed Forces chased the Russians off Snake Island,” Yermak added. “Secondly, the Russians are bombarding warehouses with our grain. In the morning, a warehouse in the Dnipropetrovsk region came under fire.”

Snake Island is part of the Odessa region, through which much of Ukraine’s agricultural wealth is funneled to world markets. Normally, Ukraine would export about three-quarters of the grain it produces. According to data from the European Commission, around 90% of these exports were shipped by sea from Ukrainian Black Sea ports.

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

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

Last year, President Volodymyr Zelensky visited Snake Island, where there are no voters but a few sheep, to emphasize that it matters. “This island, like the rest of our territory, is Ukrainian land, and we will defend it with all our might,” he said.

CNN’s Jeevan Ravindran and Ivana Kottasová contributed to this report.


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