KYIV (Reuters) -Ukraine said its forces hit a Russian naval tugboat with two Harpoon missiles in the Black Sea on Friday, the first time it has claimed to have struck a Russian vessel with Western-supplied anti-ship weapons.
The tugboat, identified as the Vasiliy Bekh by Odesa region’s governor, had been transporting soldiers, weapons and ammunition to the Russian-occupied Zmiinyi (Snake) Island in the Black Sea, the Ukrainian navy said.
The Russian Defense Ministry did not immediately respond to a written request for comment.
The Ukrainian military published a video of what it said were two Harpoon missiles hitting the vessel on the Telegram app. Reuters could not independently verify the footage.
“During the full-scale war in the Black Sea, (anti-ship missiles) were used twice, first the (Ukrainian-made) Neptune, and today, June 17, the Harpoon. Both uses were successful. At the same time, the air defense of Russian ships proved to be entirely ineffective,” the Armed Forces Strategic Communications Directorate said.
Harpoon missiles are among the array of foreign weaponry that Western allies have sent to Ukraine to help it fend off Russia’s Feb. 24 invasion.
Ukraine’s defense minister said last month that Ukraine had started receiving Harpoon missiles from Denmark, deliveries that he said were the result of cooperation between several countries.
The Harpoon anti-ship missile uses active radar homing and flies just above the water to evade defences. It can be launched from ships, submarines, aircraft or coastal batteries.
Ukraine’s Naval Command said the Russian tugboat had a TOR anti-air missile system on board.
Russia’s Black Sea fleet dominates in the Black Sea and Moscow has used its sea supremacy to impose a naval blockade of Ukrainian ports, hampering vital grain exports.
Snake Island lies about 140 km south of Odesa, Ukraine’s main port hub for exporting grain via the Black Sea. The waters along the coastline are now heavily mined.
The United Nations is trying to broker a way to get the exports out, but demining efforts alone could take months.
(Reporting by Max Hunder, Writing by Tom Balmforth; Editing by Mark Heinrich and Angus MacSwan)