War in Ukraine: The Battle of Snake Island
Snake Island is a small rocky island with sparse vegetation and almost no wildlife. But its strategic location on the Black Sea makes it valuable in a war like the one between Russia and Ukraine. Because of this, they fight for control of this enclave. But who owns it now?
Image: By Фотонак - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=62277127
Russian troops now dominate Snake Island. Russia sent its famous warship, the Moskva (pictured), and demanded the surrender of the Ukrainian coast guard defending the island. The response of the few poorly armed soldiers was: "Get lost!" (or something even ruder, depending on who is telling the story). This story of heroic resistance has been questioned, but the fact is that Russia conquered Snake Island and captured the soldiers defending it.
According to British media including the BBC, citing British government sources, Ukraine has fought hard to reclaim Snake Island. The Russians claim that they have only lost soldiers, planes, helicopters and drones. However, Ukrainians claim that the battle is not over and that Russia is incapable of defending Snake Island.
The Ukrainians (with the help of US intelligence) managed to sink the Moskva, an important ship for controlling the Black Sea and especially for defending Snake Island.
Snake Island has an area of just one square kilometer but is a historically disputed enclave. The island lies 45 kilometers off the coast of Ukraine and Romania, and both countries claim sovereignty over the island (mainly over territorial waters). At the end of World War II, the island was in the hands of the Soviet Union. After that it passed to Romania and later to Ukraine.
Image: De DieBuche - , CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=10262636
Ukrainian military officer Oleh Zhdanov told the BBC: "If Russian troops manage to occupy Snake Island and establish their long-range anti-aircraft systems, they will destroy the sea, land and air in the north-western part of the Black Sea and the south of the Black Sea controlled by Ukraine.
While all eyes are on the fighting happening on land in Ukraine, the Snake Island dispute continues to unfold without much information being released to the public. Neither Russia nor Ukraine can claim a major victory in this enclave, so the fighting quietly continues.
Despite its name, there isn't a single snake on the island that Russia and Ukraine are fighting over.
Image: Jan Kopřiva / Unsplash
According to some interpretations of classical texts, this island was the home of the Greek hero Achilles. And some authors claim that the ancient Greeks built a sanctuary with two large pillars on the top of this island. But today there is no longer any trace of it, only rocks.
Image: By HOBOPOCC - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=9435484
This is Snake Island, a bed of rocks with sheer forms dominating the sea with cliffs 25 meters high.
Image: By Mykola Rozhenko - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=49006107
Old illustrations (like this one by a German author) show the presence of a lighthouse from 1842, the work of the then ruling Tsardom. It is still there today, only it has been modernized.
Image: By Scan made by Olahus - The Danube as a peoples' route, shipping route and travel route. Vienna, Pest, Leipzig. 1896, public domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=1990346
Snake Island's profile has inspired artists such as Carlo Bossoli, who was born in Switzerland but lived for many years in Russia and painted this sea scene with the rough sea and island in the background.
Image: By Carlo Bossoli - Альбом. «Пейзажи и достопримечательности Крыма» - http://allday.ru/2008/12/06/karlo-bossoli.albom.pejjzazhi-i.html, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index. php?curid=115965237
Russia has always been obsessed with a historic goal: to have a stable, permanent, and more strategically positioned access to the sea. The annexation of Crimea was the result of this obsession, as was the invasion of Ukraine.
In the battle for Snake Island, Ukrainian forces will try to cut off supply ships, according to the BBC. With the Moskva sunk and thus without the protection of the ship's guns, it has become more difficult for Russian ships to enter and exit the island.
Another problematic aspect is that Snake Island is too close to NATO member Romania. Neither side should invade their territorial waters.
Snake Island is another yet another scene of the war in Ukraine that is being fought on land, sea and air, with many battles going on in parallel. Any win or loss will affect the final result.