The Kremlin has fired its top naval commander, the biggest fallout yet from a series of devastating attacks by Ukraine on Russia’s Black Sea Fleet, according to a Ukrainian and a Western official.

Adm. Nikolai Yevmenov, the head of the Russian Navy for the past five years, was removed from command and replaced by the head of the Russia’s Northern Fleet.

Russian publications, citing anonymous sources, reported on Sunday that Admiral Yevmenov had been fired. The Financial Times, citing Ukrainian officials, reported the development on Monday. The Russian government, however, has declined to confirm any of the personnel changes.

U.S. officials have assessed that while Kyiv’s counteroffensive last year in eastern and southern Ukraine largely failed, its strikes on the Crimean Peninsula and attacks on the Black Sea Fleet were unexpectedly effective.

The victories have been all the more surprising because Ukraine does not have a traditional navy or a fleet of warships. Instead, Ukraine has used sea drones and missiles to attack Russian ships.

U.S. officials believe Ukraine has sunk 15 Russian ships in the past six months. European officials have said the naval victories have reopened the western Black Sea, allowing Ukraine to again ship grain from Odesa.

A Ukrainian military intelligence official said that Admiral Yevmenov’s removal from command was directly related to the loss of Russian ships.

Ukraine estimates that a third of Russia’s Black Sea Fleet, which once numbered 80 ships, has been destroyed since the war began two years ago. The April 2022 sinking of the Moskva, the Russian flagship, with a Ukrainian-built missile was one of Kyiv’s great symbolic victories.

But the more recent campaign has been as important for practical gains. As a result of the attacks, Russia has moved its fleet back from Ukraine’s coast and out of the western Black Sea.

The Polish foreign minister, Radoslaw Sikorski, said on Tuesday that the Ukrainian military had “basically won the war over the control of the western half of the Black Sea.”

“And Ukrainian grain is now again flowing through the Bosporus to Africa and China, which are Ukraine’s traditional markets,” Mr. Sikorski told reports in Washington at a breakfast hosted by The Christian Science Monitor.

At a Senate hearing on Monday, William J. Burns, the director of national intelligence, said Ukraine would be able to conduct more strikes against Crimea and the Black Sea Fleet if the United States provided additional military assistance.

“Ukraine can continue to exact costs against Russia, not only with deep penetration strikes in Crimea, but also against its Black Sea Fleet, continuing this success, which has resulted in 15 Russian ships sunk over the course of the last six months,” said Mr. Burns, who wrote in an article this year that Ukraine should double down on such tactics.

Ukrainian military analysts said the decision to replace the top naval commander was logical, given that Russian efforts to defend its fleet from attacks have failed.

“What did the Russians do to increase the effectiveness of countering our strikes?” Oleksandr Kovalenko, a military analyst, told the Ukrainian news media. “Nothing. They currently have no effective solution to increase the security of their warships. The only viable solution they managed to implement was to flee from Sevastopol to Novorossiysk.”

Russian publications have reported that Admiral Yevmenov will be replaced by the head of Russia’s Northern Fleet, Adm. Aleksandr A. Moiseyev. Admiral Yevmenov, however, is still listed as the naval commander in chief on the Russian military’s official website.

“There are decrees classified as secret,” the Kremlin spokesman, Dmitri S. Peskov, told reporters on Monday. “I cannot comment on them. There were no open decrees published about this.”

Instead, Russia’s military put out statements regarding naval operations, including one on Tuesday about Russian naval ships participating in joint exercises with Iran and China in the Gulf of Oman.

It is not the first time that questions about the leadership of the Russian Navy have gone unanswered in public.

In February, Russian Telegram channels that follow the country’s military reported that the Black Sea Fleet’s top officer had been removed, but he is still listed as the commander of the fleet on the Russian military’s website.

Last year, Ukrainian authorities claimed to have killed the same commander, but Russia quickly rolled out footage of him giving an interview to prove he was alive.


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Credit: NYTimes.com

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