Writing in italics contains updated information.

Executive Summary

  • Retaliatory strikes in Odessa are likely to occur within 24 hours of any future Ukraine Armed Forces (UAF) attacks on Russian vessels or sites in the Black Sea.
  • Risk of collateral/civilian damage from Russian strikes is increased due to use of long-range weapons not designed for land-attack.
  • Strikes using long-range Precision Guided Munitions (PGM) are the greatest kinetic threat to personnel security in Odessa.
  • Russian strikes predominantly target infrastructure which has military utility – Zatoka Bridge has again been struck with PGMs.
  • Odessa is almost certain not to face amphibious assault in the short to medium term.
  • It remains highly unlikely Russia will launch a ground-incursion from Transnistria into Odessa Oblast.
  • It is almost certain that Russia will not be able to seize Mykolaiv (essential for a ground assault on Odessa) before 7 July 22 (the next reporting period).
  • The recent redeployment of Russian Air Defence (AD) assets to Snake Island will not impact the security of Odessa.

Odessa – Current Status -

Odessa is currently under Ukrainian control. The nearest Russian position is reported to be approximately 50km east in Kherson Oblast. Intelligence indicates that Russia does not currently intend to commit forces to launch an assault against Odessa, as its armed forces prioritise operations in the Donbass region.

However, as the below events log shows, Odessa is highly likely to remain a long-range strike target due to its strategic importance to the Ukrainian military effort. This includes primary routes in/out of Ukraine; presence of Ukrainian military personnel; and use of logistics nodes for military, commercial, and humanitarian purposes.

Reporting from late March 22 also suggests that saboteurs are known to operate in the city. However, this activity is reported to have been effectively disrupted by Ukrainian security services.

There is some anecdotal reporting of low-level criminality, however, it is likely there has been a reduction in serious crime due to: the implementation of a curfew; the large number of checkpoints (CPs) established across the city and Oblast; and the reduction of maritime smuggling because of sea mines and Russian FSB/Naval patrols in the Black Sea.

Odessa – Kinetic Activity – Summary of Events

Since late March 22, there have been 44 strikes reported in Odessa city and Oblast. Primarily, Russian targeting priorities focus on military and logistics infrastructure.

The Zatoka Bridge has been targeted on eight separate occasions in this timeframe, as it is a primary route used to transport humanitarian supplies from Romania. The route is also likely to be used for military purposes. Odessa airport is another location which has been targeted on more than one occasion since late March 22.

However, it must be noted that whilst Russian activity is largely focussed on military-linked targets, there have been several instances where missile strikes have resulted in civilian casualties.

On 19 June 22 at approximately 0600hrs (local), several missiles were launched at Odessa; two reportedly struck targets, and two more were shot down by AD systems. The Russian Federation Armed Forces (RFAF) announced they had targeted fuel and ammunition storage areas being used to resupply the UAF near Mykolaiv; however, the Government of Ukraine claims a food storage warehouse was hit. This attack was likely in response to the UAF attacking targets in the Black Sea (see ‘Maritime Activity’ section below). It is likely that further strikes against Russian locations and units in the Black Sea will be met with retaliatory fire. The RFAF stated that Anti-Ship Missiles (ASM) ‘Bastion-P’ and ‘Oniks’ were used to attack Odessa. ASM have a lower accuracy against fixed coastal objects than dedicated Land-Attack systems, and therefore the chance of missiles missing their intended targets and striking civilian/residential areas is increased.

The table in Annex A logs all strike activity in Odessa city and the wider Oblast since 28 March 22:

Figure 1. Table showing frequency of strikes on Odessa

The peak period between 26 April and 9 May is consistent with a wider campaign of strikes targeting transport networks and infrastructure across western Ukraine in a Russian bid to prevent both reinforcements and western weapons/aid from being able to reach the front in the east.

Naval Activity

Monitoring of Russian naval activity in the Black Sea west of Sevastopol is critical to understanding the prospect of an amphibious assault on the city. 24 May 22 saw a major amphibious demonstration by the Russian Navy in the Black Sea. This was an exercise where their landing ships were used to carry out activity mimicking preparation for an amphibious assault, without becoming engaged with the enemy. The demonstration included two groupings, one larger than the other. The smaller grouping, consisting of two landing ships, a frigate, and an FSB patrol boat, sailed a race-track pattern off the coast of Sevastopol. A larger group, consisting of a mine-clearance ship, two frigates, and four landing craft, conducted manoeuvres in the central Black Sea to the south. This activity was likely intended to threaten Ukraine and fix Ukrainian Armed Forces (UAF) units in the west of the country against the low probability but high-risk prospect of a seaborne assault.

The below events are notable as a Russian air attack against coastal defences could be used in response to future attacks on its naval assets located on the Black Sea. On 31 May 22 it was widely reported across social media that the Russian Federation Armed Forces (RFAF) had deployed SA-15 (GAUNTLET) and SA-22 (GREYHOUND) Air Defence (AD) Systems to Snake Island. The 12 and 18km ranges of the AD systems are insufficient to threaten freedom of the airspace over the Black Sea but are highly likely intended to protect the island from further attacks by Ukrainian Unmanned Aerial Systems such as the famed Bayraktar TB2. There is unconfirmed reporting that an SA-21 (GROWLER), also known as an S-400, long-range (250km) AD system has been deployed. The presence of an SA-21 on the island is possible but has a fairly low likelihood given the value of the system and requirements to protect larger Russian installations. There has been no imagery to confirm the presence of the launcher vehicles or their associated radars (GRAVE STONE and BIG BIRD). Positioning of SA-21 on Snake Island would be highly likely to negatively impact Western airborne intelligence collection from south and south-west of Ukraine. It does not currently have any impact on the likelihood of an amphibious landing near Odessa, nor does deployment support increased Russian activity within Transnistria.

Maritime events of note:

The UAF attacks against the Vasily Bekh, Oil and Gas platforms, and Snake Island between 17-21 June 22 were likely the catalyst for additional RFAF strikes in Odessa Oblast. Additionally, it is highly likely that these attacks in the north-western Black Sea were conducted by UAF units on the coast of Odessa Oblast, using western-supplied missile systems. Whilst the presence of advanced anti-ship weapons further decreases the already low risk of amphibious invasion, it is likely to increase the risk or retaliatory strikes in urban areas, thus increasing the overall risk to civilians in Odessa

Saboteur Activity -

In addition to the kinetic threat, there have been reports of Russian saboteurs attempting to destabilise parts of Ukraine outside of Russian-controlled territory. This reporting extends to Odessa, where two incidents are outlined in the table below:

Saboteur activity is generally disrupted and reported by the SBU, the Ukrainian internal security service. It is judged that further arrests will be made in the coming months, demonstrating the effectiveness of the Ukrainian security services operating in Odessa.

There have been no additional reported incidents of sabotage or subversive activity within Odessa between mid-May and 23 June 22.

Wider Region – Mykolaiv Oblast

Any serious attempt by Russia to seize Odessa would almost certainly need a sizeable land component from the east, which would need to seize Mykolaiv first. This is unlikely to occur concurrent to offensives in the Donbas. Russian troops have reportedly been digging multiple layers of defensive earthworks to the east-south-east of Mykolaiv, likely to prevent a Ukrainian counterattack towards Kherson. Previous Russian offensives in the direction of Mykolaiv city had been stopped by the UAF. Russia is unlikely to have the combat power available for another concerted push against the city, which sits on an essential river crossing over the Southern Bug River. Mykolaiv has been attacked by both aircraft and long-range rocket artillery recently; however, this is likely to project fear in the local population and disrupt UAF activities.

With the ongoing major RFAF offensive in Luhansk Oblast, it is unlikely that RFAF have sufficient combat power available further west to launch any major attack towards Mykolaiv from Kherson. It is a realistic possibility that the UAF are instead counter-attacking and will seek to advance towards occupied Kherson by the end of June 22.

Transnistria -

In early April 22, media reports suggested that Russia were going to mobilise its troops situated in the Transnistria region, Moldova, to attack Ukrainian forces from the southwest and cause provocations along its border. It is highly unlikely that Russia (and the Pridnestrovian Moldavian Republic) will invade Ukraine on a new axis from Transnistria. It is however a realistic possibility that Russian forces will posture or conduct demonstrations within Transnistria to force the Ukrainian Armed Forces to keep a greater number of units close to Odessa and prevent them reinforcing operations further east.

It is a realistic possibility that Russian intent to secure Odessa faded when their operations to take other major administrative centres (Kyiv, Chernihiv, Sumy etc) ceased. It is highly unlikely that there are sufficient forces available between the OGRF/Transnistrian Army, and amphibious forces in the Black Sea, to encircle and seize Odessa.

More background information on the Transnistria situation and the make-up of Russian forces operating in the region can be found here.

Current Threat Assessment -

The overall threat to civilians in Odessa is assessed as LOW. The most significant risk comes from Russian long-range strikes with Precision Guided Missiles; however, this can largely be mitigated by avoiding government and military locations, and key infrastructure points where possible. Except for hypersonic weapon use, such as the Kh-47M2 ‘Khinzal’, which reportedly occurred in Odessa on 9 May, air defence systems and air-raid alarms provide an effective warning of incoming missiles. Locals in Odessa have a good understanding of the alert system and will seek cover only when the alarm persists for more than a few minutes, indicating that the inbound weapons are coming in their direction.

It is unlikely that Russia will launch an amphibious invasion in the vicinity of Odessa. Vessels available may sortie for further demonstrations in the Black Sea. However, without some sabotage operations and concentrated preparatory bombardment – likely specifically targeting air-defence units and coastal-defences, as well as a significant Russian army breakthrough at Mykolaiv, any seaborne assault would almost certainly fail.

Annex A – Table or recorded strikes on Odessa

Image courtesy of Petros Giannakouris, AP