A little victory
Russia's Defense Ministry announced Thursday that "as a gesture of goodwill," it has withdrawn Russian troops from Ukraine's small but strategically located Snake Island, or Zmiinyi Island. Russia captured Snake Island on Feb. 24, the day it invaded Ukraine, and Ukraine turned its defeat into a colorful rallying cry. Ukraine has been pounding the Black Sea rock for weeks.
Ukrainian President Volodymr Zelensky alluded Thursday night to his country's revenge on the Russian flagship that captured Snake Island, the Moskva. "The ship left — forever — and now the island if free again," he said.
"Considering the strategic importance of Snake Island, which has been fought over for months, and considering, too, the lack of 'goodwill gestures' by the Russian armed forces in Ukraine since the invasion," BBC Russia editor Steve Rosenberg writes, Russia's "version of events will convince few outside Russia." Pro-Russian war bloggers and Kremlin-friendly outlets are calling it a setback for Moscow, though a necessary one to save exposed Russian troops, pointing to Ukraine's new, Western-supplied weapons capable of hitting Snake Island from Odessa, The Washington Post reports.
"Russia has highly likely withdrawn from Snake Island owing to the isolation of the garrison and its increasing vulnerability to Ukrainian strikes, rather than as a 'gesture of goodwill,' as it has claimed," Britain's Defense Ministry assessed early Friday. "The Ukrainian Armed Forces conducted attacks against the Russian garrison in the past few weeks using missile and drone strikes. In addition, it used anti-ship missiles to interdict Russian naval vessels attempting re-supply the island."
"This is not just a symbolic victory for Ukraine, it is a strategic success," BBC News reports. "For Russia this is both a setback and an embarrassing defeat. But it will not substantially change the course of the war."
Russia is making slow, grinding progress in Ukraine's eastern Donbas region, though it's losing ground in southern Kherson province. And even without missile systems and artillery on Snake Island, Russia has stepped up strikes on Odessa. Russian strikes Friday morning killed at least 19 people in the Odessa region, including two children, after hitting a residential building and recreation center.