Russian forces have completed their takeover of the Ukrainian navy’s assets in Crimea with the storming of the minesweeper Cherkessy.The Ukrainian navy has been reduced to only 10 vessels, with the other 51 it held at the beginning of this month, including its only submarine, now flying the Russian flag.
But of all the Ukrainian military assets Russia has seized during the annexation, none is quite as unusual as the combat dolphin programme.The Soviet Union began training dolphins and other marine mammals to locate mines, mark underwater obstacles and detect – and if necessary kill – enemy frogmen in the 1960s. The programme is shrouded in myth, but the dolphins are believed to have been trained to kill frogmen with special harpoons or knives fitted to their backs, or drag them to the surface to be captured.
They were also reported to be fitted with packets of explosives and trained to carry out suicide attacks against enemy vessels, using their natural sonar to distinguish Soviet submarines from potential targets.
With the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, Ukraine inherited the animals and the experts who trained them at Sevastopol.With fewer geopolitical foes to worry about, the dolphins found a new role providing therapy swimming for disabled children.