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Ukraine’s Combat Dolphins Begin Swimming for Russia

Kiev wants its combat dolphins back, but now they’re swimming for Russia. After annexing the Crimean peninsula in March, Russia announced that it would press Ukraine’s combat dolphins, stationed at a facility in Sevastopol, into service for Moscow. That time has come: The Crimean State Oceanarium, the dolphins’ home base, is now under full Russian ...

YURIY LASHOV/AFP/Getty Images
YURIY LASHOV/AFP/Getty Images

Kiev wants its combat dolphins back, but now they’re swimming for Russia.

After annexing the Crimean peninsula in March, Russia announced that it would press Ukraine’s combat dolphins, stationed at a facility in Sevastopol, into service for Moscow. That time has come: The Crimean State Oceanarium, the dolphins’ home base, is now under full Russian control.

"The jurisdiction over this facility has been fully transferred to the Russian Defense Ministry," said Sergei Menyailo, the acting governor of Sevastopol, speaking to the Russian news agency RIA Novosti.

Menyailo’s comments appear to remove any doubt over what would become of the dolphins. In early July, Dmitry Yunusov, first deputy head of the Henichesk regional state administration, a district in southern Ukraine, demanded that the dolphins be returned under Kiev’s jurisdiction — just like the other military equipment seized by Russia following the annexation of Crimea and sent back to the Ukrainian military. Now, any hope of the dolphins returning to their Ukrainian masters looks to have evaporated.

During the Cold War, the U.S. and Soviet navies were the only two countries to boast marine mammal programs, maintaining dolphin training centers in San Diego and Sevastopol, respectively. The U.S. program continues to this day and was even used during the Gulf War to protect American and Kuwaiti vessels from sea mines. Ukraine, however, struggled to keep up the program that it inherited from the Soviet Union due to a lack of funds. Prior to Russia’s takeover of the facilities in March, the dolphin program was slated to be closed down.

After taking control of the oceanarium, Russia has vowed to renew funding for the program. With Friday’s announcement in mind, it appears that the battle for marine life superiority between Washington and Moscow has once again been renewed.

Reid Standish is an Alfa fellow and Foreign Policy’s special correspondent covering Russia and Eurasia. He was formerly an associate editor. Twitter: @reidstan

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