Dolphins Have Sparked a New Standoff Between Russia and Ukraine

Dolphins Have Sparked a New Standoff Between Russia and Ukraine

A squad of highly specialized Ukrainian soldiers that was based in Crimea is now under Russian control, and the two countries are in a heated standoff over the agents' allegiances.

One important thing to keep in mind: The soldiers are dolphins.

That's not a code word. They're marine mammals trained for military missions by Ukraine, though they're now in Russia's hands thanks to the annexation of Crimea. Ukraine wants them back, saying they weren't able to make the same choice to travel back to Ukraine or defect to Russia as other naval personnel (because, again, dolphins).


Image Credit: BBC

The background: Ukraine is one of two countries with dolphin military units. The other is the U.S., which has about 75 dolphins (and some sea lions) operating out of San Diego.

The Ukrainian program dates back to the country's years of Soviet control, though it ended, largely due to neglect, in the '90s. The navy resurrected it in 2012 and has been keeping the dolphins at an aquarium near Sevastopol.


Military dolphins can be used for many underwater tasks, like locating mines and keeping watch for intruders. A source told Russian agency RIA Novosti earlier this year that the country would use the dolphins to find sunken military equipment and detect enemy divers.

"Our specialists developed new devices that convert dolphins' underwater sonar detection of targets into a signal to the operator's monitor," the source said, according to the Guardian. "The Ukrainian navy lacked funds for such know-how, and some projects had to be mothballed."

So who gets to keep them? Right now, there's not much Ukraine can do about the situation. The country maintains that territories occupied by Russia are "inalienable parts" of Ukraine and thus subject to Ukrainian governance and law.

Similarly, the UN General Assembly voted to recognize Crimea as part of Ukraine still. Very few states consider the region autonomous or part of Russia.

You can ask the dolphins how much those decrees and votes mean, though. Russia still controls the region, though debates rage about port control and airspace. They might not seem all that important in the military scheme of things, but these dolphins serve as political capital for both sides until the situation is defused.

How likely are you to make Mic your go-to news source?

Matt Connolly

Matt has written for Mother Jones, the Washington Examiner and Chicago Public Radio among many others. He's a resident of Washington, D.C., but much like Bruce Springsteen and pork roll he is a product of New Jersey.

MORE FROM

Angela Merkel sharply criticizes Donald Trump on climate change without ever mentioning his name

"Whoever thinks that the problems of this world can be solved by protectionism and isolation lives under a huge misconception," Merkel said.

Top Pope aide charged with sexual assault vows to fight his "relentless character assassination"

Pell is the highest-ranking Catholic Church official to be ensnared in the church's sexual abuse scandal.

'Hot Mic' podcast: Sterling family lawsuit, Low approval for GOP health care, Trump hotel sued

The important stories to get you caught up for Thursday.

CNN's Van Jones allegedly says the Trump Russia stories are "a big nothing burger"

He's the second CNN insider this week to apparently denounce the network's Russia coverage.

Conservative columnist Bret Stephens joins MSNBC

Stephens will remain a columnist at The New York Times.

Department of Homeland Security announces new airline security rules

The new measures could help end the electronics ban.

Angela Merkel sharply criticizes Donald Trump on climate change without ever mentioning his name

"Whoever thinks that the problems of this world can be solved by protectionism and isolation lives under a huge misconception," Merkel said.

Top Pope aide charged with sexual assault vows to fight his "relentless character assassination"

Pell is the highest-ranking Catholic Church official to be ensnared in the church's sexual abuse scandal.

'Hot Mic' podcast: Sterling family lawsuit, Low approval for GOP health care, Trump hotel sued

The important stories to get you caught up for Thursday.

CNN's Van Jones allegedly says the Trump Russia stories are "a big nothing burger"

He's the second CNN insider this week to apparently denounce the network's Russia coverage.

Conservative columnist Bret Stephens joins MSNBC

Stephens will remain a columnist at The New York Times.

Department of Homeland Security announces new airline security rules

The new measures could help end the electronics ban.