Russia vs Ukraine War: Kiev Is Building Anti-ship Missiles to Protect Itself From Russia's Navy

Ukraine has been developing an anti-ship missile called the Neptune to defend itself from Russia's navy, according to reports. But some analysts say that the country is facing setbacks as it works to bolster its defenses.

Several months after Russia seized three Ukrainian Navy ships in the Sea of Azov, which borders the contested Crimean peninsula that Moscow annexed from Ukraine in 2014, the development of the Neptune seems more relevant than ever. The project was first announced in 2013, around the same time Ukraine started fighting pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine.

The plan was to create a Ukrainian version of Russia's Kh-35 anti-ship missile, but with slight modifications and improvements. The first version of the missile was allegedly tested in 2016. A coastal missile defense system is also being developed.

The Yani Kapu tugboat, which was detained by the Russian Federal Security Service in the Kerch Strait along with two other Ukrainian Navy ships, is pictured on November 25. Sergei Malgavko/TASS/Getty Images

In an essay for The National Interest published Wednesday, analyst Mark Episkopos noted that Ukraine has faced some setbacks due to its tiny military budget.

"Ukraine is still coping with the rift in its supply and production chains left by its diplomatic break with Russia," Episkopos wrote. "Whereas the Kh-35 and its predecessors were created with the USSR's massive economies of scale, Ukraine must now invest in new, potentially less efficient production processes while repurposing Soviet-era components whenever it can. The latter is particularly salient for Neptune, given that it runs on a close derivative of the Soviet-era TRDD-50 engine."

The confrontation in the Sea of Azov demonstrated exactly how vulnerable Ukraine is to its larger neighbor Russia. Russia attacked the three Ukrainian navy vessels as they were attempting to enter the Sea of Azov from the Black Sea via the Kerch Strait. The strait connects mainland Russia to the Russian-occupied Crimean peninsula.

Russia and Ukraine are obligated to share the Kerch Strait and other waters surrounding their two countries, according to international law. But Russia's navy pursued the ships into the Black Sea and ultimately seized the ships and all 24 Ukrainian sailors aboard, claiming that they had violated Russia's territorial sovereignty. The sailors later declared themselves prisoners of war.

Analysts argue that Russia is trying to cut off Ukraine's access to certain key ports near Crimea.

In 2017, President Donald Trump reversed the Obama administration's decision not to provide lethal weapons to Ukraine and later began selling Kiev the Javelin missile system. But Ukraine's government has since determined that it needs more than just international military aid. Some officials even floated the idea of exporting the Neptune when the missile is completed.