Russian Fleet at Heart of Ukraine Crisis is Central to Putin

MarineLink.com
Friday, March 07, 2014
Russian President Vladimir Putin spoke about Ukraine at a news conference on Tuesday. Credit Alexey Nikolsky/Presidential Press Service, (Reuters )

By Andrew Osborn, Reuters

Gently bobbing up and down in the sheltered waters of the Bay of Sevastopol in Crimea, Russia's storied Black Sea Fleet has an air of decay about it.

Paint peels from low-slung dockside buildings, a solitary submarine sits dolefully alongside a pontoon, and the fleet's boxy grey ships date back to the Soviet-era with many soon destined for the scrap heap.

But appearances can be deceptive. The fleet, its base, and the sprawling military infrastructure that go with it, are vital to Russian President Vladimir Putin's military and geopolitical ambitions and one of the main reasons the Kremlin is now eyeing complete control of Crimea.

Nor will the fleet be outdated for much longer. It is soon to be restocked with billions of dollars worth of hardware. Lee Willett, editor of Jane's Navy International, said six new submarines and six new frigates were scheduled for delivery in the next few years.

It is also expected to take delivery of other vessels such as the giant Mistral helicopter carrier, currently being built in France, as well as new attack aircraft.

For Russia, the fleet and its Sevastopol base are a guarantor of its southern borders and a platform for projecting power into the Black Sea and from there into the Mediterranean. Its base is also a docking point for Russian oil tankers bound for the Bosporus and the fleet will be tasked with protecting Russia's South Stream gas pipeline once it is finished.

Russian analysts say Putin's decision to intervene in Ukraine was in large part driven by his desire to safeguard the Sevastopol base as he feared the country's new government would cancel a lease deal allowing the fleet to stay until 2042.

"Putin had every reason to think that would happen," said Fyodor Lukyanov, editor of the Moscow-based Russia in Global Affairs journal. "The new government in Ukraine wants to move closer to the European Union and NATO. Their agenda would have meant the fleet would have to leave."

Emotional Significance
Such a withdrawal, from a base that carries huge emotional and symbolic significance for Russians because of Sevastopol's role in the Crimean War and World War Two, would have been a serious geopolitical defeat for Putin, said Lukyanov.

It would also have left Moscow without a viable Black Sea naval base.

First purloined by Russia at the end of the eighteenth century by Empress Catherine the Great, Sevastopol's deep water port, sheltered bay, and the fact that it never freezes over, make it the best natural harbour in the Black Sea.

Russia's only alternative, its port at Novorossiysk, is buffeted by winds, is sometimes forced to shut because of bad weather, and would need billions of dollars of investment to house the Black Sea Fleet.

If Crimea, as seems likely, opts to become part of Russia in the face of opposition from the West and from the Ukrainian government, the Black Sea Fleet and its around 16,000 servicemen will become even more important.

Experts say the fleet currently has around 40 frontline warships including a submarine, two cruisers, a destroyer, eight frigates, 11 corvettes and attack craft, nine mine warfare vessels and eight amphibious ships which can be used to insert troops anywhere in the region. It also has a naval aviation arm.

Better Days
All agree the fleet has seen better days.

"Putin has used the fleet regularly in the Mediterranean to show that Russia is still a world power," said Willett of Jane's Navy International. "But it's always the same two or three ships, such as the fleet's flagship Moskva, or the destroyer Smetlivy. That suggests that only a small number of the fleet's assets are in service."

Operational or not, its commanders actively deploy what they have.

Some of its ships took part in the Russia-Georgia war in 2008, others have been used to deliver equipment to Moscow's ally, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, and some have been involved in anti-piracy operations off the coast of Somalia.

The fleet has played an important role in the Ukrainian crisis so far, blockading Ukrainian navy vessels in the port of Sevastopol so that they can't set sail, and scuttling a ship to block the entrance to a Ukrainian naval base further along the Black Sea coast.

Ukrainian military officials also believe the fleet helped bring in extra Russian troops from Sochi after they finished providing security for the winter Olympics there.

One of four fleets operated by Russia, the Black Sea Fleet dwarfs the Ukrainian navy in size and firepower since it inherited around four fifths of the Soviet navy's ships in the region when the USSR collapsed in 1991, with the Ukrainians getting the rest.

Bridgehead
The fleet and its base have given Moscow an important bridgehead in Ukraine since the Soviet collapse with officers from Russia's FSB security service actively working there.

Former pro-Western Ukrainian president Viktor Yushchenko wanted the fleet to leave Sevastopol because he said it was an agent of instability.

Ukrainian critics say Russia has for years used the fleet to wage a propaganda and intelligence war to promote separatist sentiment in Crimea and to counter what it sees as hostile Ukrainian meddling.

The fleet has used its own newspaper, Flag of the Motherland, and its own TV production studio which makes programmes for local channels, to wage that war, they say.

But local residents in Sevastopol, many of whom are related to current or past Russian servicemen, say they cannot imagine the fleet anywhere else.

"Sevastopol was created for the Russian fleet," said Yulia, a 44-year-old housewife, helping pro-Russian activists blockade the Ukrainian navy's headquarters.

"Sevastopol without the fleet would just be a bit of land. The fleet is Sevastopol. Where would the fleet go if not Sevastopol?"

Under an agreement with Ukraine, Russia cannot base more than 25,000 men in Sevastopol and must negotiate with the Ukrainians if it wants to add new ships.

The advent of a Kremlin-controlled Crimea would allow Russia to expand and modernise the fleet as it wished.

"The Ukrainians were dragging their feet in talks about modernising the fleet," said Pavel Felgenhauer, a Moscow-based defence expert. "But if Russia gobbles up Crimea it can do what it wants".

A spokesman for the fleet said he was unable to comment "on anything" at the moment, while officers approached in Sevastopol declined to discuss the fleet's work.

Vladimir Anatolyevich, a retired captain 3rd class who served on the Soviet Union's nuclear submarines and who declined to give his surname, said the fleet would be safer if Crimea became part of Russia.

"Almost everyone in Crimea wants to become part of the Russian Federation," he said. "I just hope Russia doesn't now betray us and reject us."

(Editing by Giles Elgood)


People & Company News

MN100: Conrad Shipyard

The Company: Conrad Shipyard was established in 1948 and is headquartered in Morgan City, Louisiana. The company designs, builds and overhauls tugboats, ferries,

Why Maritime Museums Matter

With today’s focus on digital technology, mobile apps, enhanced reality and the overall digital landscape, the maritime industry often gets overshadowed, leaving some to ask,

Hellenic Petroleum Profits Rise on Higher Exports

Hellenic Petroleum, Greece's biggest oil refiner, posted a 20 percent rise in second-quarter core profit on Thursday, with higher exports offseting lower refining margins.

Navy

Australia Warns DCNS after Security Breach

Australian defence officials warned French naval contractor DCNS to beef up security in Australia, where it is preparing to build a A$50 billion ($38.13 billion) fleet of submarines,

Scorpene Submarine Data Leak: Setback to Indian Navy

India has began multiple investigations to determine the extent of damage caused by the reported massive leak of secret data detailing the combat and stealth capabilities

NOAA Engineers a Better Current Sensor for Mariners

Navigating into seaports is now safer and more efficient for mariners thanks to improved NOAA technology that ships rely on to give them information about currents.

Maritime Security

Australia Warns DCNS after Security Breach

Australian defence officials warned French naval contractor DCNS to beef up security in Australia, where it is preparing to build a A$50 billion ($38.13 billion) fleet of submarines,

Scorpene Submarine Data Leak: Setback to Indian Navy

India has began multiple investigations to determine the extent of damage caused by the reported massive leak of secret data detailing the combat and stealth capabilities

Iran Vessels Make 'High Speed Intercept' of US Ship

Four of Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) vessels "harassed" a U.S. warship on Tuesday near the Strait of Hormuz, a U.S. defense official said, amid

News

Yangzijiang Shipbuilding to Slash 2,000 More Jobs

Chinese shipbuilder Yangzijiang Shipbuilding Holdings Ltd said it plans to cut 2,000 additional jobs, just under 10 percent of its current workforce, stepping up

Hapag-Lloyd: UASC Merger Benefits to show in 2017

German container shipping line Hapag-Lloyd expects to reap a third of targeted annual synergies of $400 million from the planned merger with Arab rival UASC already next year,

Danish Maritime Authority Supports Maritime Cultural Days

The Danish Maritime Authority's buoy tender ’POUL LØWENØRN’ will be alongside in Korsør in connection with the Maritime Cultural Days. The vessel will be open to visitors throughout Saturday,

Eye on the Navy

Australia Warns DCNS after Security Breach

Australian defence officials warned French naval contractor DCNS to beef up security in Australia, where it is preparing to build a A$50 billion ($38.13 billion) fleet of submarines,

Iran Vessels Make 'High Speed Intercept' of US Ship

Four of Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) vessels "harassed" a U.S. warship on Tuesday near the Strait of Hormuz, a U.S. defense official said, amid

Shots Fired: US Navy Ship Warns Iranian Vessel

A U.S. Navy ship fired warning shots after an Iranian fast-attack craft approached two U.S. ships in the northern Gulf on Wednesday, a U.S. Defense official said.

Vessels

Damen Trading Sale hits 500th Vessel

30 years and 500 vessels later, Damen Trading is just getting started. Damen Trading’s story begins in 1986, with Damen Shipyards Group responding to growing market demand for used vessels.

Matson Orders Two ConRo Ships from NASSCO

Matson Navigation Company, Inc., a subsidiary of container shipper Matson, Inc., has signed a contract with U.S. shipbuilder General Dynamics NASSCO to build two

Former HMS Illustrious Sold for Scrap

The former aircraft carrier HMS Illustrious will be recycled after 32 years of service, announced the U.K. Ministry of Defense (MOD) who sold the ship to Turkish

Government Update

Cochin Port Gets a Little 'Breathing Space'

The Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs of India, chaired by the Prime Minister Narendra Modi, has given its approval for waiver of penal interest on Government

Iran Vessels Make 'High Speed Intercept' of US Ship

Four of Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) vessels "harassed" a U.S. warship on Tuesday near the Strait of Hormuz, a U.S. defense official said, amid

El Faro Captain Ordered Crew to Abandon Ship before Sinking

The captain of the doomed El Faro cargo ship sounded an alarm for his crew to abandon the vessel shortly before it sank last fall in a hurricane near the Bahamas, killing all 33 onboard, the U.

 
 
Maritime Careers / Shipboard Positions Maritime Contracts Maritime Security Maritime Standards Navigation Offshore Oil Pod Propulsion Ship Repair Shipbuilding / Vessel Construction Sonar
rss | archive | history | articles | privacy | contributors | top maritime news | about us | copyright | maritime magazines
maritime security news | shipbuilding news | maritime industry | shipping news | maritime reporting | workboats news | ship design | maritime business

Time taken: 0.1737 sec (6 req/sec)