July 31, 2016 –
By Eduard Popov for Fort Russ
Translated by J. Arnoldski
The last Sunday in July is Navy Day in Russia. Russia’s current Armed Naval Fleet consist of 4 fleets and one flotilla. This year’s celebration of the navy is taking place against the background of deteriorating relations with NATO and Ukraine, which has yielded a most difficult situation for seamen of the Black Sea and Baltic fleets.
The main base of Russia’s Black Sea fleet in Sevastopol (a unique bay and city on the Crimean Peninsula) finds itself in dangerous proximity to Ukraine, where joint NATO exercises are periodically held. A few years ago, when talking with officers of the large landing ship “Novocherkassk” based in Sevastopol, I heard complaints from officers that Ukraine had prevented the upgrading of ships in the Black Sea fleet. After Sevastopol and Crimea’s return to Russia, the situation changed dramatically.
As the commander of the Black Sea fleet, Admiral Alexander Vitko, stated today, by the end of the year, the ship composition of the Black Sea Fleet will be replenished by three of the newest “Project 11356” frigates. There should be 6 ships already, but Ukraine’s opposition to their construction slowed such progress down. The updating of ships and other military vehicles in Sevastopol and Crimea began in the first weeks after the peninsula joined Russia. Today, Crimea is one of the most modernly equipped bases of Russia’s armed forces. Besides surface and underwater ships, naval air forces, and coastal units, several installations of the latest “Bal” coastal missile systems are also deployed in Crimea. What’s more, “Bastion”, the newest word in coastal defense, was adopted by the armed forces in 2014 and has a missile range of over 600 km. As experts from the fleet’s officers affirmed to me during interviews, the deployment of “Bal’s” and “Bastion’s” renders the presence of NATO ships in the Russian part of the Black Sea largely futile and even fatally dangerous for themselves.
A report by the Main Intelligence Directorate of the Ministry of Defense of Ukraine published on July 29th noted that Russia has established a self-sufficient grouping of forces in Crimea. New combat aircraft, S-400 anti-aircraft systems, “Varshavyanka project” submarines, and small missile ships equipped with “Calibre” missile systems will also all be transferred to the peninsula.
Crimea is rightly called Russia’s “unsinkable aircraft carrier,” and the central role here belongs to Russia’s Black Sea base in Sevastopol. Russia’s Black Sea fleet has become not only a military, but a geopolitical reality on the Eurasian continent.