Military


Black Sea Fleet (BSF)

The Russian-controlled Black Sea Fleet is based on the Crimean peninsula. It is headquartered at Sevastopol', with an additional home port in Odessa. Russian interest in the Black Sea extends over more than two centuries. Catherine the Great annexed the Crimea in 1783, and subsequently established a Russian naval base at Sevastopol. By 2010 the fleet, once a dominant force in the Black Sea and a rival to NATO in the Mediterranean, was outnumbered by Turkey's Black Sea naval forces (although it surpasses the fleets of all the other Black Sea countries combined) which made only sporadic appearances in the Mediterranean.

RIA Novosti military commentator Ilya Kramnik noted that The fleet has two main purposes. The first one is to control the Black Sea basin and ensure the security of Russia's southern borders. Considering the current geopolitical situation and the naval capabilities of the neighboring fleets, this mission could be performed by relatively small groups of light vessels supported by shore-based missile systems and aircraft. But the problem is entirely different if Sevastopol is viewed as a base for the fleet's deployment in the Mediterranean and the Indian Ocean. In this case, the fleet must have deep-sea-going and ocean-going vessels capable of ensuring a naval presence far from Russian shores. Russia does not conceal its interest in the Mediterranean or the Indian Ocean, and its Black Sea Fleet continues to have ocean-going capabilities. This was the role of the Black Sea Fleet in Soviet times.

In 1991, the Black Sea Fleet employed about 100,000 personnel as well as 60,000 service members and consisted of 835 vessels from practically all existing classes, including 28 submarines, two anti-submarine cruisers, six 1st class missile cruisers and large anti-submarine ships, 20 large, 2nd class anti-submarine ships, 2nd class destroyers and patrol ships, about 40 multipurpose patrol ships, 30 small missile ships and launches, about 70 mine-trawlers, 50 troop-carrying ships and launches, and more than 400 naval aircraft. The fleet had two divisions of ships (anti-submarine and troop-carrying), one submarine division, and two aviation divisions (assault and naval missile-carrying aircraft), one division of costal defense ships and dozens of separate brigades, regiments, battalions, divisions, platoons and batteries.

Up to a hundred warships and support vessels entered the world's oceans through the Black Sea straits every year. The fleet had an extensive network of bases from Ismail to Batumi (Ismail, Odessa, Nikolayev, Ochakov, Kiev, Chernomorskoye, Donuzlav, Sevastopol, Feodosia, Kerch, Novorossiisk, Poti, etc.). Its units were deployed in Ukraine, Moldova, Russia, Georgia and the autonomous republics in the North Caucasus. Experts from the International Institute of Strategic Studies estimated that at the beginning of 1992 the value of everything owned by the Black Sea Fleet, including warships, exceeded $80 billion.

By 2010 the Black Sea Fleet had 50 warships and a dozen support vessels. The number of shore-based aircraft and cost guard vessels has also decreased many times over. The Black Sea Fleet previously dominated the Black Sea and competed with NATO allied forces for supremacy in the Mediterranean; now there are fewer vessels in the Black Sea Fleet than in the Turkish Navy. Nevertheless, the Black Sea Fleet is more powerful that the navies of all other Black Sea countries put together, and the fighting power of its main warships would allow it to succeed in a confrontation with a more powerful enemy.

Talks on confidence-building measures between Black Sea states -- Turkey, Ukraine, Bulgaria, Romania, Georgia and Russia -- were initiated in two separate processes in late 1998. One is the implementation of confidence-building measures in the Black Sea, which include arms talks, and the other is the establishment of the on-call forces in the spirit of PfP known as Black Sea Force (Blackseafor), involving all countries in the region. The goal of Blackseafor is to enhance cooperation and inter-operability between the naval forces of member states. Initiatives will include joint port and naval exercises for humanitarian and search and rescue operations, as well as peacekeeping operations for humanitarian purposes such as demining and environmental protection. Blackseafor members will establish the Black Sea Naval Commanders' Committee and a the planning group, with the commander of the force changing each year.

On 30 October 2002, the State Duma ratified the Black Sea Naval Cooperation Task Group (Blackseafor) Agreement. A year and a half earlier the six Black Sea states - Russia, Bulgaria, Georgia, Romania, Turkey and Ukraine - signed the Blackseafor Agreement, which as of now has been ratified by five of its participants and for two navigation seasons has been operating in a temporary use mode (two training cruises took place). The importance of the Blackseafor project is in that a group of states of one basin has devised a fundamentally new model of multinational naval cooperation, and formalized it in an interstate agreement, thus giving this initiative high political status.

Tragic events on the seas, which, unfortunately, are a part of sea navigation, have convincingly shown how far-sighted the Black Sea countries had been by creating the Blackseafor. Of no small importance, again, is the fact that the activities of the Blackseafor will be conducive to improving the naval skills of crews and the qualification of the command echelon, and developing the standards of cooperation between officers in the conditions of a multinational structure of command for a detachment of ships.

The Black Sea, like the Baltic, represented a major shipbuilding and trading region of the former Soviet Union. With the breakup of the old Soviet Union, however, the major port and naval facilities of Sevastopol, Odessa, and Nikolayev passed to the jurisdiction of the newly created nation of Ukraine. To operate their fleet effectively Russia must now lease such facilities from the Ukraine or perhaps build new centers along its eastern shore of the Black Sea. Three major nations now dominate the Black Sea, namely Ukraine, Russia, and Turkey, the latter of which is a member of NATO.

Russia has substanial commitment in the area with its former headquarters at Sevastopol and major construction yards at Nikolayev which produced four Kiev class carriers and the more recent conventional carrier Admiral Kuznetsov. Moreover, the Black Sea has been a research and development ground for numerous ships, aircraft, hydrofoils, hovercraft, wing-in-ground effect platforms, and weapons systems.

While the Black Sea has perhaps the most pleasant climate and conditions in all of Russia, it has possibly the worst strategic location of all the four fleets. The only exit from the Black Sea is through the 180 mile long Turkish-controlled Turkish Straits. The straits are composed, from NE to SW, of the Bosporus, the Sea of Marmara and the Dardanelles. In the Bosporus, at the northern end of the straits, ships must navigate a passage that narrows to as little as 800 yards before the Sea of Marmara is reached. After the Sea of Marmara, ships transit the final 40 miles of the straits, the Dardanelles, which are from one to four miles wide.

In addition to the great geographic restrictions on transit, there are legal restrictions as well. Under the 1936 Montreux Convention, Turkey must be notified eight days before a transit through the straits. Aircraft carriers are not allowed to transit and submarines must transit the straits on the surface. Such a restriction, however, did not prevent illegal transit of the first Kiev carrier in 1976.

Once through the straits, ships must pass through the Aegean Sea. It is dotted with approximately 2500 small islands and is controlled/patrolled by the Greek and Turkish Navies, which are equipped with specially designed ships and boats to operate in such areas at great speeds. Sovereignty over the islands is one of the causes of on-going tensions between the Greeks and Turks. Further, one should note that both states are members of NATO.

Black Sea Fleet access to the open waters of the Atlantic from the eastern Mediterranean and Aegean Sea is dependent upon transiting westerly through two more choke points, the Strait of Sicily and the Strait of Gibraltar. The Strait of Gibraltar is about 35 miles long and 8 miles wide at its narrowest point. Because of restricted Black Sea access and the importance of the Mediterranean as a theatre of operations, the former Soviet Union maintained a number of ports-of-call and anchorages in the Mediterranean, most significantly off the coasts of Egypt, Libya, and Tunisia. Today, however, Russian presence in the region is severly limited due to internal economic constraints.

To the south, access to and egress from the Mediterranean are via the Suez Canal (controlled by Port Said), the Red Sea, and past the Bab el Mandeb Strait.

Russia's Black Sea Fleet uses a range of naval facilities in Ukraine's Crimea, including the main base in Sevastopol, as part of the 1997 agreement, under which Ukraine agreed to lease the bases to Russia until 2017. According to bilateral agreements, the Russian Navy may deploy up to 25,000 personnel and up to 100 combat and support vessels at naval facilities in Ukraine. If Russia decided to rotate its naval assets within the agreed limits, Russia must inform Kiev about this decision, but did not have to wait for Ukraine's permission.

Tensions between Russia and Ukraine heightened after several Black Sea Fleet warships dropped anchor off the Georgian coast during and after the August 2008 armed conflict with Tbilisi over breakaway South Ossetia. Ukraine, which sided with Georgia during the conflict, repeatedly said that Russian combat ships frequently transport undeclared cargo and refuse to submit customs declarations while crossing Ukrainian territorial waters.

Ukrainian president Viktor Yushchenko announced that Ukraine would not extend the lease of the Sevastopol base beyond 2017, and urged the Russian fleet to start preparations for a withdrawal. Although the agreement for Russia's use of the base includes a possible extension of the lease, with Moscow repeatedly saying it wants to negotiate on the issue, Ukraine reiterated in October that it would not permit an extension of Russia's naval presence in the country after 2017.

The Ukrainian and Russian parliaments on 27 April 2010 ratified a deal to extend the lease on a Russian naval base in the Ukrainian port of Sevastopol for 25 years after the current lease expires in 2017. In return, Ukraine will receive a 30% discount on Russian natural gas. Ratification of the deal in the Ukrainian parliament took place amid violent protests by the opposition, which has called the deal is an "act of treason." Former Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko, who now heads the nationalist Our Ukraine party, criticized the new government for "trading sovereignty for gas." "What happened in the Supreme Rada is a military usurpation; I am convinced that this is not the end," he said at a media briefing. Former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko called on citizens to rise against the current leadership.

By 2010 the situation was particularly acute for the Black Sea Fleet. It mainly comprised frigates and anti-submarine warfare (ASW) ships dating back to the 1970s. The service life of the fleet's flagship, the Moskva guided-missile cruiser, can certainly be extended thanks to its considerable modernization potential. Although built in the early 1980s, there was every chance the vessel will be redeployed away from Sevastopol, to the Pacific theater. The Black Sea Fleet was expected to become one of Russia's most active fleets, projecting its naval power out into the Mediterranean Sea and across the Indian Ocean. Given these circumstances, the immediate renovation of the Black Sea Fleet was no longer merely desirable, it was essential.

The Black Sea Fleet had become Russia's most obsolete because the majority of its capital warships were launched in the 1970s. Although the Moskva cruiser, the Kerch anti-submarine warfare ship, as well as the Ladny (Well-Built), Pytlivy (Inquisitive) and Smetlivy (Keen) escort ships, have a long and glorious service record, they should now be replaced. The Moskva is the only ship on this list that can continue to serve beyond 2020 after a major overhaul. The Black Sea Fleet's main elements, except the Moskva cruiser, were well suited for anti-submarine warfare (ASW) missions, but had a rather modest strike potential and relatively weak air defense systems.

Admiral Vladimir Vysotsky, Commander of the Russian Navy, said in October 2010 that the Black Sea Fleet was to receive five new frigates by 2015. This will make it possible to replace all operational frigates that have outlived their service life, in addition to the Kerch ASW ship. Russia's Black Sea Fleet will be reinforced with 15 new combat ships and diesel-electric submarines by 2020, the commander of the Russian Navy said . "We are planning to build 15 frigates and diesel-electric submarines for the Black Sea Fleet by 2020," Admiral Vladimir Vysotsky said 23 June 2010.

More than 30 warships and support vessels formerly in the Ukrainian navy could enter into Russia's Black Sea Fleet by the end of the year, but only after they pass inspections, a source in the fleet's headquarters said 27 March 2014. 'Ships that were sailing previously under the Ukrainian flag will not be automatically included in the [Russian] Black Sea Fleet until they have undergone a technical evaluation and we can decide which ships will enter the fleet, and which ones will be scrapped,' the source said. He added the ships' condition would be evaluated by specialists from the Russian navy and shipyards of the Black Sea Fleet. 'This process could take some time, but we hope that it will be completed by the end of the year,' the source said, adding the ships currently closest to being combat-ready include three corvettes, two amphibious assault ships and a command ship. The source expressed doubts about the readiness of several vessels anchored in Sevastopol's Streletskaya Bay, including mine sweepers and missile boats. 'These ships didn't go to sea much so we have a few questions [about their readiness],' he said.

The Foreign Ministry of Ukraine said 28 March 2014 that Russia's denunciation of the Russian-Ukrainian agreements on the presence of the Russian Black Sea Fleet in Crimea will mean that the latter is staying in Crimea illegally. "If the Russian side denounces these agreements, the Russian fleet's presence in Crimea will violate the law," Ukraine's Foreign Ministry's spokesman Yevhen Perebyinis said a briefing on Friday. He said that after such step "Russia should think about the withdrawal of the Russian Black Sea Fleet."

Russia began preparations for terminating bilateral agreements with Ukraine related to the status and operation of the Black Sea Fleet. The decision was made at a meeting of the country's Security Council chaired by President Vladimir Putin. According to spokesman Dmitry Peskov, the measures to be scrapped include a 1997 agreement on the conditions of the fleet's stay in Crimea, which was extended by 25 years in a 2010 deal by Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych. In exchange, Ukraine received a discount of $100 on each 1,000 cubic meters of natural gas imported from Russia, which was provided for by cutting export duties on the gas, money that would have gone into the Russian state budget.




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