Ukrainian Navy - March 2014
Protests in Kyiv began on 21 November 2013, following the Government of Ukraine’s announcement that it was suspending preparations to sign an association agreement with the European Union. Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych sacked the head of the armed forces, Col. Gen. Volodymyr Zamana, his press service announced 19 February 2014. The reason for the dismissal was not immediately clear, but Zamana was quoted by the AFP news agency earlier in the month as saying that "no-one has the right to use the armed forces to limit the rights of citizens." Yanukovych appointed Adm. Yuriy Ilyin, previously the head of the Ukrainian navy, as the new chief of the armed forces. Admiral Ilyin remained the Naval commander.
Following the agreement on the Ukrainian crisis settlement reached between head of Ukraine Viktor Yanukovych and the opposition on 21 February 2014, the incumbent government disintegrated.
On 27 February 2014 Admiral Ilyin was hospitalized for a heart attack. According to the existing information, prior to that he talked to Alexey Chalyi, the mayor of Sevastopol elected by the people. Ilyin was going to demand Chalyi's resignation, but did not achieve anything. On March 1, Denis Berezovsky was appointed commander of the Navy of Ukraine and the next day he switched sides to join the autonomy's authorities. After Berezovsky a number of officers "left" Ukraine's Navy, thus, practically paralyzing this branch of the Armed Forces. The reasons for the defection of the Ukrainian naval officers are still to be investigated in detail, but the general situation is pretty clear. Berezovsky was appointed head of Ukraine’s national navy on March 1, after he swore allegiance to the region.
The Crimean government said that some 10 warships from the Ukrainian navy left their naval base in Sevastopol apparently on orders from Kiev. Ukraine’s autonomous region of Crimea claimed that the majority of Ukrainian military units stationed on the Crimean peninsula had expressed their support of Pro-Russian authorities. Reports by Russian media about peaceful takeover of the military units by forces loyal to the Crimean government were denied by the Ukrainian defense ministry.
The Ukrainian Ministry of Defense announced on 05 March 2013 that "The situation in military units, formations and ships of the Ukrainian Armed Forces is stable but still intense. The Ukrainian ships are blocked in Sevastopol and Streletska Bays. During night, they were in combat alert. The units of coastal troops and marines spent night following the same scenario: psychological pressure, attempt of forced capture, different provocations. But all these attempts were prevented and neutralized. The personnel do not take the proposals of ‘high salaries’ and ‘social bonuses’ in exchange of their defection to the ‘new Crimean authorities’; they owe allegiance to Ukraine and the Ukrainian People."
Up to 20 warships and auxiliary vessels of the Ukrainian navy could become part of Russia’s Black Sea Fleet following the reunification of Crimea with Russia, a senior Russian lawmaker said 18 March 2014 after Russian President Vladimir Putin and the leaders of Crimea signed a treaty reunifying Crimea and the city of Sevastopol with Russia. The Russian parliament is expected to ratify the treaty imminently.
According to Adm. (Ret.) Vladimir Komoyedov, chair of the Russian State Duma Committee on Defense, the Ukrainian navy comprised some 40 ships, 20 of which were currently docked at naval bases in Crimea at Sevastopol and Donuzlav Bay. “We can now assume that the ships that remain in Crimea will initially become part of the Crimean self-defense forces and will later join Russia’s Black Sea Fleet,” Komoyedov told RIA Novosti. The Ukrainian ships that could be taken over by Russia include two corvettes, a command ship, several missile boats, minesweepers and the only Ukrainian submarine – the Foxtrot-class Zaporizhia diesel-electric boat, the admiral said. The Russian navy would also gain a developed naval infrastructure on the Crimean peninsula, including the Belbek naval airbase and a network of coastal fortifications, Komoyedov said.
Pro-Russian forces seized three Ukrainian warships in the strategic Black Sea peninsula of Crimea 20 March 2014 as Ukraine said its troops were being threatened in the breakaway region. Gunmen opened fire as the Ukrainian corvette, Khmelnitsky, was seized at the Crimean port of Sevastopol. There were no immediate reports of casualties. Another ship, the Lutsk, was surrounded by pro-Russian forces. Unknown armed men also stormed the Ternopil corvette, forcing Ukrainian servicemen to disembark the ship.
"St. Andrew's flags of the Russian Navy had been raised on 54 out of 67 vessels of the Ukrainian Navy, including eight warships and one submarine," the Russian defense ministry said 22 March 2014. The ships were captured by Sevastopol's "self-defense" forces and not by Russian troops so that it looked like "disgruntled citizens" rather than enemies trying to seize the ship. But there were always Russian special forces among these self-defense groups. Self-defense forces would never have stormed a warship on their own.
First Deputy Chief of the General Staff of the Armed Forces of Ukraine planned to hold talks with the Russian Deputy Defence Minister concerning a mechanism to withdraw Ukrainian military units and equipment from the Crimean peninsula, acting Defence Minister Ihor Teniukh said in the Verkhovna Rada. "We believe that these measures will help preserve the core of the Naval Forces, weapons and military equipment to further enhance the defensibility of the state," Teniukh said. Ukraine’s acting defense minister, Igor Tenyukh, was dismissed - at the second attempt, a few hours later.
The joining of Crimea to Russia was a terrible blow to the Ukrainian Navy, including by one count 12 of 17 major warships and a large number of aircraft of the fleet air arm were seized. About 12,000 of the 15,450 members of the Ukrainian Navy were based in the Crimea, where the most significant equipment was deployed.
"Ships of the Ukrainian Black Sea Fleet - 79 ships, among them 25 warships and support vessels, - stay in Crimea and Sevastopol," Russian Navy Commander Viktor Chirkov said at a joint meeting of the Federation Council's Defense and Security Committee and International Affairs Committee on 01 April 2014. The meeting was dedicated to the denouncement of the Russian-Ukrainian agreements on the Black Sea Fleet. The transfer of these ships to Ukraine is being prepared, he said. "We are conducting an audit of the ships and drawing up transfer schedules. Once the procedures are done, the ships and vessels will be transferred to the Ukrainian Navy consistent with the decision of the Russian defense minister," the Russian Navy commander said.
Russia began the process of transferring the first Ukrainian naval vessel in Crimea back to Ukraine, a source in the Black Sea Fleet Headquarters told RIA Novosti on 11 April 2014. “Two Black Sea tugs have begun taking the missile boat from Karantinnaya Bay in Sevastopol,” the source said, referring to Ukraine’s Priluki missile boat. Once the Priluki leaves the port of Sevastopol, the boat would be towed to neutral waters by a Russian sea-going tug where it will be met by representatives of Ukraine.
Unblocked in Sevastopol, the Ukrainian missile boat "Pryluky" and tanker "Fastiv" relocated to port of Odessa 14 April 2014. The technical condition of ships was satisfactory. This was reported in the press center of command of Naval forces of Ukraine. Missile boat "Pryluky" and tanker "Fastiv " that during the occupation of the Crimea were captured by Russian soldiers, became the first Ukrainian ships, relocated from the peninsula. It was expected that the degaussing ship "Balta" would arrive to the port of Odessa from Sevastopol. The two-sided committee of representatives of defense ministries of Ukraine and Russia continued to work on clarifying a schedule of Ukrainian ships relocation.
Ukrainian ships got possibility to heave out from the Donuzlav Bay in Crimea. Head of the Crimean media center of the Defense Ministry of Ukraine Vladyslav Selezniov told a briefing in Kyiv, a Ukrinform correspondent reported 15 April 2014. “There is information from Novoozerny that Russians partially unblocked the Donuzlav Baly. Today, there are all conditions to withdraw Ukrainian warships, as well as support ships from the Donuzlav Bay,” he said. According to Selezniov, by technical means, large landing ship Ochakov was pushed aside and smaller supply vessels, previously flooded by Russian servicemen, were raised. As Head of the Crimean media center of the Defense Ministry of Ukraine Vladyslav Selezniov said, it comes under earlier agreements with the Russian side.
Seven Ukrainian ships (landing ship Kirovohrad, corvette Vinnytsia, depot ship Zolotonosha and other ships) on Saturday left the Sevastopol Bay and Donuzlav Bay for Odesa, the press service of acting Ukrainian president and Speaker Oleksandr Turchynov reported 19 April 2014. "Today, all ships of the Naval Forces of Ukraine left Sevastopol Bay and Donuzlav Bay, in particular, amphibious assault ship Kirovohrad, corvette Vinnytsia, mother ship Zolotonosha and others," a statement read. The ships headed to Odesa where the Ukrainian Navy base is located. The Fleet of Ukraine newspaper's website reported earlier six Ukrainian naval ships that had earlier been blocked by Russian servicemen left their base in Donuzlav Bay and headed for Odesa. Ukrainian navy sailors had already withdrawn to Odesa from the ports in Crimea tanker Sudak, ship Shostka, command ship Donbas, missile boat Pryluky, tanker Fastiv and the degaussing vessel Balta.
Russia hauled back to Ukraine 13 out of 70 warships and support vessels of the country’s navy that were stationed in Crimea. The Ukrainian ships were being withdrawn from Crimea under agreements between the Russian and Ukrainian militaries. Russian tugboats haul them to neutral waters, where they are transferred to Ukrainian command. Some 60 ships of the Ukrainian Navy still remained in Crimea, including the country’s only remaining submarine Zaporizhzhia, still moored in the Bay of Sevastopol with no tugboats to be seen.
By the end of April 2014 two warships "New Kakhovka " and "Chygyryn " had been already released and gone to Odessa. As many as 13 major warships of the Naval Forces of Ukraine were ready to get out of Sevastopol. However, about a dozen military vehicles were still blocked in the bays and negotiations on their release continued. The exact number of ships to be transferred back to Ukraine had not been finalized. As of 08 May 2014, 33 vessels had been returned.
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