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10 September, 2013 14:53   ▪  

The Jamestown Foundation: Sevastopol turns from strategic base for Russian Black Sea Fleet into political

The rationale for saving Sevastopol as a home base for Russian Black Sea Fleet is more political than strategic, says expert Maksym Bugriy

“The Russian Navy has decided to deploy three ships stationed at the base in Sevastopol on Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula to its reestablished Mediterranean flotilla”, writes Maksym Bugriy in his article.

On September 4, Moscow deployed the destroyer Smetliviy. Some Sevastopol-based ships sailed for the Mediterranean via Novorossiysk, Russia, including the radio-electronic intelligence ship Priazovye and the large landing ship Nikolay Filchenkov, which left Sevastopol “urgently” to pick up “special cargo”.

The Jamestown Foundation expert says that irrespective of the fact that “publicly the Russian and Ukrainian governments demonstrate mutual satisfaction with both countries’ navies sharing the Sevastopol base, the Russian BSF’s lease is increasingly marred with disagreements reported in the local media. On August 30, BSF Headquarters received a letter from Ukrainian border authorities demanding that two Russian auxiliary vessels officially request a prolonged stay in Ukraine or leave Sevastopol by the end of the day.”

Moreover, there is an ongoing dispute between Ukraine and Russia over the modernization of the Black Sea Fleet. “Viktor Yanukovych’s administration intends to prevent Russia from acquiring new classes of warships to be stationed at Sevastopol, which would escalate the militarization of the Black Sea region, and he conditions the modernization on Ukrainian defense companies’ participation,” Maksym Bugriy suggests.

He assumes that because of dispute between Ukraine and Russia, the latter will move its new ships to the base in Novorossiysk. “Novorossiysk has some advantages for the Russian Black Sea Fleet that could make it its major home base even if Russia wishes to retain a presence in Sevastopol. Novorossiysk’s primary advantage is its location on Russian soil, which provides Russia with some leverage against Ukraine’s Western leanings, but also reduces Russia’s logistics and supply costs”, - writes an expert of the Jamestown Foundation.

The advantage of Novorossiysk is that ships will be allowed to carry guided missiles armed with nuclear warheads there - which is forbidden at Sevastopol.

“Even though Sevastopol continues to serve as the Russian Black Sea Fleet’s home base, its rationale is largely political—as a means to maintain Russia’s Eurasian posture,” Bugriy claims.

“Presently, the Ukrainian government continues to adhere to the “gas-for-fleet” Kharkiv pact. But Ukraine’s future convergence with the European Union’s Collective Security and Defense Policy could present different options for Ukraine. On the other hand, should Russia wish to enforce its military presence in the Mediterranean, it would likely seek to allocate priority resources to the establishment of bases in this strategically important region, for example by expanding its small base in Tartus, Syria—which would reduce the importance of both Novorossiysk and Sevastopol. However, given the cost issue, Russian expansion into the Mediterranean will probably remain largely opportunistic,” Maksym Bugriy concludes.

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