I.Kabanenko. Russian militarisation of the Black and Mediterranean seas: possible development scenarios

Articles Kabanenko Ihor

Raising the issue of the militarisation of the Black and Mediterranean seas by Russia, we should look first at the dynamics of the increasing presence of Russian troops in the Crimea.

If you look at the numbers, the naval ship group structure is increased by 19%, aviation – by 39%, land groups – by 42% and this will continue to increase.



Figure 1. Occupied Crimea becomes a military base (marked in red: new military installations).

The further concern is raised due to the Kremlin's attempts to increase significantly the capacity of the ship groups in Crimea by the end of 2015. Plans call for basing two of the newest project 1135.6 frigates, two project 626.6 submarines and two project 21631 missile corvettes (these ships are deleted from plans to deploy them with the Caspian Sea flotilla and are moved to the Crimea). The plans call to increase the number of these ships in the Russian Black Sea Fleet (RBSF) in the years to come to six units of each project.

If we add to the above the coastal missile system Bastion that is already located in Sevastopol, the overall missile salvo of the Black Sea Fleet of the Russian Federation will be almost doubled.


Table. Features of the types of Russian offensive capabilities planned to deploy in Crimea (LRCM - long range cruise missile; ASM – anti-ship missile; SAM – surface-to-air missile; AAG – anti-aircraft gun; ASW – anti-submarine warfare) 

The group specified in the table is capable:

In hybrid format: to conduct covert destabilising actions (sabotage) against a coastal country using naval special operations forces, and/also to limit maritime communications (activities) in a particular sea area for a long time;

In the case of large-scale actions: to fight for the domination in the coastal maritime area within 10-15 days, port’s blockade (isolation) as well as to support amphibious operation (up to three tactical amphibious groups).

Such strengthening of the military potential has not gone unnoticed in NATO. The Supreme Commander of Allied Armed Forces of NATO in Europe, General Philip M. Breedlove, said in this regard: “We are very concerned about the militarisation of Crimea. Capacities that were transferred to Crimea will affect almost all of the Black Sea.”

The principal point in this context is that:

  1. After the occupation, Crimean peninsula gradually turns into a militarised area in the Azov-Black Sea region.
  2. As of today, military and operational capacities of Crimea are overtop. In civil language this means that there are more troops than the peninsula can hold without losing the economic, recreational and other opportunities for its own development.
  3. Military capabilities which were deployed in Crimea after the annexation had mainly offensive (strike) nature and designed for aggressive actions.
  4. Considering the geostrategic position of the peninsula, the extension of Russian military potential in Crimea creates a significant imbalance of military forces in the Azov-Black Sea region that will increase the potential for conflict and the risk of redistribution of spheres of influence. This will have serious geostrategic implications.
  5. The RBSF has the goal to play not only the dominant role in the Azov-Black Sea region, but also be an outpost in the Mediterranean, especially in its eastern part - the zone of Russian interests since the existence of the 5th Naval Operational Squadron of the USSR.

In general, increasing the Russian military capabilities in Crimea shows the Russia’s return to the Mediterranean strategy of the Soviet era, where the Black Sea Fleet of the Soviet Navy was assigned a key role in:

Monitoring the maritime surface, underwater and air situation;

Maintaining naval dominance in important areas of Black Sea;

Permanent presence of Russian naval forces (combat ships and auxiliary vessels) in the operational-critical areas of the Mediterranean and alerting strike aviation in Crimean airfields in different levels of readiness for combat operations;

Keeping part of naval forces in high readiness level to attack NATO ships at sea.




Figure 2. Russian General Staff view on the changes in nature of war

Given the aforementioned, and strategic ambitions that Russia has recently shown with its strategic aviation flights, conducting operational-strategic exercises and increasing ship groups, probably the ongoing militarisation of Crimea will take place, namely, the increase in ship and air strike groups.

Under these circumstances, the question arises: what are the possible scenarios of the situation? In the context of the answer to this question at least two factors are important:

First: The views of the Russian General Staff on the conduct of modern war. The main ones are set out in the article by the Head of the Russian General Staff, General Valeriy Gerasimov “The Value of science in forecasts”, published in the newspaper Military and industrial courier, No. 8 (476) of February 27, 2013. In particular, the article presents the Russian view of new forms and methods of warfare (Figure 2), many of which can be seen in eastern Ukraine;

Second: Problems of survival of Crimea without mainland Ukraine. This dependence is particularly noticeable concerning water, electricity and food supplies.

Third: wave-like nature of the Russian style of hybrid warfare, when intense complex operations (military actions) are followed by systemic low-intensity fighting using special operations forces, small units and non-military assets.

Considering the above, the possible scenarios of the situation involving the assets of the Russian Black Sea Fleet will be related to:

The Kremlin's attempts to get land corridor from Russia to the Crimea by force;

Achievement maritime domination in important Black and Azov seas areas for support land forces` actions.

Under these circumstances, there are at least three possible scenarios:

First (low intensity): continued covert destabilising actions, through informational, economical and other actions as well as special operations in key coastal areas (zones);

Second (medium intensity): expanding the naval presence in important maritime areas (zones) using ships, control areas of exclusive maritime economic zone and continental shelf of Ukraine (seize objects there). Under favourable conditions: ensure the force dominance in the north-western and central parts of the Black Sea and Azov Sea, maintaining the force presence in the eastern Mediterranean by using military force as a key argument in any international issues;

Third (high intensity): use of the major part of effective combat strength of the Russian Black Sea Fleet to assist land forces` offensive attacks in the coastal direction through amphibious operation, the seizure of bridgeheads on the coast, troop fire support, ensuring supremacy in key areas of the sea.

Under these circumstances, the military and political leaders of Ukraine and countries of the region should:

1.       Identify threats at sea and the nature of their evolution at the political-military level. Focusing of the political establishment only on developments on land, without taking into account the dynamics of military preparations in Crimea and at sea, will have significant negative consequences for Ukraine and the countries of the region.

2.       Have the political will and leadership to implement the concept of restoring the Naval Forces of Ukraine, prepared by a group of Ukrainian and foreign experts. The delay in this matter leads to the loss of precious time and the emergence of new threats.

3.       Develop a comprehensive naval strategy that will act nonlinearly and efficiently within different possible scenarios.

4.       Change controversially the approach to procurement of naval armament and military equipment: significantly increase the share of the defence budget in favour of the Navy of Ukraine, make procurement transparent, and focus on high-tech solutions to identify threats at sea at the earliest possible stage and ensure adequate response to them.

5.         Develop Partnership: in Ukraine - public-private partnership in the military and naval industry to ensure an effective response to threats at sea; in the region – military and naval partnership to hold the balance of power and ensure effective deterrent mechanisms.

07.02.2016 20:11:00