December 5, 2013

”Vladivostok”— to Vladivostok, and “Sevastopol” — to Novorossiysk?

The Independent Analytical Center for Geopolitical Studies “Borysfen Intel” affords ground to the analysts generation for expressing their point of view regarding the political, economic, security, information situation in Ukraine and in the world in general, according to their personal geopolitical studies and analyses.


Note that an authors’ point of view
can disagree with the editor’s one

Beleskov Mykola,
born in 1993,
4th year student of the faculty of “International Relations", Institute of International Relations of Taras Shevchenko National University of Kyiv


”Vladivostok”— to Vladivostok, and “Sevastopol” — to Novorossiysk?
Or the Problem of Rearmament of the Black Sea Fleet in the Ukrainian-Russian relations

“The adoption and implementation of the decision on the relocation of the main base in the Russian Black Sea Fleet most likely will mean real recognition by the Kremlin of Ukraine's unconditional right for a truly independent foreign policy, giving up the plans for limiting the sovereignty of our state”.
(Vladimir Gorbulin, Secretary of the National Security Council of Ukraine in 1996-1999)

“Really, Sevastopol is the city of Russian sailors, and until 2042, we are not going to get out of here. Moreover, we all hope that this date is not final”.
(Alexandr Fedotenkov, Commander of the Black Sea Fleet in 2011-2013)

Instead of preface, or Why Russia is trying to modernize the BSF?

The RF still believes that the Black Sea region is a zone of its personal interests, performing the role of a buffer, the value of which in the future will only grow because of the events in the Middle East, as well as because it is a sort of a point where interests of many influential global and regional players (USA, EU, Turkey) — actual competitors of Russians — cross.

No less important is the role of the Black Sea due to its transit potential. This refers to the prospect of oil supplies from Central Asia and the Caucasus to Europe bypassing the Russian Federation. Moreover, we should take into account the possibility of production of oil and gas on the Black Sea shelf. But trying to be one of the most notable contemporary geopolitical poles and to influence the Black Sea region, the Russians realize that for this they need, in particular, to modernize their Black Sea Fleet. They confirmed it in January this year by the statement about creation by 2015 of a Task Force Unit of Ships of the Russian Navy in the Mediterranean Sea, the Commandment of which will be in Sevastopol. Taking into consideration the events around Syria and presence in the Mediterranean Sea of the US Navy, it is vitally important for the Black Sea Fleet to be prepared to take so-called adequate steps.

The Background of the Question

The Russian Federation announced about the immediate rearmament of its Black Sea Fleet in February of 2010, having scheduled the start of the process for 2015. Already in April 2010, were signed the “famous” Kharkiv agreements on extensions of the Black Sea Fleet's basing in Sevastopol until 2042. And already on June 23 of the same 2010, the then Commander of the Russian Navy Vladimir Vysotskyi said that by 2020 the Black Sea Fleet would receive 15 frigates and non-nuclear submarines (in the ratio 60 to 30). At the time, they spoke about 10 frigates of Project 22350 and 5 submarines of Project 677 “Lada”. To which plans the then Defense Minister of Ukraine M. Yezhel replied that he was ready for a dialogue on rearmament of the BSF.

October 12, 2010 Kaliningrad Shipyard “Yantar” won a closed tender for supplying the Russian Black Sea Fleet by the end of 2014 with 3 frigates of Project 11356. The first ship was supposed to have been built within 2 years 10 months.

Then quite an interesting process began. October 20, 2010, the then Defense Minister of the Russian Federation Anatoly Serdyukov states that Ukraine and Russia would soon sign a normative document, which will determine the order of replacement of equipment, weapons and personnel of the BSF. At the 59th meeting of the Council of CIS Defense Ministers, Ukraine and Russia signed a protocol according to which the Kremlin would inform Ukraine about all changes regarding the equipment and personnel of the BSF in advance. By that time the Russian Federation had stated that, from 2013 and on, the Fleet would be supplemented by one or two frigates. In February 2011, another statement was disclosed that official Kiev and Moscow would sign an agreement on rearmament of the BSF. Finally, in October 2011, the Defense Ministers of Ukraine and Russia (Mikhail Yezhel and Anatolyi Serdyukov) eventually did not sign the announced a year earlier agreement. The main reason was the desire of the Ukrainian side to control the process of rearmament of the BSF.

The question of modernization of the Black Sea Fleet in Russian-Ukrainian relations arises again at the end of August 2012. In the Ukrainian newspaper “Zerkalo Nedeli” (“The Mirror of the Week”), citing sources in the Foreign Ministry of Ukraine, it was reported that the two sides are considering possibilities for solution of a package of issues of bilateral relations on the basis of the “Packet agreement”. The “Packet Agreement” had to deal with the problem of the RF Black Sea Fleet rearmament and demarcation of the Kerch-Yenikalskyi Channel. For Kiev's permission to rearm the Fleet, Russians promised concessions on the channel. In October 2012, during the negotiations of Ministers of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine and Russia Konstantin Gryshchenko and Sergei Lavrov, the questions of rearmament of the BSF and demarcation of the Channel were being discussed simultaneously. The parties were reported to have made significant progress in the development of contractual negotiation base for the BSF rearmament. Russian media (first of all the governmental “Rossiyskaya Gazeta”) wrote that the agreement on the modernization of the Fleet could be signed before the end of 2012. Moreover, it would provide the right for the RF to dislocate new classes of ships, such as the helicopter carriers. However, the promised agreement on modernization of the Black Sea Fleet was not signed in the promised time. True, we should remember of the repealed Viktor Yanukovych's visit to Moscow in December 2012, when a radical change in Ukraine's foreign policy was expected. Perhaps among draft agreements prepared then to be signed, there was an agreement on the modernization of the Black Sea Fleet on favorable for Russia terms.

In February 2013 a new Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu visited Ukraine and again raised the issue of rearmament of the BSF. February 23, 2013 Defense Ministry of the Russian Federation asked the Ukrainian side to interfere into the matter of customs duties regarding the rearmament of the Fleet. As an alternative, the Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov proposed to make an exception for all customs duties of the Ukrainian side, by including them in the social sphere of Sevastopol.

So, the Russians openly offered to ignore Ukrainian legislation. In order, so to speak, to save face in the eyes of the international community, and also not to irritate the Russians, the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry on the 23rd of February, 2013 (!) suddenly declares that the question of rearmament of the BSF is in the initial stage of consideration.

What then was supposed to be signed in 2011, 2012? Was it the “Kharkiv Agreement Number 2”, from which they had taken away the Ukrainian mechanisms for control over the processes of the rearmament? So far there is no answer to this question.

March 29, 2013, during the visit of Minister of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine Leonid Kozhara to Moscow, once again is considered the issue of modernization of the RF Black Sea Fleet. At this time, the Russian side expressed its dissatisfaction with lack of any progress in establishing a regulatory framework for rearmament of the BSF.

At the end of April 2013, the Black Sea Fleet Commander Vice-Admiral Alexandr Fedotenkov reported that the Fleet was ready in 2014 to take frigate “Admiral Grigorovich” of Project 11356. In May 2013 a statement was made by the Commander of the Navy of the Russian Federation Viktor Chirkov, that in the coming years, the Black Sea Fleet would receive 6 new submarines and 6 frigates. But where will they be based? According to the Commander of the Russian Navy, already in 2014 the base in Novorossiysk will be able to base ships.

In May 2013 it was reported that the second helicopter carrier of “Mistral” class named “Sevastopol”, which France is building for the Russian Federation, should in 2017 join the BSF (the first such ship “Vladivostok” will be based in Vladivostok). The place of permanent basing of “Sevastopol” would be Novorossiysk. The ship is intended to be the headquarters of the future RF fleet in the Mediterranean Sea.

In October 2013, the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry expressed its protest due to the actual violation by the Russian Federation of the Agreement of 1997, regarding the basing of the Black Sea Fleet of the Russian Federation. Thus, in the newspaper “Zerkalo Nedeli” (“The Mirror of the Week”) several violations of the 1997 Agreement were reported. In mid-February 2013 the landing ship “Azov” brought on board modified BTR-80 — BTR-82AM. The Russian side confirmed the fact of having brought this armor only in April 2013. At the end of April 2013 in Sevastopol harbor arrived a new generation estuary tug RB-389, as if for repair, although later it was actively involved in the work. In August 2013 there was a scandal about hydrographic vessels HS-103 and HS-402, which had by August 30, 2013 to have left Sevastopol and go to the port of their basing, Novorossiysk.

(As you can see, the traffic on the Black Sea Fleet was observed, and it had to respond to the current legislation of both the countries — Ukraine and Russia. However, there were problems with it).

Behind the screen, or Political and technical issues

After the signing of the Kharkiv Agreements in April 2010, Ukraine and Russia intended within the next 1.5 years to sign another Agreement that would actually complement the previous Agreements about Russian Black Sea Fleet's basing in Sevastopol until 2042. The new Agreement also refered to the conditions and terms of rearmament of the RF BSF. In fact, without this new supplementary Agreement, the Kharkiv Agreements lose for Russia any practical significance, because without the relevant arrangement of modernization and rearmament, by 2042 the Fleet will turn into scrap metal. That is, the statement about a complete “surrender of national interests” by the administration of Viktor Yanukovych when signing the Kharkiv Agreements is not true. The very condition on basing the Black Sea Fleet of Russia in Sevastopol until 2042 with a further increase of the period of its staying in Ukraine, would threaten the national interests of Ukraine only in case of signing the agreement on the modernization of the Black Sea Fleet. Such an Agreement has not been signed.

Actually, in 2010, the Russian Federation was not hurrying to resolve its naval affairs, believing that the Ukrainian leadership, headed by the “insider”, would sign any document Russia needs. However, the Russians probably forgot their own proverb “Strike while the iron is hot”, or they just hoped that the problem would be solved without unnecessary interstate hassle.

Direct analysis of the state of affairs with the rearmament of the BSF can be begun with the fact that the current Kiev almost for the first time had the chance to use in negotiations with Moscow its favorite “weapon”, in other words — tactics. This refers to the following: remember how since the mid 1990s the RF has always tried to use the lack of a clearly developed regulatory basis. The 1997 Agreements did have to be detailed further, at least by twenty international agreements which would regulate all questions of Russian Black Sea Fleet's basing, use of property and land by it. But they were not clearly spelled out, so the RF used it to its advantage. As there was no proper agreement on modernization, Ukraine decided to refer to the fact, reminding from time to time that without it (agreement — auth.) all the Russian Federation's actions would be considered unlawful.

Another “bottleneck” in the 1997 Agreements is the point on the basis of which, modernization of the RF Black Sea Fleet may be carried out according to the “type – for type, class – for class” formula. In fact, it means that the BSF can be rearmed, but not with the newest ships. This problem has been admitted even by Russian experts. But then these are Russia's problems.

For Ukraine, this point is another trump card in negotiations. Thus, Project 11356 frigates (ships “Admiral Grigorovich”, “Admiral Essen” and “Admiral Makarov”) have other TTC (technical and tactical characteristics), and don’t correspond analogues in the RF Black Sea Fleet. Even when compared with the ships of Project 1135 “Ladnyi” and of Project 1135M “Pytlivyi” which most likely will be withdrawn from the Russian Black Sea Fleet not at once, Project 11356 frigates, designed, unlike their predecessors, for fighting submarine boats, will be multipurpose ships. The difference between their qualitative characteristics and those of their predecessors is recognized (only) by Russian specialized publications. That is, without adequate compensation Ukraine should not allow Russia under the guise of improving the quality characteristics of the Black Sea Fleet to perform replacement of ships according to the “type – for type, class - for class” formula.

Interesting is another question — are the Project 11356 frigates, (and this primarily refers to the ship “Admiral Grigorovich”) ready to enter into the Black Sea Fleet in 2014, as was announced by Alexandr Fedotenkov in spring of 2013?

By the way, first this ship was reported to be launched from the stocks in 2012. Then — in July 2013. According to quite realistic forecasts, Project 11356 frigate “Admiral Grigorovich” is unlikely to become operational in the summer of 2014: the Baltic Shipyard in 2013 has just begun to create missile complex “Calibre”, designed for all the three frigates, which should enter the Russian Black Sea Fleet. One needs just to look at the Internet's photo to assess the stage of readiness of the frigates.

Picture of July 2, 2013

Interesting in this respect is some more detail. Thus, first the RF planned to equip the Russian Black Sea Fleet with 10 frigates of Project 22350. Today, they are speaking only about one frigate of this class — “Admiral Kasatonov”. Its building began in 2009, and its launch was planned for 2012. Launching later was postponed to 2013. However, the year is nearly over, but the ship is resting on the stocks.

Interestingly, the Ukrainian enterprise “Zorya-Mashproekt” only in April 2013 finished assembling the engine for this frigate. And again, today the Black Sea Fleet does not have ships of this class. Then it is difficult to explain how the Kremlin is going under the law to fulfill the conditions of the 1997 Agreements.

No less interesting is the situation with the Black Sea Fleet submarines. First, it was envisaged that the Fleet would get boats of Project 677 “Lada”, but in July 2011 it was decided that they would be Project 636 boats. In November 2013 it was reported that the first submarine of this project “Novorossiysk” would be given to the Black Sea Fleet in 2014.

If you generalize the above-mentioned facts, you can conclude that the Russian rearmament program is not being executed. This, in fact, has been acknowledged by the Russian President in July 2013 at the meeting after his having visited Sevastopol. How he explained it - know, perhaps, the participants of that meeting.

It is beneficial to explain the unreadiness of the ships by persistent Ukraine's not wishing to sign an agreement on the modernization of the Fleet. This somehow allows the Russians, as they say to save face. But what about the statement made in October 2012 by Victor Komoyedov (Head of the State Duma and former Commander of the Black Sea Fleet 1998-2002), about Russia's being actually unable to rearm the BSF? It seems to be closer to the truth, if it is not the truth itself.

Now about where the ships will be based, if they finally are launched on the water and their Commanders get order to raise flags. Although Alexandr Fedotenkov did state that Novorossiysk could already take new ships, however, as demonstrated by inspection trip of the Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu to Novorossiysk in May 2013, the new base of the Russian Black Sea Fleet is not ready. Besides, the conditions there are such that the base simply is not able to base these ships. A long-term motionless “lodging” of the ships will make them unfit for further service.

So, without a proper comprehensive agreement on modernization of its BSF, the Kremlin cannot do.

And finally, about what Ukraine will get if an agreement on the modernization of the Russian Black Sea Fleet is signed.

Hopes for concessions on gas price are bleak: in September 2012, Vice-Prime Minister of the RF Arkady Dvorkovich said unequivocally that the only condition to reduce gas prices is Ukraine's participation in the Customs Union. That is, the formula “Fleet in exchange for gas” could still work in 2010, but not now. The only thing Ukrainian side could still hope for, is the improvement of the situation in the bilateral relations, when the same agreement would be reached on the issue of rearmament, or if at least would be found common interests with Russia in certain spheres (MTC, problem of borders in the Kerch Strait, and the like). Also has been voiced the idea of ​​allowing the modernization of the Black Sea Fleet in exchange for an inventory of property and land which are in use of the BSF. This will give the possibility to calculate the actual rent. The idea is interesting enough, but the question is — will the RF fulfill the agreement that does not meet its interests? Ukraine can see the answer by the way the Kremlin keeps its word fulfilling the Budapest Memorandum of 1994 or the 1997 Great Agreement! Actually, the Kremlin 'who has always been staking on power politics, fulfills only those agreements that tilt in its favour, that is those which can be a significant military, political and economic support. All other agreements with Russia, as once Otto von Bismarck noted, are not worth even the paper they are written on. So apparently, the Russian Federation is testing Ukraine's strength and possibly will resort to that option of rearmament, which will put the official Kiev before the fait accompli that the new ships are already placed in Sevastopol.


In the conclusion I would like to raise the issue of the place and importance of Sevastopol as the base of the Russian Navy in the context of the problem of rearmament of the BSF and Ukrainian-Russian relations as a whole, as well as Russia's irrepressible desire to regain a leader's role in the CIS. Thus, after the collapse of the Soviet Union, the new Kremlin leadership chose a course to resume its influence at the former Soviet territories. One such method is the establishment of military bases or dislocation of «peacekeeping» troops at the territory of their former colonies — in some cases this was in the context of intra-state conflicts (Transnistria, Abkhazia and South Ossetia, Armenia, Tajikistan), or on the basis of bilateral agreements on the use of those or other objects of military use (Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan, Belarus). The 1997 Agreement on basing of the Black Sea Fleet in Sevastopol belongs to the second type of such agreements. As the map, printed in the book by Zbigniew Brzezinski, shows, that is exactly how the Kremlin in 1997 came to the classic line of the Russian Empire. That is, we may speak about resumption to some extent of control over the territories of new independent states, and one of the examples of such a control has become the base in Sevastopol.

Location of the Naval Base of the Russian federation in Sevastopol is one of the historical boundaries of the classical Russian Empire. Today's modernization of the Fleet means that Russia intends to continue to stay in the Crimea. As a result, if one of the remote outposts of the empire exists, therefore, de facto exists the empire itself. Agreement on the modernization of the Fleet is an indirect “yes” to all Russia's imperial ambitions. This will be the official Kiev's agreeing with the line of conduct which the Kremlin uses against us. That is, it will be the legitimization of the Kremlin’s policy by those against whom it is directed. Consequently, strange as it might seem, the Black Sea Fleet's modernization addresses the issue of Ukraine's independence, and its agreeing to modernization will be the antithesis of the idea of our statehood. In 1996-1997, this relationship was direct, because without signing an agreement on the Black Sea Fleet's dividing and basing, the Russian Federation refused to sign the “Great Agreement,” by which it legally (de facto recognition, unfortunately, has not happened so far, as Vladimir Putin said, “We are one people”) would have recognized Ukraine as a sovereign and independent state. Today, the connection between basing of the Black Sea Fleet of Russia in Sevastopol and independence of our country is indirect, mediated. But it still exists, which is confirmed by the above mentioned words of Vladimir Gorbulin. Actually, the official Kiev's consent to an agreement on the modernization of the Russian Black Sea Fleet will give V. Putin a certainty that he has been acting correctly.

So now Kiev has to say its word, and it must remember what Bismarck used to say. Because at stake is our statehood.