ANALYSIS-Russia's Black Sea Navy Is Burden For Ukraine

SEVASTOPOL, Ukraine -- Russia's Black Sea fleet might not carry much weight in strict military terms but its presence in the port of Sevastopol will burden Ukraine's future for generations to come, critics of the move say.

Russia’s coat of arms, the double headed eagle, is seen on covers of the missile cruiser Moskva in the Ukrainian Black Sea port of Sevastopol.

Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich argues his country will save billions of dollars from the trade-off involving the extension of the fleet's lease to 2042 in exchange for cheaper gas, vital for the economy.

But his critics, who see the Russian navy's presence as an affront to Ukrainian independence, say Yanukovich has made a fatal error for the nation and handed the political opposition a stick with which to beat him for the rest of his time in power.

The issue sparked riots in parliament and former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko, around whom the opposition has marshalled forces, is promising street demonstrations in the capital Kiev on Tuesday.

The problem touches on the wider issue of Ukraine's often muddled sense of national identity since independence in 1991 and the dangers, as some critics see it, of allowing a too-close relationship with its old Soviet master.

Apart from arousing the indignation of Yanukovich's opponents who represent the Ukrainian-speaking regions of the west and the centre, down in Sevastopol and other parts of Crimea the issue has only hardened pro-Russian sentiment.

In Victory Day celebrations on Sunday, people spoke unashamedly of Sevastopol -- founded by Russia in the 18th century but gifted by Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev to then Soviet Ukraine in the 1950s -- being Russian.

"Sevastopol is frankly speaking a Russian city. Perhaps at one time it seemed that Russia had dumped us, but now I am really pleased we are getting closer," said Marina, 39, a manager of a private company.

People who have visited Crimea regularly over the years say that feeling is now voiced more and more openly by local people.

Many are simply proud of their city's history and traditions, but critics say the presence of the fleet, and of the many Russian navy servicemen who have settled in Sevastopol after retirement, has confused national allegiances.

The Dzerkalo Tyzhdnya weekly said in a critical editorial that Russian intelligence agents operating from the fleet had often whipped up sentiment in rallies against NATO and American ship visits.

"Sevastopol is the pass key for the extension of Russian political and economic interests in Crimea and Ukraine in general," it wrote.

"For another third of a century we will have on our territory the military base of a state whose highest leadership and whose population regard the existence of independent, sovereign Ukraine as a historical misunderstanding," it said.

"RUSTY TIN-CANS"

Most people, critics and supporters alike, agree that the fleet, which Ukrainian defence expert Serhiy Zhurets described as a collection of "rusty tin-cans", has no real strategic significance, and by geography, its range of activity is limited.

There are only three powerful fighting ships -- the rocket cruiser Moskva, a patrol ship Smetlivy and a big anti-submarine vessel, Kerch.

Its only submarine has been at Russia's Novorossiisk naval yard for repairs for some time and other ships have been a long time in dock, their sea worthiness questionable. Its oldest vessel, the rescue ship Kommuna, entered into service in 1915, two years before the Bolshevik Revolution.

But Russia did deploy the Moskva to blockade the Georgian port of Poti in its brief war against Georgia in August 2008 to the embarrassment of the then pro-Western Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko.

Many critics of the Kharkiv accords of April 21, at which Yanukovich agreed the gas-for-fleet deal with Kremlin leader Dmitry Medvedev, see a danger of Ukraine being dragged into Russia's conflicts in the future.

"Russia is at war in the Caucasus and any military man will tell you that when you want to destroy an enemy you go after his base first. If that base is in Sevastopol then that blow will be delivered here," said Bohdan Moroz of the Congress of Ukrainians of Sevastopol, a local non-governmental organisation.

"Since the first day of Ukraine's independence, the presence of the Russian Black Sea fleet has been not only an instrument of influence in Crimea but on the internal situation in Ukraine as a whole. It goes without saying that Russia cannot let a serious level of influence over our country go," said the Dzerkalo Tyzhdnya editorial.

Defence experts calculate it would have cost Russia several billion dollars to expand the Novorossiisk base, 330 km (205 miles) down the coast, to re-house the Black Sea fleet there.

But even an ardent supporter of the fleet's presence would admit the issue is not about money but the psychological shock for Russia.

"Sevastopol for Russians is a sacred concept. It is a Russian city. It's their 'cherry orchard'," said Dzerkalo Tyzhden, referring to the treasured family orchard that is chopped down at the end of Anton Chekhov's play.

Defence expert Zhurets says the simple extension of the lease has done nothing to solve a myriad of property rights problems stemming from the Black Sea fleet's presence which ensuing generations will now have to confront.

These relate to lighthouses, Russian military camps on land, ownership of quaysides and much other infrastructure.

Critics point to the loss of real estate which could be developed for tourism in one of Europe's gentlest summer climates.

And there may be delicate negotiations ahead when Russia makes the move to modernise its fleet and bring in new vessels, as each one will have to be subject to a separate agreement.

"These sore points were not solved and the rushed attempt to wipe the slate clean at Kharkiv has absolutely failed to cut through any of them," said Zhurets.

Source: FOREXyard

Comments

Display Name said…
I get really tired of reading mindless paranoia from some of the "so-called" media in Ukraine. It's sad such stupid things are said (and reported on) because the quality of debate will never improve.
If Ukraine's sovernty was threatened by the Crimean Navy fleet then so would Austrlia's peace be threatened by American intelligence forces in Northern Territory, Philippine Sovereignty by Americas Forces in it's lands and Japanese Sovereignty by American forces there.
It's just such a silly argument created by people who have nothing better to do than hate. Once they get over their hysteria Ukraine will have a chance to grow and prospecr. Until then the infighting will keep her in poverty.