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Say Hello to Your New Black Sea Fleet

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Bad week for the Ukrainian Navy:

Ukraine’s maritime forces have been dealt a heavy blow by the Russian intervention in Crimea with 12 of its 17 major warships, nearly 40 support vessels, and much of its naval aviation assets now falling under Moscow’s control.

In the eight days following the controversial referendum on 16 March that opened the door for Crimea to be absorbed in the Russian Federation, almost every Ukrainian naval base and ship on the peninsula has been seized by Russian forces or local pro-Moscow self-defence units.

The scale of the crisis facing the Ukrainian navy is apparent from the fact that around 12,000 its 15,450 personnel were based in Crimea when Russia intervened on 27 February. Over the past three weeks, the majority of the Ukrainian military personnel in Crimea have defected to the Russian military or resigned from military service, according announcements by the new pro-Kremlin administration in Crimea. Independent media reports suggest the Ukrainian navy has suffered personnel losses broadly along the lines claimed by the Russians.

In a major blow to its pride, the service’s commander, Admiral Serhiy Hayduk, was arrested by Russian forces when the navy headquarters in Sevastopol was seized on 19 March and unceremoniously dropped off by Russian troops at the new “border” checkpoint with Ukraine at the north of Crimea. Those of the admiral’s sailors who wanted to continue to serve in Kiev’s navy had to make own way in civilian cars or public transport off the peninsula.

In Sevastopol, the Russians seized intact four major warship – the Grisha V-class frigates Ternopil and Lutsk , the Pauk-class corvette/patrol vessels Khmelnytskyi , and the Bambuk-class command ship Slavutych – as well as Ukraine’s only submarine, the Foxtrot-class Zaporizhzhia . Also seized in Sevastopol was the oceangoing tug Korets.

That probably understates the overall loss, which also includes infrastructure, communications, and training equipment. More captures may come, as the Russians continue to blockade Ukrainian ships in Lake Dunuzlov. I can think of two long-run upsides; first, the ships and equipment lost are relatively old, poorly maintained, and largely a drag on the Ukrainian defense budget. Two, Ukrainian military spending needs to be heavily refocused on land and air capabilities in any case, so a rump fleet (based in Odessa) is probably appropriate.

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