Whatever the complaints of some Ukrainians, the 21 April deal extending Russia’s basing privileges in Sevastopol is a good deal for Kyiv. It’s now using the relatively meaningless Russian Black Sea Fleet (BSF) presence to secure a valuable 30 percent discount on Russian natural gas supplies.
Moreover, in one suited for the ‘be careful what you wish for’ file, Moscow is also left holding the bag when it comes to the economy and infrastructure of Sevastopol, and much of Crimea as well, instead of Kyiv having to worry about assuming responsibility in a few short years.
On 1 May, President Medvedev ordered Defense Minister Serdyukov to prepare a plan for developing the BSF’s naval base in Sevastopol, and to conclude an agreement with Ukraine on its social infrastructure. According to Kremlin.ru, Medvedev said:
“. . . today I want to touch on an issue with you which has taken on particular acuteness for our country in recent times.”
“We need to think about the social arrangements for this base, that is very important to us, so that our sailors live in modern, full-fledged human conditions, have the chance for recreation and other opportunities a base is supposed to provide.”
“So we’re agreed that our base will conclude a corresponding agreement with the Ukrainian side, with Sevastopol. In accordance with this agreement, special support, social-economic support will be rendered to a series of Sevastopol city programs.”
“This city is really not foreign to us and we need to think in what way to participate in these programs both along Defense Ministry lines and along the lines of other executive organs and business structures. That’s the task.”
Medvedev said Serdyukov should present his plan for approval in a month, and the latter responded that he would.
Curiously, on 7 May, General Staff Chief Nikolay Makarov told RIA Novosti:
“A working group’s been created which will evaluate the real condition of the basing point in Sevastopol and make its proposals. I think this will take not less than two months.”
“Practically nothing’s been invested there in recent years.”
One wonders, would Makarov have unilaterally announced that Putin, when he was president, would have to wait an extra month or longer for the plan he ordered?
Makarov said the Genshtab has no plans to freeze development of other basing points:
“The fleet has to be. The more basing points, the better. And Novorossiysk is one of the key basing points. And we intend to develop it.”
Without elaboration, he said the Defense Ministry has modernization plans for the fleet’s ships, submarines, and aircraft to 2020. Makarov was with Prime Minister Putin visiting the construction work at Novorossiysk.
On 24 April, Anatoliy Tsyganok told RIA Novosti conditions at Novorossiysk are not particularly well suited for major base. He noted it’s only 25 percent complete, and its price tag is continuously rising.
Nevertheless, Putin reaffirmed Moscow’s commitment to Novorossiysk. He acknowledged only 13 billions rubles have been spent, and he’s looking at an ultimate cost of 92 billion. The base is slated for completion by 2020.
But Moscow, Medvedev, and Putin may need to worry more about new ships and submarines than about infrastructure when it comes to the BSF.
On 2 May, Anatoliy Baranov in Forum.msk pointed out that there’s practically no fleet there; a minimum of 2 more first rank ships and a submarine are needed for an adequate order-of-battle. He says the social infrastructure’s not so bad, but 40- and 50-year-old civilian engineers and technicians have to go out with fleet units to conduct training. What will the Navy do when they retire?
Rosbalt.ru described a wave of new officer and civilian dismissals in the BSF, which occurred simultaneously with the new agreement with Kyiv. The fleet, it says, is nothing more than a mixed force division’s worth of units and personnel. Viktor Yadukha concludes:
“NATO’s gracious reaction to the BSF lease extension didn’t surprise politicians more. But if Western special services knew about real plans for its reinforcement, the reaction would have been very severe.”
Lastly, in today’s Nezavisimaya gazeta, Aleksandr Khramchikhin says:
“. . . renting empty piers for a great amount of money is not a mistake, but thoughtless, considering how many ships and how well-outfitted a base in Novorossiysk this money could build.”
He calls today’s BSF a unique collection of floating antiques. Even if the oldest units were dropped, most BSF ships would still be 20- to 25-years-old. It will be impossible to avoid sending ships from the 1960s and 1970s off for scrap soon, as has been officially acknowledged. Khramchikhin recommends placing what’s left at Novorossiysk as a ‘water area security’ (OVR or ОВР) brigade.