Ukraine lost its last warship in Crimea on March 25, as separatists (or Russian sailors) captured minesweeper Cherkasy. According to the Center for Military and Political Studies, the Russian flag has been raised over 51 Ukrainian ships. Ukrainian navy has 10 ships left, of which only frigate Hetman Sahaidachny and gunboat Skadovsk are warships. The navy’s flagship has relocated to Odesa sea port, joining there a dozen ships of the Sevastopol and Yalta coast guard detachments, while the Kerch detachment has been transferred to Berdiansk.
According to the deputy chief of the Ukrainian Armed Forces’ Command Center Major General Oleksandr Rozmazin, they are currently negotiating the return of the seized ships. It is an open question, though, whether Ukraine will be able to secure the return of the seized ships. Apparently, it will be addressed in international courts. At least, Justice Minister Pavlo Petrenko stated that Ukraine intended to seek compensation for its Crimean property seized by the self-proclaimed authorities of the autonomous republic. “We will raise the issue of compensation for all the damage that was inflicted by actions of this quasi-government with the complicity of the Russian military on both the government and the citizens of Ukraine who had private property in Crimea,” he said.
President of the Ukrainian Defense Technology Association Volodymyr Hrek believes that compensation for damages is the only realistic objective, since Russia is unlikely to return the ships themselves to Ukraine, despite the fact that the fleet is mostly obsolete. Anyway, there are a number of newer ships in it that may interest Russia, such as corvettes Lutsk and Ternopil. “However, Ukrainian ships were blockaded and seized primarily to neutralize them, because it is easier to defend a peninsula connected to the mainland by narrow isthmuses only, when knowing that the threat of landing or assault from the sea is absent,” the expert told The Day. Let us add that Ukrainian ships were thoroughly repaired in shipyards in 2013, as the government provided 170 million hryvnias in funding for that purpose. A dozen warships were repaired then.
Many Russians are rubbing their hands, wondering on this new acquisition’s benefits. Some media say that the fleet has been logically reunited, arguing that once Crimea became Russian, the fleet had to follow. More generally, “Crimea is filled with military infrastructure as a cake with raisin,” but Ukraine did not use it for lack of funds, while Russia will.
Chairman of the Duma defense committee Admiral Vladimir Komoyedov (former commander of the Russian Black Sea Fleet (BSF)) suggested that Ukrainian ships would first formally join the Crimean naval defense forces, and then be inducted in the Russian BSF. Among ships of interest for Russia, he named corvettes Lutsk and Ternopil, reconnaissance ship Slavutych, small antisubmarine ships and missile boats, and sea minesweepers.
Advisor to the Chief of General Staff of the Russian Armed Forces, Admiral Igor Kasatonov (commander of the BSF in 1991-92) said that the Ukrainian fleet had had limited objectives and mediocre prospects. “We are accepting these ships, but it remains to be seen how they will survive navigation and service requirements,” he said. Therefore, the BSF will be strengthened by adding new ships to it. Meanwhile, the number of personnel will be increased only slightly, as the fourth generation of ships that are set to come to Crimea soon do not require large crews. Russian military officials previously advocated adding new ships to the BSF, and negotiated it with the Ukrainian side.
Loss of many ships may be an incentive for the construction of a new Ukrainian navy, Hrek believes. “I think we have to build new multipurpose ships. We should also accelerate construction of the corvettes already laid down on the stocks of the Black Sea shipyard,” president of the Ukrainian Defense Technology Association said. Let us recall that this Mykolaiv shipyard plans to complete work on the corvette Volodymyr the Great in 2015, which was laid down in 2011. The yard won the tender for the construction of a series of corvettes for the Ukrainian navy in 2009. Under the contract, it pledged to build four corvettes of project 58250 by 2021. Leninska Kuznia plant in Kyiv laid down the first armored gunboat Hiurza-M a year ago. Contract with the ministry of defense involves the construction of nine boats by 2017 for the division of river warships, which will be based in Odesa.
In addition to constructing new ships, Ukraine will also have in time to solve the problem with the navy’s basing facilities, including weapons warehouses, housing for crews etc. There is no official position on this issue yet. The media have featured rumors that the Western (Odesa) naval base will be designated as the main base of the Ukrainian navy, but it is not in the interests of the development of the commercial port in Odesa. There has also been talk of the possibility of basing in Mykolaiv.
In any case, the creation of the navy almost from scratch will require significant expenses from the state budget. The loss of ships, tragic as it was, had a silver lining: Ukraine is now able to build a navy that will meet its real needs. It is no secret that when dividing the Soviet legacy, the Ukrainian side was trying to get as many ships as possible, but there was no understanding of what it really needed in a new environment. Some of them have become just a burden on the state. For example, the almost finished cruiser Ukraina is still moored in Mykolaiv, as Ukraine has no need for it, but is unable to sell it either. Recently, the head of Mykolaiv Regional State Administration Mykola Romanchuk proposed to sell the cruiser “as soon as possible.” According to him, there is a buyer for it, and it is not Russia, which previously negotiated the sale, and now is “the most opportune moment to get rid of the ship.”