Tag Archives: Sevastopol

Medvedev Can Wait for His BSF Basing Report

Medvedev and Serdyukov Meeting on 1 May

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.  

Putin Briefed on 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.

BSF Expects Frigates and Subs

To counter recent predictions of the fleet’s demise, a BSF staff source today told RIA Novosti 3-4 frigates and a similar number of diesel-electric submarines would meet the fleet’s needs in the coming five years.  He pointed to the Admiral Gorshkov class frigate at Northern Wharf and proyekt 677 submarine Sevastopol at Admiralty.

The source said:

“In the course of the next five years, new class frigates and diesel-electric submarines will be included in the order-of-battle of the Black Sea Fleet.  The need to replenish the BSF order-of-battle is caused by the decommissioning of obsolete ships of various classes.”

He said new ships would also support the fleet’s full participation in exercises with NATO and Ukraine, and also exercises and long-distance cruises planned by the RF Navy’s command.  He noted that the renewal of the BSF’s ships in no way would contradict the provisions of Russia’s basing agreement in Ukraine.  He called Russia’s plans transparent and a subject for discussion in the sessions of the Russian-Ukrainian BSF sub-commission.

These hopes are basically the same as those expressed back in February when another source said 2 frigates and 3 submarines.

Other media today reported the possibility that Moscow could get a base agreement extension in return for higher rent payments or lower gas prices for Kyiv.

Incredible Disappearing Fleet

Kara-class CG Kerch (713)

The Black Sea Fleet’s predicament is hardly a news story.  The press in recent months has featured stories claiming that the BSF will receive new ships to replace its aging order-of-battle.

But Gzt.ru maintains the BSF is just about rusted through, and its ships will be unable to go to sea by 2015.  A Navy Main Staff source says the average age of BSF ships exceeds 30 years—the practical limit for naval vessels.  He claims the fleet’s sailors keep their ships in good condition, but, since metal has its limits, their hulls are reaching a point where “no one will risk going to sea in such ships.”

The source says the oldest BSF ships—whose service lives have expired and don’t warrant further investment—will be written off.  They include the Kara-class CG Ochakov (707), Tango-class SS Saint Prince Georgiy (B-380), probably Kara-class CG Kerch (713), and various transport and auxiliary ships.  Ochakov is 37 years old, and spent the past 18 years in the repair yard.  The disappearance of the Ochakov and Kerch will leave the BSF with only two major surface combatants—Slava-class CG Moskva (121) and Kashin-class DDG Smetlivyy (810).  And there is apparently a rumor that the Moskva will remain in the Pacific after participating in Vostok-2010 this summer.  The BSF will also be down to a lone submarine, Kilo-class Alrosa (B-871), which reportedly awaits repair after an engineering casualty during a recent training cruise. 

The final decision to write off some ships is driven by a 30 percent cut in the fleet’s maintenance budget [recall Defense Minister Serdyukov saying the repair budget has been cut by 28-30 percent, supposedly in favor of new procurement].  Since February, personnel at the 13th and 91st ship repair plants have been reduced by 2 times, according to Newsru.com.  And the repair plants have practically no work this year.

So they’re not fixing old ships, but neither are new ones in sight . . . the press noted that the BSF didn’t get new units in the 2000s, will get no new ships this year, and the introduction of new ones isn’t planned.

A BSF staff representative told Gzt.ru that several new corvettes of the Steregushchiy type (proyekt 20380) would restore the BSF’s combat potential. The Steregushchiy is in the Baltic Fleet, and a second unit of the class was just launched on 31 March.  This seems too slow to help the BSF, even if any of these ships were destined for Sevastopol.

 A source tells Gzt.ru the basic problem is the lack of production capacity:

“All shipbuilding plants are overflowing with foreign orders for several years ahead, and even if there is money it’s very complicated to arrange additional production for the Russian Navy’s needs since there isn’t the right quantity of milling machinists, lathe operators, and welders.  There’s great productive potential in Ukraine, and we consider that the warming in Russian-Ukrainian relations could lead to realizing a number of projects on Ukrainian building ways, which never worked for the USSR’s Black Sea Fleet.”

Gazeta.ru provided the opinion of Vladimir Yevseyev, who believes, until the BSF gets a new main base, it won’t get any new ships.  He says all the fleet’s problems are connected with its basing.  Most Ukrainian politicians oppose extending Russia’s presence in Sevastopol beyond 2017.  And Moscow has allocated a billion rubles to build a new base at Novorossiysk, but billions of dollars are required to create modern infrastructure there.  Yevseyev doesn’t like Novorossiysk, or Ochamchira:

“But we need to choose, otherwise the fleet could simply be liquidated.  Russia is just simply marking time.”

Svpressa.ru seconds this line of thought, concluding that malicious people say the fleet’s fate has been decided, and Russia’s Crimean base is folding up, and, in order to avoid a furor, its order-of-battle will be liquidated by taking units out of service.

Stirrings in the Black Sea Fleet

IA Rosbalt has conjectured that Black Sea Fleet (BSF) Commander, Vice-Admiral Kletskov, might be replaced.  The outspoken Kletskov would take the hit for BSF officers’ anger over Serdyukov’s reforms.  The article says the BSF’s fundamental problem — illustrated by the 21 November submarine breakdown — is its aging order-of-battle and lack of combat capability.  Between Moscow and Kyiv, it doesn’t look like the BSF will get modernized either.  Serdyukov’s personnel cuts are hitting the BSF hard.  IA Rosbalt cites the 10,000 figure for personnel being cut loose there, and, although he’s not to blame, Kletskov could be the scapegoat for reductions. 

Dissatisfaction with Serdyukov’s reforms flows from the particular circumstances of the BSF.  Specifically, dismissed officers will not be able to privatize their service apartments, i.e. base housing.  Many of these apartments were built through the largesse of Moscow Mayor Luzhkov and his patronage of the fleet, and Moscow won’t allow them to be privatized.  But one also has to suspect the issue goes to whether ex-officers of the Russian BSF will be allowed to become permanent residents of Sevastopol.

IA Rosbalt thinks Vice-Admiral Menyaylo, who directed the amphibious assault of Abkhazia in August 2008, might succeed Kletskov, but no one in the BSF is commenting.  The rumors could just remain rumors.

The article finishes with a note about the BSF’s weakness vis-a-vis the Turkish Navy.  Can and whether Moscow wants to revive the BSF is the question.

On 10 December, ITAR-TASS said the Russian Navy Main Staff has asked the Moscow government to privatize nearly 300 service apartments for dismissed officers in the BSF.  Vice-Admiral Smuglin says 940 BSF officers are being dismissed without housing, 287 of whom want to remain in Crimea.  Smuglin notes that the BSF has 1,900 service apartments, 817 of which were built by the Moscow government.  When dismissed, officers have to leave these apartments and the situation is causing ‘social tension.’  The Moscow and Sevastopol governments are looking at whether these apartments can be transferred from the former to the latter.