Staunton, June 5 – Tensions have been heating up on the Sea of Azov between a newly strengthened Russian flotilla and Ukrainian shore installations fearful of a possible Russian attack. (On this, see this author’s jamestown.org/program/moscow-shifts-flotilla-from-caspian-to-azov-sea-giving-it-a-new-offensive-capability/ and ng.ru/cis/2018-06-05/1_7239_kiev.html
Now, in today’s Voyenno-Promyshklenny kuryer, a senior Moscow military analyst Pavel Ivanov has raised the temperature still further. He says that the Russian fleet as of now has “complete rule on the Sea of Azov” and can “support military landings on many places on the [Ukrainian] littoral” (https://vpk-news.ru/articles/42968).
And that includes, he continues, the important ports of Berdyansk and Mariupol.
According to Ivanov, Ukraine is responsible for this situation because in response to the Russian naval presence, it is “strengthening its shore defense in the region of the Sea of Azov” and is talking about shifting additional ships and units into the region to help defend against a possible Russian move.
“It is understandable that Ukrainian infantry and tank drivers hardly will be able to oppose Russian military ships. But such a decision says that Kyiv considers the problem of the Sea of Azov not just as a border conflict. To all appearances, the Ukrainian authorities sea here a weak place” where if conditions deteriorate “Russia can strike.”
Ivanov says that “at present, Ukrainian shipbuilders have built six cutters. Two have been handed over to the fleet; another four are undergoing testing.” In the near term, he continues, Kyiv plans to shift two cutters to the Sea of Azov, likely by train given the difficulties of having them pass through the Kerch Straits.
In addition, he says, “Kyiv may arm several high-speed civilian cutters and ships. Several means are capable of creating definite difficulties and harassing” Russian ship.
“Until recently,” Ivanov says, “Russia did not shift any forces to the Sea of Azov.” Instead, it has relied on FSB and Russian Guard shipping and on naval ships based in Eysk. Those forces, he says, from Moscow’s point of view are “peacekeeping” rather than offensive. Ivanov’s words suggest the Kremlin may have now changed their mission.
That may force it to change its complement of ships. “The Ukrainian cutters have more up-to-date arms,” he says; “on the other hand, the Russian ones are well armored and have good mobility.” Moreover, up to now, he says, “there are no anti-tank rocket complexes on the Ukrainian ships,” implying that those exist on Russian ships on the Sea of Azov.
“By its provocations,” Ivanov says, “Kyiv itself has created a crisis in the Sea of Azov. Its attempt to resolve the problem by means of an increase in military presence in the Sea of Azov is not convincing. Ukrainian forces are quite weak.” They may be able to defend the coastline in some places, but hardly in all, against a superior Russian naval presence.
It is unlikely Moscow is going to send a clearer signal of what it may do next than this – until it begins to shell Ukrainian positions.