Staunton, November 18 – In a move that gives substance to Ukrainian fears that Moscow will close the Sea of Azov to Ukrainian shipping or even launch a new war from there but that also reflects just how stretched the Russian navy is, Moscow is currently moving naval vessels from the Pacific Ocean and the Barents Sea to the Kerch Straits.
Earlier, Ukraine had shifted vessels to the Sea of Azov from its Caspian Flotilla (jamestown.org/program/moscow-shifts-flotilla-from-caspian-to-azov-sea-giving-it-a-new-offensive-capability/), but that was a simple operation which made use of canals between the two relatively close bodies of water.
Now, Moscow is going even further afield in order to expand its military capacity in the Sea of Azov and the Kerch Straits at a time when both sides there are “preparing for serious military clashes,” according to Sergey Ishchenko in a new article on the Svobodnaya pressa portal (svpressa.ru/war21/article/216342/).
The Russian commentator entitles his article “The Sea of Azov: The Scene before Battle” and subtitles it “Our border guards are bringing to the Kerch Straits military vessels even from the Pacific Ocean and the Barents Sea.” But he gives few details, instead attacking Ukraine and what he sees as the alarmist and aggressive tone of its official statements.
Russia already has far more vessels with far greater firepower in this area than does Ukraine. The additions Ishchenko says Moscow is making will only increase that imbalance and add to fears in Kyiv that Russia is preparing to restart its war against Ukraine from that direction (apostrophe.ua/article/society/accidents/2018-11-17/mejdu-ukrainoy-i-rossiey-zagoraetsya-tretiy-ochag-est-opasnost-bolshoy-voynyi/22103).
This latest Russian move, of course, may be intended to spark such fears in Ukraine and force Kyiv to take defensive actions that Moscow and its supporters can be counted on to portray as acts of aggression against which the Russian side will say it has no choice but to respond. But it is a dangerous move that makes a broader conflict more likely.