Admiral Eduard Baltin, former commander of the Black Sea Fleet, sent a letter to the Russian president and proposed to build the main base of the Black Sea fleet near Anapa.
He stated on May 13, “We must start building the base now because we will have to leave Sevastopol anyway.” This day is known in the Navy’s history as the Day of the Black Sea Fleet: 11 Russian warships had moved to the bay located near the village of Akhtiyar (Sevastopol) from the Sea of Azov 222 years ago. They became the core of the Russian Navy. In the meantime, Russia will probably have to part with Sevastopol. Ukrainian Foreign Minister Boris Tarasyuk stated that Kyiv will not extend the rent of the base in the Crimea after 2017. Russian Admiral Baltin probably understood that the problem is very serious, and needs to be solved beforehand. He thinks that Sevastopol has factually lost the status of the main base of the Black Sea Fleet.
Baltin noted, “Russian warships cannot enter or leave the base without Ukraine’s permission.” It’s impossible to transport weapons and ammunition to the naval base without Ukraine’s control. In addition, Ukraine imposes customs duties on all weapons and ammunition.
The admiral said, “We do not control the air or the sea in Sevastopol. The fleet can do nothing. This is a political presence; not military.”
Where should Russia build the new base? Baltin stated in his letter to the president that it’s a mistake to build the main base in Novorossiisk or Tuapse.
The admiral noted, “The base must not be located in Novorossiisk because of bad weather in this region. Tuapse is a resort, which does not have naval infrastructure.” The admiral said that it’s advisable to build the base in the Salt Lakes district. The territory is equipped with railways, power lines and gas mains. The admiral said that the lakes resemble Donuzlav (the former reserve base of the Black Sea fleet in the Crimea). The depth of the lakes is one to two meters. Baltin considers it possible to use so-called Dutch method: to pump out water and silt, deepen the seabed and remove the sand split, which separates the lakes from the sea.
The admiral said, “We would get a great harbor.” He noted that this must be a double purpose project carried out in cooperation with oil companies, the border guard service, the Navy and the Transportation Ministry.
The Kremlin’s reaction to the admiral’s letter is unknown yet. In the meantime, Admiral Vladimir Masorin, former commander of the Black Sea Fleet and incumbent chief of the central Staff of the Navy, has already criticized Baltin. He states that “specialists consider it inadvisable to build the main base of the Black Sea fleet near Anapa.”
Masorin noted that at present it’s a prior task of the Black Sea fleet to fulfill the federal program aimed at creating the base in the Krasnodar region.
He said, “Proceeding from the current situation, our presence in Sevastopol and Novorossiisk looks sufficient.”
Admiral of the Navy Vladimir Kuroyedov, Commander-in-Chief of the Navy, recently stated that two bases of the Black Sea fleet will be created near Novorossiisk by 2017.
The admiral noted, “We want to create a base in Novorossiisk and another base to the south by 2017.”
He noted, “The budget of the first phase is 6 billion roubles.” He stated that “it’s very expensive to build a naval base; one berth costs around 150 million roubles.”
The admiral said that “the government is preparing a federal program for Novorossiisk, which will be funded from the state budget.”
Kuroyedov noted, “This year the Defense Ministry has received 900 million for building the base. We must invest this money in the control systems and the infrastructure – this is a comprehensive plan of development of the Novorossiisk naval base.”
As is known, a small unit of warships, marine units and a naval aviation unit are currently stationed in Novorossiisk. The Black Sea fleet has only two berths at this base. The port of Novorossiisk is not protected with breakwaters, which is why warships have to put out to sea during strong winds. Two ships of the Black Sea Fleet sank near Novorossiisk after a storm in December 2003. However, the Navy and the Defense Ministry probably hope that the situation will improve; the military would build new breakwaters and berths, and the main part of the Black Sea fleet will remain in Sevastopol.
Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov also stated that the base will be built in Novorossiisk.
The minister said, “According to the program of development of the Black Sea coast in the Krasnodar region, we plan to create a base of the Black Sea fleet within several years. Financing of this program will begin in 2005.” He noted that “we do not intend to relocate the main base of the Black Sea fleet from Sevastopol to Novorossiisk”.
He explained that the Novorossiisk base will be built for obsolete warships, which have been withdrawn to the Krasnodar region since 1991.
Ivanov said, “The state currently has strength and funds for building a naval base in Novorossiisk.”
In the meantime, these statements do not answer the question what will happen to the Russian fleet if Ukraine refuses to extend the rent of the base in the Crimea. This is around 400 warships. Where will they be stationed? Won’t the situation with the Black Sea fleet resemble the current situation of the Russian bases in Georgia in ten years?