Apparently expecting petrodollar-fed budgetary infusions, Russia’s navy expects to reinforce its Black Sea Fleet with new units, beef up its Novorossiysk base on Russian territory, and attempt to cling to the Sevastopol base in Ukraine past the 2017 deadline. Such is the gist of remarks by the commander-in-chief of Russia’s naval forces, Admiral Vladimir Masorin, on an inspection visit to Sevastopol and concurrently by Ministry of Foreign Affairs chief spokesman Mikhail Kamynin in Moscow.
On August 2-3 Masorin introduced the newly appointed commander of Russia’s Black Sea Fleet, Vice-Admiral Alexander Kletskov, to the Fleet’s staff in Sevastopol. (Kletskov’s immediate predecessor, Alexander Tatarinov, has recently been appointed deputy commander-in-chief of Russia’s naval forces). Kletskov started his service in the Baltic Fleet on a minesweeper based in Tallinn in Soviet times, later rising to commander of the Baltiisk base in the Kaliningrad region and ultimately chief of staff of Russia’s Baltic Fleet.
Speaking to the staff and then to journalists, Masorin stated, “I wish to underline that building up the Novorossiysk base does not mean that the [Russian] Fleet would leave Sevastopol.” While a full-fledged naval base on Russian territory is indispensable to the fleet’s development and operations, “not a single Russian ship will leave the Sevastopol main base” until 2017, he stated (Interfax-Ukraine, August 3).
Masorin made clear that ships to be added to Russia’s Black Sea Fleet would be based in Novorossiysk, not Sevastopol. Indeed, Russia can not do otherwise, because the 1997 basing agreements with Ukraine preclude reinforcing the Russian Fleet on Ukraine’s territory. According to Masorin, Ukraine has most recently refused Russian requests to add a submarine to the Sevastopol base (where Russia has one operational sub). In recent years, Russia has unsuccessfully sought Ukrainian consent to adding surface ships and even land-based tactical aviation to the Russian forces in Crimea.
Partly for this reason, the Russian Navy is expanding the Novorossiysk base with a view to adding ships there. However, Masorin contrasted in his statement the limited space and difficult natural conditions in Novorossiysk with the “ideal natural conditions” in Sevastopol’s bays.
Meanwhile, Russia claims a right to “rotate” armaments on its Sevastopol-based ships — that is, replace old weapons systems with newer ones. Masorin repeated this claim during his visit. The Russian side argues that the 1997 basing agreements do not explicitly prohibit equipment rotation. Ukraine insists that the agreements do not authorize modernizing the combat equipment of the Russian fleet.
Both Russia and Ukraine call for full and undeviating observance of the 1997 agreements, but attach different meanings of this phrase in some major respects. Crucially, Ukraine cites the 20-year time limit on the lease, calling for the Russian Fleet’s complete removal from Sevastopol and handover of the base to Ukraine by 2017. Russia, however, hopes to take advantage of a clause that permits the prolongation of that term by mutual consent.
In Moscow, Foreign Ministry spokesman Kamynin implied in a statement that the talks with Ukraine are only about continuing Russian use of Sevastopol, not about planning to move out in 2017. According to the ministry (Itar-Tass, August 2), “The purpose of talks is to ensure necessary conditions for the full-scale operation of the [Russian] Fleet. Russia would only discuss purely practical issues of the Fleet’s operation, not any hypothetical political speculations.” This stricture alludes to Ukrainian proposals to start planning in advance for the termination of the Russian lease in 2017 and relocation of the Fleet to the Russian coast. Moscow, however, would limit the discussion to the Fleet’s “presence and functioning” in Ukraine (prebyvanie i funktionirovanie) — a phrase that recalls almost literally the Russian position during the negotiations with Georgia over Russian military bases in that country. Those negotiations lasted six to seven years (1999-2006) and the actual evacuation of the bases is taking another two years.
Ukraine-Russia negotiations on the Russian Fleet are ongoing in a Subcommission of the bilateral State Commission, which is theoretically chaired by Presidents Vladimir Putin and Viktor Yushchenko, but is dormant. The Subcommission meets periodically but inconclusively, both in plenary formats and in working groups dealing with the Russian Fleet’s claims to land plots and property, competencies of law enforcement bodies (police, counterintelligence) of either side in the basing area, hydrographic equipment, lighthouses, on-shore communications stations, and navigational safety in the Black and Azov Seas. The Ukrainian side seeks restitution of many of those assets that the Russian fleet has appropriated against Ukrainian law or is using in contravention to the 1997 agreements.
The Subcommission is about to hold its sixth plenary meeting in Moscow. Apart from the on-shore property restitution issues, Ukraine urges an immediate start to joint planning for the Russian Fleet’s removal in 2017, taking into account the complexity of this operation. The Ukrainian chief negotiator, First Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Volodymyr Ohryzko, points out that relocating the Russian Fleet’s 14,000-strong personnel and the vast stockpiles of equipment, as well as the handover of property to the Ukrainian side, would require a long time, necessitating a timely start of advance planning. Ukraine seeks to complete the Russian Fleet’s evacuation by the stipulated deadline, when “not a single unit [of the Russian Fleet] should be left on Ukrainian territory.”
The Russian side, however, avoids discussing that issue, biding its time and almost certainly hoping to pressure or cajole a future Ukrainian government into prolongation by mutual consent. Until now, all Ukrainian governments irrespective of political color have been holding firm on this issue.
(Interfax-Ukraine, RIA-Novosti, August 1 – 4; Delo [Kyiv], August 1)