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|Print version. Published on site Rusnet.NL 26 April 2004
The Russian-controlled Black Sea Fleet is based on Ukraine's Crimean peninsula. It is headquartered at Sevastopol, with an additional home port in Odessa.
Russian interest in the Black Sea extends over more than two centuries. Catherine the Great annexed the Crimea in 1783, and subsequently established a Russian naval base at Sevastopol.
In 1833 Russia negotiated the Treaty of Unkiar-Skelessi with the Ottoman Empire. Western statesmen believed mistakenly that the treaty contained a secret clause granting Russia the right to send warships through the Bosporus and Dardanelles straits. As a result, the major European powers intervened and by the London Straits Convention of 1841 affirmed Ottoman control over the straits and forbade any power, including Russia, to send warships through the straits.
Following the traditional Russian policy of resolving the "Eastern Question" by seeking to partition the Ottoman Empire and establish a protectorate over the Orthodox population of the Balkans, Russia fought a successful war with the Ottomans in 1828 and 1829 (see Russo-Turkish wars).
The Crimean War flared up in 1853 as result of long standing economic and political contradictions between England, France, Turkey and Russia. Each of these countries aspired to strengthen its influence on the Middle East and to win markets and new territories.
The Crimean War was one of the most bloody wars of the 19th century. The United Kingdom, France and Turkey formed a united front against Russia. The war was fought in the Baltic and White seas, on the Danube and in the Caucasus, and even on remote Kamchatka. But the main theater of military actions was the Crimea. The Russian Black Sea Fleet ships were sunk in Sevastopol, and the European allies landed in Crimea, laying siege to a well-fortified base at Sevastopol.
After a year's siege the base fell, exposing Russia's inability to defend a major fortification on its own soil. On 18 March 1856 the war ended with the humiliating Treaty of Paris. Russia lost the right to have by the Black sea fleet, to build fortresses and naval bases.
The 1856 Treaty of Paris demilitarised the Black Sea and deprived Russia of southern Bessarabia and a narrow strip of land at the mouth of the Danube River. It was only in 1870 that Russia denounced the treaty clauses barring her from having a naval presence on the Black Sea and began to rebuild a naval presence there.
The Montreaux Convention was signed on 20 July 1936 by Turkey, Great Britain, France, Bulgaria, Romania, Greece, Yugoslavia, Australia and Japan to resolve the issue of warship passage of the Bosphorus and Dardanelles by warships. The conference had been called by Turkey in order to clarify the 1923 Lausanne Treaty. Turkey cannot prevent the international use of the straits because navigation through both the Bosporus and Dardanelles is unrestricted under the 1936 Montreaux convention which provides safe passage for commercial traffic at all times except during the war.
In practice the Convention did not hinder Soviet naval forces from traversing the Bosphorus/Dardenelles into the Mediterranean, nor did it prevent NATO naval contingents from entering the Black Sea.
US Navy ships regularly steamed into the Black Sea, to demonstrate freedom of navigation and exercise the provisions of the Montreaux Convention which govern passage through the Dardanelles and Bosporus Straits. On 13 March 1986, two American warships, the guided missile cruiser USS Yorktown and the destroyer USS Caron cruised through Soviet Crimean territorial waters, provoking a formal protest from the USSR five days later.
At the disintegration of the Soviet Union, estimates of the number of ships counted in the Black Sea Fleet varied widely, from as many as 635 to as few as 300 warships and submarines. The number of Russian personnel associated with the fleet was variously estimated at between 47,000 to 70,000. In 1995, the fleet reportedly had approximately 48,000 naval and marine personnel, 14 submarines, 31 surface ships, 43 patrol and coastal ships, 125 combat aircraft, and 85 helicopters.
The Black Sea Fleet became an object of contention between Russia and Ukraine when the latter republic achieved independence after the dissolution of the Soviet Union. Ukraine, a nation of 52 million people, borders the Black Sea and rents facilities in its port of Sevastopol to the 250-ship Russian Black Sea fleet. Ukrainian naval forces, with about 160 vessels, are based to the south in the port of Donuzlav.
Although Ukraine had no use for a blue-water navy and cannot afford to maintain one, it was reluctant to surrender its share of the fleet, both of whose home ports are in Ukraine, to a larger neighbor with a tradition of domination.
Acrimonious relations over and within the fleet itself were fostered by naval leaders and nationalistic politicians within the legislative branches of the two governments. A long period of wrangling over the allegiances of military personnel and how to divide the ships of the Black Sea Fleet followed.
The presidents of Russia and Ukraine reached agreement in August 1992 under which the fleet and ports would be under joint command of Russia and Ukraine for 3 years. At the Tashkent summit, Russia agreed to cede to Ukraine a certain portion of the former Soviet Union's weapons, units, and sites. Since these weapons fell under the numerical and zone restrictions of the CFE Treaty, Ukraine agreed in its articles of ratification to reduce any excess TLE within 40 months of entry into force.
The 126th Coastal Defence Division, stationed in Simferopol, was once a motorised rifle division belonging to the Ground Forces. During the negotiations for the CFE treaty, the division was transferred to the navy and transformed into a coastal defence division. The CFE treaty does not apply to naval forces, but NATO objected so strongly to the move that the Soviet Union finally agreed to count the weapons in the division against the treaty allowances. In August 1995 it was announced that the division would be disbanded, and the equipment and property of the division turned over to Ukraine.
Partitioning the fleet proved to be too difficult at Tashkent; consequently, the issue was left to bilateral Russian-Ukrainian negotiations. In June 1993, Ukrainian President Leonid Kravchuk and Russian President Boris Yeltsin signed an agreement that essentially split the fleet in half, beginning in September 1993 and reaching completion in 1996.
No sooner had this agreement been announced than it fell apart. Russian naval officers objected to any transfer, and Ukrainian military leaders objected to any loss of territory from the naval bases slated for transfer. The Black Sea Fleet agreement was renegotiated in September 1993 and again in April 1994.
On 25 November 1995 Russia and Ukraine reached an agreement on division of the Black Sea Fleet, under which Ukraine would receive 150 naval installations of the fleet. Another agreement in February 1996 fell apart two months later, when Russian Defence Minister Pavel Grachev stopped the division because of controversy over where the Russian fleet would be based.
After nearly five years of controversy, on 28 May 1997 Moscow and Kiev finally settled their dispute over the Black Sea Fleet, when Prime Ministers Chernomyrdin and Lazarenko signed three intergovernmental agreements. The two sides agreed to divide the fleet's assets and to lease port facilities in Sevastopol to the Russian Navy.
Under the agreement the two nations split the fleet's ships evenly, though Russia agreed to buy back some of the more modern ships with cash. Thus Russia ultimately received four-fifths of the Black Sea Fleet's warships, while Ukraine received about half of the facilities.
The two leaders agreed that Russia would rent three harbours for warships and two airfields for a twenty-year period, for a payment of about $100 million annually. Sevastopol, which had been partly under Russian control, was given to Ukraine. Russia will keep its portion of the former Soviet fleet until 2017 in several bays at Sevastopol, and the Ukrainian navy will also be stationed at a bay there.
Russians leased the Saki shore carrier flight training facility on the Crimean Peninsula prior to the re-deployment of the Kuznetsov to the Northern Fleet. Russia agreed to station no more than 25,000 military personnel at the bases, and that it would place no nuclear weapons at the leased facilities.
A result of the division of the Black Sea Fleet between Ukraine and the Russian Federation, armaments and equipment of the Coastal Defence Forces and Naval Infantry assigned to the Russian Federation were subject to withdrawal from the territory of Ukraine.
As of July 1997 Ukraine was implementing the agreement concerning the division of the Black Sea Fleet, and had taken the allocated fifteen vessels from the Russian fleet. On 24 March 1999, the Ukrainian Rada finally ratified the three intergovernmental agreements signed in May 1997. The Ukrainian Navy consists of 44 fighting ships and 80 auxiliary vessels.
The Ukrainian Navy has about 100 ships off different types. Ukrainian naval bases are: Odessa; Ochakov; Chernomorskoe; Novoozernii and Feodosia. The main base of the Ukrainian Navy is Sevastopol.
When Ukraine demanded the division of the Black Sea Fleet, Russia was forced to begin construction of a new naval base near Novorossiysk, since some 80 to 90 percent of the Black Sea Fleet of the former USSR was deployed in Sevastopol.
In late 1997 a three-day common exercises of Ukrainian and Russian fleets Peace Fairway - 97 took place. The exercise involved 50 ships, 14 planes, 2 helicopters and more than 15 thousand servicemen. The share of Russian staff was about twice that of the Ukrainian one. The exercise did not constitute a beginning of military cooperation between Ukraine and Russia, since Ukraine is a non-aligned and neutral state.
As of 1999 the Russian Black Sea Fleet remained, in spite of cuts, an imposing force with 20,000 servicemen, numerous warships, over 100 armoured vehicles, and aircraft and artillery.
Talks on confidence-building measures between Black Sea states - Turkey, Ukraine, Bulgaria, Romania, Georgia and Russia - were initiated in two separate processes in late 1998.
One is the implementation of confidence-building measures in the Black Sea, which include arms talks, and the other is the establishment of the on-call forces in the spirit of PfP known as Black Sea Force (Blackseafor), involving all countries in the region.
The goal of Blackseafor is to enhance cooperation and inter-operability between the naval forces of member states. Initiatives will include joint port and naval exercises for humanitarian and search and rescue operations, as well as peacekeeping operations for humanitarian purposes such as demining and environmental protection. Blackseafor members will establish the Black Sea Naval Commanders' Committee and a planning group, with the commander of the force changing each year.