Russian Defense Arrangements in Crimea
Dmitry Boltenkov, Maksim Shepovalenko
On March 16, 2014 the Republic of Crimea held a referendum on the future of the peninsula. An overwhelming majority of its people voted for reunification with Russia.
On March 18, 2014, at a special ceremony held in the Kremlin, Russian President Vladimir Putin signed the agreement on the accession of the Republic of Crimea and the city of Sevastopol to the Russian Federation. The Republic of Crimea and the federal city of Sevastopol are now part of Russia’s eighth (Crimean) federal district, which was established on March 21, 2014 by a presidential decree. The new members of the Russian Federation now had to be integrated into the country’s defense system. The newly established federal district was made part of the Southern Military District (Southern Joint Strategic Command). 1
On April 2, 2014 President Putin signed a new federal law “On the Discontinuation of the Agreements Concerning the Russian Black Sea Fleet’s Sojourn on Ukrainian Territory”. That piece of legislation formally lifted any remaining obstacles to the development and renovation of the fleet that were imposed by the May 28, 1997 Partition Treaty with Ukraine on the divided of the Soviet Black Sea Fleet, the Russian Black Sea Fleet’s stationing on Ukrainian territory, and the related mutual payments, as well as the April 21, 2010 agreement with Ukraine on extending the Black Sea Fleet’s lease of its bases in Ukraine for another 25 years after 2017.2
Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoygu paid a visit to Crimea on March 24, 2014. He inspected several of the Black Sea Fleet’s facilities and barracks, met those of the commanders of former Ukrainian military units in Crimea who had expressed their wish to serve in the Russian armed forces, and discussed the work of the fleet’s social infrastructure with the Crimean and Sevastopol authorities.3 In essence, this was a reconnaissance trip by the minister before making important decisions on how to provide security for the new Russian provinces.
Upon the minister’s return to Moscow the General Staff of the Russian Armed Forces began to draw up the MoD’s Action Plan through 2020 on the provision of security in Crimea. The draft was due to be discussed at an extraordinary MoD meeting on April 4, 2014.4 During a teleconference meeting at the National Defense Command Center, the minister of defense discussed “the stationing and development of Russian troops on the Crimean Peninsula” with Defense Ministry and Southern Military District officials, and set out key priorities.5
In May 2014 the commander of the Russian Navy, Adm. Viktor Chirkov, outlined the contours of the future system of the Black Sea Fleet’s stationing in Crimea. “The Black Sea Fleet will have a proper base infrastructure on the Crimean peninsula,” the admiral said. “It will include the main Black Sea Fleet base in Sebastopol and other bases and stations. These bases and infrastructure will be self-sufficient. In other words, they will have everything required for a convenient stationing of ships, submarines, and coastal defense troops, along with all the attendant social infrastructure facilities,” Chirkov said.6
The top issue on the agenda was the future of the military units and servicemen of the Ukrainian Armed Forces stationed on the peninsula. As of March 2014, there were about 200 units of the Ukrainian MoD and other uniformed agencies in Crimea, with approximately 18,800 servicemen (including 11,900 in the Ukrainian Navy, 2,900 in the Ukrainian Air Force, and 4,000 in other branches of the Ukrainian uniformed agencies).
Ukrainian servicemen were asked to choose between three options:
Swear allegiance to Russia and join the Russian Armed Forces. In accordance with a special Russian federal law, these servicemen would retain their military rank, their military education diplomas would be recognized, and they would have the full rights of Russian military servicemen.
Retire from the armed forces but continue to live in Crimea.
Return to mainland Ukraine and continue service with the Ukrainian Armed Forces.
A total of about 3,000 people chose the third option.7 All the Ukrainian servicemen who remained loyal to Kiev had left Crimea by the end of March. More than 900 Crimean conscripts, cadets, and soldiers serving under contract in the Ukrainian Armed Forces were discharged and returned to Crimea from mainland Ukraine.8 Russia also begin to hand back to Ukraine the weapons and hardware of the Ukrainian military units that were stationed in Crimea.9
According to various estimates, 70-80 per cent of the Ukrainian military servicemen who were stationed in Crimea have chosen the first option, i.e. joining the Russian Armed Forces. Approximately 9,000 of them have become servicemen of the Russian Black Sea Fleet.10
In accordance with Resolution No 115 issued on March 21, 2014 by the commander of the Southern Military District, the Ukrainian naval forces stationed in Crimea ceased to exist and were incorporated into the Russian Black Sea Fleet. That incorporation was completed in two phases. During the first phase, which lasted until March 30, Russian military command bodies took ownership of the Ukrainian Navy’s units and facilities stationed in Crimea, and took stock of those assets before deciding what to do with them. The former Ukrainian military units were incorporated into the fleet as they were, without any changes to their organizational and personnel tables. During the second phase, which lasted from March 31 until July 1, the organizational and personnel structure of the Black Sea Fleet was optimized (by setting up new structures and using new assets that formerly belonged to the Ukrainian Navy) in accordance with the nature and scale of the tasks and objectives set before the fleet.11 The Black Sea Fleet also set up the new Incorporation and Inventory Department to deal with the incorporation of former Ukrainian Navy units into the fleet.12
The top Russian leadership decided that all the military hardware of the former Ukrainian units in Crimea should be returned to Ukraine. In April Russia returned almost all armored vehicles, but on April 15 the handover of weaponry to the Ukrainian Army was suspended because of the civil war that had broken out in southeastern Ukraine.13 The handover of aircraft and ships continued until June 17, where upon Ukraine unilaterally suspended that process.14 By that time Russia had already returned 43 out of the Ukrainian Navy’s 72 ships formerly stationed in Crimea, and most of the aircraft. The rest of the assets remained in Crimea.
Crimea’s reunification with Russia presented the Russian MoD with a whole set of unusual challenges:
To incorporate former Ukrainian units in Crimea into the Russian Armed Forces, arm them with modern weaponry, and raise the level of their combat readiness to meet modern Russian standards;
To review the previous Black Sea Fleet development plans through 2020; those plans centered on building new base infrastructure in Krasnodar Krai and stationing the newly-built ships and submarines in Novorossiysk.
To deploy a proper combined-services force in Crimea.
To add the Ukrainian army’s Soviet-era infrastructure in Crimea to the Russian MoD’s balance books and decide what to do with it next.
Creation of new military formations and incorporation of former Ukrainian units
The following new units and formations have been created in Crimea since July 1, 2014. (There are also plans for additional units to be set up.)
The former Southern Naval Base of the Ukrainian Navy in the Novoozernyy village (Lake Donuzlav), which was known as the Crimean Naval Base of the Black Sea Fleet up until 1996, has been restored to its former status.15 The Black Sea Fleet has yet to announce which of its ships will be stationed there.16 One possible candidate is a unit consisting of new Project 22160 patrol ships that are now being built (Vasiliy Bykov class, with up to six ships to be built).
In 2015-2017 the Black Sea Fleet is scheduled to take delivery of six Project 11356R frigates (Admiral Grigorovich class) that are now being built. Once that happens, the fleet will set up a new anti-submarine ships brigade (it will probably be designated as the 21st Brigade).17 That new brigade and the existing 11th Anti-Submarine Ships Brigade will be sub-units of the 30th Surface Ships Division, which was previously disbanded but will be resurrected in 2015.18
Following the launch of deliveries of new Project 06363 (Improved Kilo class) submarines in late 2014, the submarine detachment (division) that is now part of the 68th Coastal Waters Protection Ships Brigade in Sevastopol will become an independent 155th Submarine Brigade with based in Novorossiysk.
The Black Sea Fleet’s Coastal defense troops have been substantially augmented through the incorporation of former Ukrainian Navy units and the creation of new units.
For example, the former 36th Coastal Defense Brigade of the Ukrainian Navy has become the 128th Coastal Defense Brigade of the Russian Black Sea Fleet. It remains stationed in Perevalnoye, near Simferopol.19 Manpower and assets of the Ukrainian Navy’s 1st and 501st Independent Marine Battalions have been used to create the 501st Independent Marine Battalion of the Russian Black Sea Fleet in Feodosiya.20 The Ukrainian Navy’s 406th Coastal Artillery Group has become the 8th Artillery Regiment. It is worth noting that all three of these new units are still being led by their Ukrainian commanders. An mountain infantry battalion that has been formed in the North Caucasus and is now training there will be relocated to Crimea in November 2014 and incorporated into the 128th Coastal Defense Brigade.21
A battalion armed with the K300P Bastion-P (SSC-5) mobile coastal defense missile system and serving with the 11th Novorossiysk Coastal Defense Missile and Artillery Brigade has been relocated to the Kazachya Bay area near Sevastopol. Specialists of the Black Sea Fleet’s missile and artillery weapons repair plant have also restored to operational readiness a mothballed highly protected missile battalion that was part of the so-called ‘Object 100’.22 This is an underground facility that was built near Balaklava in 1955-1956. It hosted fixed-position launchers of the Utes (SSC-1B) stationary bunker-concrete missile complex equipped with Progress (Improved SS-N-3B) anti-ship missiles. In 1997 that complex, which consisted of two battalions, was transferred to the Ukrainian Navy. In the early 2000s one of the battalions stationed near the Oboronnoye village was looted clean. The second battalion, stationed near Reservnoye village, was mothballed. It has now been restored to operational readiness as a matter of priority. The Bastion-P battalion and the aforementioned battalion of ‘Object 100’ are now part of a newly-formed coastal defense missile brigade of the Black Sea Fleet.23
A SAM regiment that was previously part of the 810th Marine Brigade of the Black Sea Fleet has been transformed into an independent 1096th SAM Regiment. It is equipped with the Osa-AKM (SA-8B) SAM systems.
The Black Sea Fleet has also launched a large program of rearmament of its coastal defense and support units. For example, the 8th Artillery Regiment has been completely rearmed using Russian-made weaponry (about 60 units of hardware, including Khrizantema-S (AT-15) self-propelled anti-tank missile systems, Msta-B 152mm towed howitzers, and Tornado-G 122mm MLR systems.)24
Combat support and logistic units
The Black Sea Fleet’s combat support and logistic units have undergone major reforms. For example, the fleet’s naval engineers company has become a regiment.25 It has been tasked with maintaining the Kerch Strait ferry crossing and repairing the fleet’s infrastructure. The fleet has also set up the 4th Nuclear, Biological, and Chemical Defense Regiment.26 Its tasks include clean-up of Crimea’s coastal waters, where large amounts of chemicals were dumped in Soviet and Ukrainian times. 27
The fleet has also begun to restructure and rearm its 475th Independent Electronic Warfare Center. All of the center’s obsolete hardware (dating back to the Soviet era) will be replaced before the end of 2014. The center has also incorporated a former Ukrainian Navy unit stationed near Simferopol. 28
The fleet’s 758th Supply and Logistic Center has incorporated about 15 new units. The center is responsible for the provision of ammunition, fuel, supplies, and food; transportation of military personnel; and refurbishment of weapons and hardware. 29 It operates all of the Black Sea Fleet’s supply and logistic assets in Crimea.
The Black Sea Fleet has also set up a new supply and logistic brigade. It includes repair units that can perform routine maintenance and medium-grade repairs of weapons and hardware. The fleet has set up a new territorial metrology center and a naval weapons testing laboratory. 30 In Kerch, the MoD has created the 3rd Railway Battalion of the Southern Military District’s 39th Independent Railway Brigade. At present the battalion is repairing railway track in Mekenziyevy Gory near Sebastopol.31
The fleet has increased the number of its medical units. In addition to the existing 1472nd Naval Clinical Hospital in Sevastopol, it now also includes three hospitals (in Sevastopol, Simferopol, and Feodosiya) that were previously operated by the Ukrainian Navy. Additionally, the fleet has set up a special-purpose medical unit.32
Air Force and Naval Aviation
In July 2014 the Black Sea Fleet’s 7057th Naval Aviation Airbase was restructured into two aviation regiments. These regiments were given their old names and honorary titles. The 318th Combined Aviation Regiment, which is based at the Kacha airfield, operates Be-12 and An-26 planes and Ka-27 and Mi-8 helicopters. The 43rd Naval Attack Aviation Regiment, which has been relocated to the Saki airfield, operates Su-24 tactical bombers and Su-24MR reconnaissance aircraft. The fleet has begun to replace its old and obsolete aircraft. For example, the 43rd Regiment has received several Su-24M planes that were previously kept in storage at the Chernyakhovsk airbase of the Baltic Fleet.33 Four Be-12 amphibious patrol planes previously kept in storage have been repaired in Taganrog and delivered to the 318th Regiment.34
The 43rd Aviation Regiment will soon begin to replace its aircraft with new Su-30SM multirole fighters made by the Irkut Corporation. The first three planes are now being used to train the regiment’s pilots at the 859th Naval Aviation Pilot Training Center in Yeysk. Another two aircraft are to be delivered in the coming months, and a further seven have already been ordered. The first squadron of the 43rd Regiment will be rearmed with the Su-30SM fighters in 2015. The rest of the regiment will be rearmed in 2015-2016, when another 12 fighters are expected to be delivered. The Naval Aviation Command has also decided to restore the airfields in Khersones (Sevastopol), Donuzlav, and Saki. These airfields’ runways will be refurbished, and control towers equipped with modern hardware.
The Russian Air Force is also setting up new regiments in Crimea. A new combined aviation regiment armed with Su-24M tactical bombers and Su-25SM attack aircraft is being deployed at the Gvardeyskoye airfield. The aircraft and personnel will probably be supplied by aviation regiments from Morozovsk and Budennovsk.35 A new fighter aviation regiment (which will probably be designated as the 62nd) is being deployed at the Belbek airfield. It will be armed with Su-27SM3 and Su-30M2 fighters. The aircraft and personnel will be supplied by the 3rd Combined Aviation Regiment in Krymsk, Krasnodar Krai The new regiments will be subordinated to the 4th Air Force and Air Defense Command of the Southern Military District.
There have been several media reports suggesting the possibility of Long Range Aviation units armed with Tu-22M3 long-range bombers being deployed in Crimea. During the Soviet period the Black Sea Fleet aviation regiments armed with these aircraft were stationed at three Crimean airfields: Veseloye, Oktyabrskoye, and Gvardeyskoye. During the post-Soviet period, however, the territory of the Veseloye airfield was repurposed as a poultry farm, and the runways of the Gvardeyskoye and Oktyabrskoye airfields have not been maintained well enough to use them for such heavy aircraft as the Tu-22M3. Nevertheless, the Russian Air Force command has expressed its intention to refurbish all the airfields it wants to use.
We expect that the Army Aviation service of the Russian Air Force will also set up a helicopter base in Crimea.
In July 2014 the NITKA aircraft carrier deck simulator in Saki resumed operations. It is now being used to train the Russian Navy’s carrier-based aircraft pilots. Pilots of the 279th Independent Carrier-based Fighter Regiment of the Northern Fleet have already trained there using Su-33 fighters and Su-25UTG training planes. Previously, in 2013 Russia decided to stop using the Soviet-built NITKA facility in Saki, and built a similar facility in Yeysk in 2012-2014. Nevertheless, it has now been decided to continue using the Saki facility, even though it requires major refurbishment.36
The Primorskiy village near Feodosiya has hosted a naval aviation testing center since Soviet times. After Ukraine’s independence the facility became a National Aviation Research and Development Center. Almost all of the facility’s personnel have sworn allegiance to Russia, and the Primorskiy facility will be incorporated into the Russian military aviation testing center in Akhtubinsk. In fact, it was a division of the Akhtubinsk testing center prior to 1992.
Air defense forces
Assets and personnel of the former Ukrainian SAM regiments and radar units are now being used to set up new Russia aerospace defense units that will be subordinated to the 4th Air Force and Air Defense Command.37 The Gvardeyskoye airfield now hosts a new SAM regiment armed with S-300P (SA-10B) SAM systems, supplied by one of the Moscow air defense units, that has been rearmed with the latest S-400 (SA-21) systems. At some point in the future the Russian air defense forces in Crimea will be merged into the 15th Aerospace Defense Brigade. Other reports claim that the command of one of the Aerospace Defense brigades will be relocated to Crimea from elsewhere in Russia.
Military justice system
All Russian servicemen fall under military jurisdiction and are tried by special military courts. Previously, there were no Russian military prosecutors or courts in Crimea. All Crimean cases were handled by a military court in Novorossiysk. Now, however, the Russian military justice system is fully operational in Crimea. It includes newly-created military courts,38 a military prosecutor’s office, and military police.39
New Black Sea Fleet ships
In late 2014 the Black Sea Fleet will begin to receive new ships ordered as part of a fleet refresh program adopted in 2010. Under earlier plans these new ships were to be based in Novorossiysk because Ukraine refused to allow their stationing in Sebastopol. Now, however, that is no longer necessary.
In 2014-2017 the Black Sea Fleet will take delivery of six Project 06363 conventional submarines that are now being built at the Admiralty Shipyards in St Petersburg. In late 2014 the fleet will receive the first boat Novorossiysk, which entered into service with the Russian Navy in August. It will be followed by Rostov-on-Don, Staryy Oskol, Krasnodar, Kolpino, and Velikiy Novgorod. These submarines are armed with the Kalibr (SS-N-27A and SS-N-30) cruise missiles system.
In 2015-2017 the Black See Fleet will receive six Project 11356R frigates that are now being built at the Yantar shipyards in Kaliningrad: Admiral Grigorovich, Admiral Essen, Admiral Makarov, Admiral Butakov, Admiral Istomin, and Admiral Kornilov. By 2020 the fleet is also expected to take delivery of six new Project 22160 patrol ships (Vasiliy Bykov class)40 and at least six Project 21631 light guided missile corvettes (Grad Sviyazhsk class) armed with Kalibr missiles system.41 The order for all these ships has been placed with the Zelenodolsk Shipbuilding Plant. By late 2014 the Black Sea Fleet will receive two Project 21980 (Grachonok class) anti-saboteur boats, which will be assigned to the anti-saboteur squad of the 68th Coastal Waters Protection Ships brigade.42
Additionally, the Black Sea Fleet will receive various support ships and boats, such as tugs, S&R ships, etc. By 2020 the fleet will take delivery of a total of 30 various warships and support ships.43
Several of the fleet’s ships and boats are now undergoing repairs and upgrades. Medium-grade repair and upgrade of the fleet’s flagship Project 1164 Moskva guided missile cruiseris scheduled to begin in 2016. Under earlier plans, the ship was to be repaired at the Zvezdochka shipyard in Severodvinsk once the facility completes the repair of the Moskva’s sister ship, Marshal Ustinov. Now, however, there is a possibility that Moskva will be repaired in Sevastopol at the comprehensive ship repair center that is now being set up at the No 13 Ship Repair Plant and the Sevastopol Maritime Plant. 44 The fleet’s Alrosa submarine (Project 877V) is currently undergoing repairs and upgrades. Two old Project 1135 (Krival class) frigates Pytlivyy and Ladnyy, were restored to operational readiness in 2014. There are also plans to repair Kerch, an old Project 1134B (Kara class) large anti-submarine ship.
Several of the ships that belonged to the Ukrainian Navy still remain in Crimea; their handover was suspended in mid-June. The largest of them are Project 775 (Ropucha class) Kostyantyn Olshanskyy large tank landing ship; Slavutych command ship; two Project 1124M (Grisha V class) anti-submarine corvettes Ternopil and Lutsk, and two project 266M (Natya class) ocean minesweepersCherkasy and Chernihiv. These ships are now flying the Russian naval flag. The Russian MoD has repeatedly said that it has no interest in keeping these ships. The question is whether they will actually be returned to Ukraine in view of the ongoing civil war in that country. Besides, the Ukrainian authorities seem to have largely lost interest in them because Ukraine does not have enough financial resources, personnel, or bases to operate them. Clearly, the Russian Navy could make use of some of these ships. The most likely scenario, however, is that they will not be used by the Black Sea Fleet for political reasons, and will be scrapped after long years of sitting idle at their bases.
Aerospace Defense Forces
Two extremely important Crimean facilities of the Ukrainian Space Agency’s National Spacecraft Control and Testing Center (both of them built in Soviet times) have been incorporated into the Russian Aerospace Defense Forces. One is a unique long-range space communications center in Vitino, near Yevpatoriya. It has seven large antennas and two telescopes, including the Pluton space radiotechnical complex and the RT-70 radio astronomy telescope. The facility is used as a spacecraft control center and is involved in deep-space research. It will be completely refurbished and upgraded for joint use by the Space Forces service and the Roskosmos national space agency. 45
The other key facility is the Dnepr-M missile attack early warning radar on Cape Khersones near Sevastopol. Previously the radar was operated by Ukraine but supplied data to Russia. In 2009, however, Russia switched to using the data supplied by the new Voronezh-DM early warning radar near Armavir. Nevertheless, the Russian Space Troops have expressed interest in the continued operation of the Dnepr-M facility due to its convenient geographic location between the early warning radars in Armavir and in the Belarusian town of Baranovichy. The Dnepr-M radar in Crimea will therefore be upgraded or replaced with a new Voronezh-series radar.46
Other important military facilities
During the Soviet period the Navy operated two marine animal research centers that trained animals for use in military operations. One was in Sevastopol, the other in Vladivostok. The Sebastopol center had achieved notable success. For example, in the late 1980s its “biotechnical systems” were used to protect the Sevastopol harbors from saboteur divers.47 In 1992 the center was taken over by Ukraine. The Vladivostok facility was shut down in 1998. Despite all the difficulties they faced in the 1990s and 2000s, scientists in Sevastopol continued their research; the center itself was renamed the Crimean State Oceanarium. It has now been subordinated to the Russian MoD. 48
Another important event was the return of the Admiral Nakhimov Higher Naval School to the Russian Navy’s fold. In 1992 the facility became the Ukrainian Naval Academy. In Soviet times it was one of the country’s main Navy schools.
Because of the ongoing civil war in the Donbass region of Ukraine and Kiev’s territorial claims to Crimea, Russia is forced to maintain a large number of ground troops and airborne assault troops in northern Crimea. There are several battalion tactical groups near Armyansk, Krasnoperekopsk, Dzhankoy, and other areas. There are good reasons to believe that at some point in the future Russia will redeploy to northern Crimea several Army formations (a motor rifle and machine-gun/artillery brigade), or create new brigades for that purpose.
There are two Russian provinces, the Kaliningrad exclave and Kamchatka, where the MoD has set up an integrated force led by the Navy (the Baltic Fleet and the Pacific Fleet, respectively). These territories had previously hosted large forces of the Army, the Air Force, and the Air Defense service, including HQs. Also, back at that time Russia had no territorial problems with neighboring countries. The Black Sea Fleet, meanwhile, did not have ground troops, aviation, or air defense forces of anywhere near the same size. Now Russia has a grave territorial problem with Ukraine, which has refused to recognize Crimea’s new status as a Russian province. This is why the Russian military leadership has decided to create a self-sufficient combined-services force on the Crimean peninsula, but not to subordinate it entirely to the Black Sea Fleet.
It cannot be ruled out, however, that if the situation in Ukraine becomes less volatile, the combined-services force in Crimea will become part of the Black Sea Fleet. The fleet itself will become significantly more capable over the coming years. It will be able to handle most of the naval operations in the Indian Ocean and the Mediterranean. Now that Crimea is part of Russia, the Black Sea Fleet plays a bigger role in Russian defense arrangements. One indirect piece of evidence is the promotion of the fleet’s commander; on May 5, 2014 Vice Admiral Aleksandr Vitko was promoted to Admiral.
Under the current foreign-policy circumstances, the Russian government regards the task of strengthening the Crimean group of the Russian Armed Forces as an important priority. Speaking at an MoD meeting on September 16, 2014, Defense Minister Sergey Shoygu said that the crisis in Ukraine and increased foreign military presence near the Russian borders have forced the Southern Military District command to make significant changes. “The military-political situation in the south-western strategic direction has changed significantly since the beginning of this year,” the minister said. “This largely has to do with the enlargement of the Southern Military District’s territory following Crimea’s unification with Russia. Besides, there are major tensions in Ukraine, and increased foreign military presence in the direct vicinity of our borders. This has forced certain adjustments to the day-to-day work of the district command. One of its new priorities is to deploy a fully-fledged and self-sufficient group of forces in Crimea.” 49