The recent appearance in the Black Sea area of one of the best warships of the Russian fleet made us think about the possibility of new marine aggression of the Russian Federation. Opinion found out how to treat the actions of the Russians, whether we expect help from NATO and what the actions of the Ukrainian authorities should be.

NATO ships: nominal support or real help?

The presence of NATO ships in the Black Sea is a quite ambiguous situation because at first glance it is impossible to understand how they affect the behavior of the Russian Federation. According to Dmytro Sinchenko, the head of the “Association of Political Sciences” public organization, the naval forces of the Alliance are primarily a deterrent to Moscow, but it is not worth talking about a real clash (and hence physical assistance to Ukraine).

 “NATO’s naval forces in the Black Sea are, of course, a deterrent to the Kremlin, which has to be considered. Russians are not going to fight with technically and qualitatively stronger NATO troops, since they are not ready for an open confrontation at this time. They also do not want this in NATO countries as they are mostly democratic, and military conflicts are unpopular among voters. However, the physical closeness of the two hostile parties makes their collision possible. So, is it possible for Ukraine to expect for assistance from the ships of NATO? Yes, it is possible. Is it worth it? No, it is not worth it. The very existence of those ships is already some kind of help”, the expert says.

Bohdan Petrenko, the deputy head of the Ukrainian Institute of Research of Extremism, has the same opinion. According to him, the alliance is unlikely to interfere in the military conflict, especially since non-Black Sea countries are quite limited in the military presence in the Black Sea under the international maritime law.

“NATO’s ships in the Black Sea are nominal support of Ukraine. NATO will not interfere with the military conflict between Ukraine and Russia. Moreover, in accordance with the Montreux Convention, non-Black Sea countries are generally limited in military presence in the Black Sea. Together, their fleet can range from 30 to 45 thousand tons. That’s nothing for modern vehicles. So, one cannot even expect that the US, British or other powerful naval forces will be able to dominate in the region. Yes, NATO has allies in the Black Sea – Turkey, Romania and Bulgaria. But this factor did not hold back Kremlin’s aggressive policy. But even the symbolism of this decision is important, because it a) emphasizes the problem of Russian aggression for the world; b) mobilizes the world in support of Ukraine in political matters; c) gives the message to the Ukrainians that they are not alone in their conflict with the aggressor”, said Mr. Petrenko in the commentary to Opinion.

But, Yurii Shulipa, a lawyer, the head of “Institute for National Policy” International Union, sees in the presence of NATO ships three components at once: defense of the Alliance countries, Russia’s containment and possible involvement in the protection of Ukraine.

“The presence of NATO warships in the Black Sea has triple value. First of all, their presence is determined by the protection of NATO countries such as Bulgaria, Romania and Turkey, which are situated at the Black Sea coast, if the escalation of Russian military aggression would cause a real threat to these countries. Secondly, for Russia, their presence has a restraining factor. Thirdly, if Russia starts a military invasion to the territory of the Kherson region in order to occupy the territory around the North-Crimean canal to restore the water supply to the temporarily occupied Crimea, it is possible that NATO warships can be used to reflect Russia’s military aggression on the Ukrainian side”, Shulipa considers.

Russian destroyer: how to treat the actions of the Russian Federation?

Dmytro Sinchenko, commenting on this issue, stressed that the appearance of a Russian warship in the Black Sea area probably had a rather simple reason – repairs. However, even such opportunities, according to the expert, Moscow can use to hint for further aggression.

“I think the main reason for the appearance of the Russian destroyer is commonplace – this is a need for repairs because it is not a secret that the Russian navy is hopelessly old. By the way, as well as ours. However, this outdated fleet has got much more than we do. Therefore, even the need for repair Moscow uses to hint for further aggression. And the RF will continue to increase its forces in the Black Sea, because its goal – the control over the entire Black Sea region “, explained the specialist.

But Bohdan Petrenko noticed that unlike the ships of the alliance, Russians have no restrictions and theoretically they can transfer to the Black Sea all their fleet. According to Petrenko, the Kremlin purposefully strengthens its group in the Crimea and the surrounding waters.

“Unlike NATO, Russians are not limited in the tonnage of the fleet and theoretically can transfer all of their Navy to the Black Sea. In particular, we can already see the strengthening of their Azov flotilla at the expense of the Caspian one, and the arrival of the Russian destroyer from the Northern Fleet “Severomorsk” to Crimea. Russia’s aim is to strengthen their group in Crimea and the surrounding waters. First, they thereby emphasize that the annexed territory is their property. Secondly, the Kremlin strengthens the military agenda in domestic politics through the demonstration to Russian society of its ability to withstand NATO’s “aggressive policy”. The war game has become almost the only strategy to support Kremlin’s internal image”, said the head of the Ukrainian Institute of Research of Extremism.

Yurii Shulipa believes that the destroyer has arrived to strengthen the occupying forces and, most likely, to make new provocations. However, the expert believes that the attack will be postponed until the end of the election in Ukraine since the Kremlin is counting on the victory of the pro-Russian forces.

“Russian destroyer arrived to strengthen the group of Russian occupation troops in the Azov and Black Seas. From December 5 to December 29, 2018, Russian war advocates actively discussed the attack of Ukrainian troops on the temporarily occupied by Russia Donbas, and then Crimea. This is a very bad sign which means, that provocations are being prepared by Russia in order to justify an attack on the free territories of Ukraine. However, this Russian attack was postponed at least until the end of the elections in Ukraine”, Yurii Shulipa emphasized.

How should Ukraine react?

Dmytro Sinchenko is convinced that Ukraine needs to take a number of measures, which altogether are capable of making a defense strategy. In particular, it is about strengthening the armed forces, a special information policy, strengthening cooperation with neighbors, new sanctions against the aggressor, etc.

“The strategy should be simple – the greatest strengthening of our own armed forces, in this case the fleet and aviation, the greatest weakening of the enemy through international sanctions, a thought-out information policy both internal and external, strengthening of cooperation and contacts with our neighbors, in this case, with Romania, Bulgaria, Georgia and Turkey, creation of new economic, infrastructure, cultural projects, common military trainings, strengthening of the blockade of Crimea and responsibility for violation of sanctions, re-passage of our warships with international observers through the Kerch Strait (it was a pretty good idea), severance of diplomatic relations with Russia, the seizure of Russian assets in Ukraine…

But most importantly, we must support (and, if necessary, initiate) the liberation movement of the enslaved peoples in the territory of the Russian Federation, open their national centers, establish connections with the underground organizations and freedom fighters in the territory of Russia, teach them, and when they declare independence of their countries – recognize them at once and establish diplomatic relations. Only internal problems within the Russian Empire can turn away the military threat from Ukraine”, the head of the Institute for National Policy International Union is convinced.

The main task of Ukraine is to show the Kremlin’s aggressive policy to the world, thus pushing Russian authorities to make mistakes and worsening the image of the enemy. Bohdan Petrenko is firmly convinced.

“Today it is almost impossible for Ukraine to appropriately answer Russian aggression exclusively by military means. Moreover, there are doubts that we will be able to do this in the near future. Therefore, the main task for Ukraine – in addition to the development of long-term projects for the recovery of the fleet – is to constantly demonstrate an aggressive policy of Russia to the world, stimulating it to make mistakes and forming the image of a non-system player”,  summed up the expert.

Text by Dmytro Zhuravel 

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