MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russia plans to radically renovate its crumbling Black Sea Fleet with 15 new vessels after a landmark deal with Ukraine to extend the lease on the fleet’s main base, a Russian military think tank said in a report.
In a step that underlined Ukraine’s shift back towards Moscow after the election of President Viktor Yanukovich, Kiev agreed in April to extend the Russian fleet’s Sevastopol base lease by 25 years in return for a 30 percent cut in gas prices.
Much of the fleet has fallen into disrepair in recent years, but Russia aims to overhaul it with 10 modern frigates and five diesel-electric submarines by 2020, the Centre for Analysis of Strategies and Technologies (CAST) said in a report.
“The implementation of these decisions will be significantly facilitated by Russia’s military partnership with Ukraine which is being restored following Viktor Yanukovich’s election as Ukrainian president,” said the report obtained by Reuters.
Elected in February for a five-year term, Yanukovich has overturned the policies of his predecessor Viktor Yushchenko, seeking better ties with Ukraine’s former Soviet master and burying Yushchenko’s pursuit of NATO membership.
Yushchenko had pushed hard for the Russian fleet to be withdrawn when the lease expired in 2017.
Russia’s Black Sea Fleet took to the sea in August 2008 to track NATO vessels during Russia’s war with Georgia. NATO said they were delivering aid to Georgia, but Moscow saw them as encroaching on its sphere of influence.
The fleet is a shadow of its Cold War-era scale. It retains a formidable missile cruiser and a large anti-submarine destroyer, but nearly all of its other vessels are “either obsolete or totally worn-out”, CAST said.
“Nowadays the Black Sea Fleet is a rather small and motley gathering of single ships of various types, some of which can already be viewed as museum exhibits,” CAST wrote.
CAST said Russia was now boosting its coastal defences on the Black Sea with anti-ship missiles “after the appearance of U.S. warships charged with muscle-flexing in August 2008”.
“The events of August 2008 — a military campaign against Georgia and the voyage of U.S. warships to the Black Sea in a bid to offer at least moral support to Georgia — have avidly shown that the Black Sea and Baltic fleets remain key for the security of the Russian state,” CAST wrote.
While the Black Sea fleet may still be a menace to Georgia, it is no longer a match for NATO member Turkey, the region’s main naval power.
Reporting by Dmitry Solovyov; Editing by Peter Graff