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Will Russia Withdraw Its Fleet From Crimea?

Will Russia Withdraw Its Fleet From Crimea? © Министерство обороны РФ

In an effort to protect the Black Sea Fleet from Ukrainian drones and missiles, the command of the Russian Navy is dispersing most of its ships from Sevastopol, moving them to Feodosia and Novorossiysk. Meanwhile, the Russians are not going to leave the “city of Russian glory”, continuing to consider it as the main base of their Navy in the Black Sea.

But the Feodosia port is located in Crimea, which is constantly hit by missiles and drones. Tsemeska Bay on the eastern coast of the Black Sea is also too small for the basing of warships, has limitations for further expansion and a difficult wind direction. In addition, Novorossiysk is also visible in the crosshairs of Ukrainian unmanned boats. Therefore, Russian military sailors are also looking for other places where ships of the Black Sea Fleet of the Russian Federation can be safely located.

But the reality is that on the Russian coast of the Black Sea there are few locations both suitable for basing ships and inaccessible to Ukrainian missiles and unmanned boats. And so, after meeting with Putin, the head of Abkhazia, Aslan Bzhania, announced last week that a permanent Russian naval base will appear on the territory of the partially recognized republic — in the city of Ochamchire. Moreover, according to Bzhania, an agreement on this has already been signed.

“Given Turkey’s interests in the Black Sea and Abkhazia, I do not rule out that Putin and Erdogan at the meeting in Sochi agreed on the permanent base of the Black Sea Fleet in Ochamchire,” the director of the Center for Middle Eastern Studies Ihor Semyvolos suggested in a conversation with ZN.UA.

As the text of the agreement has not yet been made public, it is not clear how long the document will last and under what conditions Russian warships will be at the base. But in general, Sukhumi will benefit from the appearance of a new base of the Black Sea Fleet of the Russian Federation, as it means new jobs, Russian investments in urban infrastructure. Meanwhile, Bzhania pathetically claims that the naval base will ensure the fundamental interests of both Russia and Abkhazia.

For his part, the former commander of the Black Sea Fleet of the Russian Federation, Admiral Vladimir Komoyedov, stated the task of the new item as follows: “It is, first of all, to ensure safe navigation and defense of Russia and Abkhazia from sea directions. Second, conducting operations to maintain our dominance both at sea and in the air in this territory. Thirdly, the point will help the fleet to support the land forces in the littoral directions, if necessary.”

Even during the times of the USSR, trawlers and sea hunters of the Black Sea Fleet were based in Ochamchire Bay. In 1996, Russia withdrew its remaining border patrol ships to the Caspian Sea. After the Russian-Georgian war of 2008, Russian warships reappeared in the bay. Currently, Ochamchire is home to the base of patrol ships of the Coast Guard of the Border Service of the FSB of the Russian Federation. In the future, the Russians want to use this port as an auxiliary base.

“In their planning, the Russians assumed that this port would be based not only for anti-aircraft missiles, but also minesweepers, corvettes, and amphibious assault ships if necessary. Therefore, large funds were allocated earlier, and reconstruction works were carried out. In particular, the fairway was deepened from 3.8 to 9 meters. Now ships with a displacement of up to 10,000 tons can enter there,” said Andrii Ryzhenko, an expert of the American company Sonata, captain of the 1st rank of the reserve of the Navy of Ukraine, in an interview with ZN.UA.

According to the Russian mass media, the small Russian missile ship "Zyklon" has already entered Ochamchire. But the decision to deploy part of the Black Sea Fleet in Abkhazia is a double-edged sword: by minimizing the threat of Ukrainian strikes on ships, the Russian naval and political leadership simultaneously reduces the operational capabilities of the Black Sea Fleet of the Russian Federation.

“The Russians still have the opportunity to strike Calibers from ships based in Ochamchire on the southern and central parts of Ukraine. However, they will no longer be able to control the northwestern part of the Black Sea and block us with amphibious ships,” Andriy Ryzhenko notes.

Meanwhile, the strengthening of Russia's military presence in Abkhazia, where a Russian military base has long been located, cannot but bother Tbilisi, even considering the fact that the pro-Russian "Georgian Dream" is in power. The decision to establish a permanent base in Ochamchire is not only a military, but also a political step, demonstrating the expansion of Russia's geographic presence in the territory that the Kremlin considers part of the "Russian world."

Therefore, it is natural for Tbilisi expressing concern to react, declaring a “gross violation of the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Georgia” and “a new provocative attempt to legitimize the illegal occupation of Abkhazia and the Tskhinvali region.” However, despite the pro-Russian policy of the “Georgian Dream”, Moscow will not consider the interests of Tbilisi.

“The question is, what will the Georgian authorities do next? Will it work against Russia? Will there be an even closer rapprochement with Moscow? The only thing currently holding back the "Georgian Dream" in its policy towards the Kremlin is the domestic political situation in the country: further strategic rapprochement to the detriment of Georgia's European prospects will lead to an explosion, which the Georgian authorities have been trying to prevent in recent months,” says Ihor Semyvolos.

As can be seen from everything, “Georgian dream” leans towards the second option. At least the first vice-speaker of the Georgian parliament from the ruling party, Giorgi Volski, said that the parliamentary majority will not even consider the draft resolution condemning Moscow's plans to redeploy part of the ships of the Black Sea Fleet of the Russian Federation to Ochamchire. Volski justified this decision by the fact that Georgia is in a difficult situation due to Russia's occupation of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, and under these circumstances, adopting such a resolution “would be a provocation.”

Currently, Ukraine does not have the military power to reach Ochamchire. But the security of Russian warships is temporary: if the defense industry develops normally in our country, then the Ukrainian Armed Forces will have weapons capable of reaching Abkhazia. However, given the fact that “Georgian Dream” is in power in Tbilisi, such an attack on Georgian territory – even if it is not controlled by the central government – may lead to even greater tension in Ukrainian-Georgian relations.

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