The Duck of Minerva

The Black Sea Fleet

10 August 2008

Sloph on Ukraine’s threat to bar the Black Sea Fleet from returning to Sevastopol.

Obviously the dithering is over, Ukraine has told Russia it’s not allowed to bring its navy back to Sevastopol so clearly theyve dispatched some/all the fleet. Is Russia going to take on Ukraine as well? Having said that, I don’t know how you go about stopping a fleet of warships parking wherever the hell they want to.

Background: Khrushchev gave the Crimea to his native Ukraine in 1954. Its population is overwhelming Russian and Tatar; neither have much love for Ukraine, and Crimea was the site of anti-NATO protests as recently as July.

Russia’s lease expires in 2017, and Ukrainian President Yuschenko has repeatedly made noise about terminating the agreement. As Halyna Pastushuk of Polish Radio reported in late July:

Viktor Yushchenko believes that negotiations must begin already today because the whole procedure means withdrawal of hundreds of vessels, huge infrastructure, naval infantry and air bases. Not long ago, Foreign Minister of Ukraine Volodymyr Ohryzko said a necessary bill is already prepared to terminate the existing agreement about the presence of Russian fleet in Crimea. According to the Minister, the bill will be submitted to Verkhovna Rada. But already now the bulk of political analysts are saying that in Verkhovna Rada which, actually, does not have proper majority, this bill may be blocked during voting. Meanwhile Moscow has sharply criticised the bill warning that such actions are premature and hamper constructive negotiations between the two sides in this and other questions. Sergey Markov, Director of Moscow-based Institute for Politics, in his interview for Radio BBC said there can be no talking about fleet withdrawal:

‘The talk is not about the commencing negotiaions about withdrawal, the talk is about the prolongation of the term for presence of Russian fleet in Crimea. We are basing our position on the fact that the majority of Ukrainians are for Russian fleet remaining in Crimea, while Ukrainian polititians that do not reflect the will of the nation but are controlled by outer influences, have to leave the political arena.’

So Yuschenko and his allies may see this as something of an opportunity to forward their Sevastopol agenda. I don’t mean to imply that Kyev’s statements are insincere–the massive display of Russian force in Georgia must be worrying for its pro-Western regime with its own aspirations to join NATO–but merely to point out that there are more layers at work here.

CNN has a very blog-like overview of recent developments. So I’ll just link to that.