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MOSCOW, May 15. /ITAR-TASS/. The continuing political turmoil in Ukraine and Crimea’s reunification with Russia have brought about considerable changes regarding the future of the Russian Black Sea Fleet. On the eve of its 231st anniversary, the Black Sea Fleet’s status in Crimea’s Sevastopol naval base changed from Kiev’s “unwanted guest” to the “master of the situation". There have been a number of other shifts in the regional affairs that have prompted fundamental reformatting of the plans for the fleet’s development and renewal. One of the newly-identified goals is to build up the Black Sea Fleet’s combat potential no less than three-fold.
Starting from March 18, 2014 the main base of the Black Sea Fleet in Sevastopol was placed under Russia’s jurisdiction, while the Kharkiv Pact with Ukraine that set the terms for the fleet’s presence in Crimea was declared void. At the beginning of spring of 2014 the Black Sea Fleet’s strength stood at 25,000 officers.
Whenever mentioning Black Sea Fleet development plans, Russian Defense Ministry officials invariably point out that no groundless military build-up is on the agenda. The fleet, they say, kept aging with no influx of fresh blood for many years. Ukraine systematically blocked any upgrade attempts. Problems with re-arming the Russian base in Sevastopol started back in the times of Viktor Yushchenko's presidency early last decade.
Moreover, the Black Sea Fleet now faces new tasks in view of the highly volatile international situation. The cooling of Russia’s relations with NATO, experts say, will inevitably bring about a situation where the list of tasks on the Black Sea Fleet’s agenda will grow further.
The Russian Navy’s commander, Viktor Chirkov, has promised that the Black Sea Fleet will be armed with some 30 new ships of different classes and support vessels over the next six years.
By 2020, the fleet of Russia’s non-nuclear submarines on the Black Sea will grow to eight. Crimea will host two air defense regiments armed with S-300PMU rocket launchers, and eventually with S-400 launchers, and the aircraft group will incorporate squadrons of long-range supersonic strategic bombers Tu-22M3.
The Black Sea Fleet may also incorporate the amphibious helicopter carrier the Sevastopol, of the Mistral class. It is scheduled to enter service in the autumn of 2015, the Black Sea Fleet’s commander, Alexander Vitko, said, adding that “a vast program for upgrading the Black Sea Fleet is being drafted.”
The Defense Ministry drew up the Black Sea Fleet’s development plan on instructions from President Vladimir Putin. A source at the Russian Defense Ministry told the Nezavisimaya Gazeta daily that the program’s main task is to triple the combat potential of the BSF to make it the strongest on the Black Sea. He specifically pointed out that by some parameters (submarines, air defense weapons and aircraft) the Black Sea Fleet’s combat power will see a geometric sequence-like increase.
There have been no hints so far as to how much the Black Sea Fleet’s development program will cost. The sole piece of information on that score available at this point is the federal targeted program Creation of the Black Sea Fleet Base System in the territory of Russia for 2005-2020, which Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu made public just recently. The program’s overall budget is estimated at 86.7 billion rubles (around $2.5 billion). The bulk of the sum will be invested into Crimea’s military infrastructures.
An associate member of the Russian Academy of Military Science, Eduard Rodyukov, is quoted by the Nezavisimaya Gazeta daily as saying the costs of establishing Black Sea Fleet infrastructures in Crimea would account for no less than 10% of the overall costs Moscow would be prepared to invest in Crimea’s development. “As for the general program for the Black Sea Fleet’s development, including the supplies of new weapons, vehicles, combat planes and ships by 2020, it will reach no less than one trillion rubles (about $30 billion). In other words, it will be comparable to overall investments in Crimea’s civilian infrastructures,” the expert said.
"The drastic changes of the political situation in the region has forced revision of the fleet’s tasks and its upgrade prospects,” says military analyst Ilya Kramnik on the news portal Lenta.ru. During the Syrian and Ukrainian crises the range of potential tasks facing the Black Sea Fleet and the Russian squadron in the Mediterranean changed gradually. In the Black Sea, in particular, in the coastal waters of Crimea and the Caucasus, the issue of protecting the coast and bases all of a sudden emerged in the forefront. Such protection should be equally effective in case of a hypothetical military conflict and a likely upsurge in activities by foreign secret services and terrorist organizations.
The expert foresees the most radical changes in the Air Force and ground troops in Crimea, including naval units and other arms and services. The deployment of air defense systems S-300PMU-2 and coastal rocket complexes Bastion gives some idea of the scale of current and forthcoming changes. Based in Crimea, these systems allow for controlling most of the air space over the Back Sea and the sea’s surface. An upgrade of the Russian Air Force group in Crimea will be the next stage.
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