A previous article entitled Battlefield: Black Sea examined the development of US and NATO military deployment in the Black Sea region. This article focuses on the ways in which Russia is moving to counter what it perceives as an aggressive US-NATO strategy.
After the US-backed coup in Ukraine, the people of Crimea voted for reunification with Russia. While this was undoubtedly a politically and economically motivated move to secure their own safety and future amid the entirely predictable collapse of Ukraine, it would not have been possible without a clear military and strategic (and of course political and diplomatic) benefit for Russia. That such a benefit existed was plainly obvious. For Moscow, Crimea is more than a historic territory of Russia; it is a strategically vital region for Russia’s navy and military generally.
The security and integrity of the Russian Black Sea fleet, based in Sevastopol on the Crimean peninsula for more than two centuries, was of primary importance to Moscow. As such, since the accession of Crimea to the Russian Federation, and the chaos throughout Ukraine, the Kremlin has moved quickly to modernize and bolster its naval assets in the Black Sea. While this was necessary by any measure, the move was also to preempt any military escalation by US-NATO; Washington and Brussels have moved ahead with their military buildup regardless.
Within months of the Crimea referendum, Russia announced a massive upgrade of the Black Sea fleet, in order to make it, in the words of Russian military officials, “modern” and “self-sufficient.” As Commander-in-Chief of the Russian Navy Admiral Viktor Chirkov explained, “The Black Sea Fleet must have a full complement of naval vessels to be capable of performing all assigned missions…This is not a provocative military buildup. This is something the Black Sea Fleet urgently needs as it has not been receiving new vessels for many years.” As part of this modernization and upgrade, the fleet will receive 30 new ships by the end of the decade, including a full complement of modern warships, submarines, and auxiliary vessels. Additionally, Moscow intends for the fleet to be self-sufficient, meaning that it will expand bases, house troops year-round, and generally be able to support itself in Crimea without the need for special assistance from Moscow.
But Russia of course recognizes that the growing political conflict with the West, with all the attendant military and strategic implications, requires partners and allies. With that in mind, Moscow has worked diligently to foster military cooperation with China generally, and in the Black Sea specifically.