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Outside View: Black Sea row -- Part One

Russian warship sets off from Black Sea port base
A Russian warship active during the conflict with Georgia left the Ukrainian Black Sea port of Sevastopol Monday, an AFP correspondent said. The ship, equipped with P-500 Bazalt sea-based anti-ship missiles and an air defence system, had returned to port on Saturday after leaving its base on the second day of Russian manoeuvres in Georgia. "The warship Moskva has left Sevastopol and is heading for an area controlled by (Russia's) Black Sea fleet for checks on its radio and technical equipment and its communications systems," a Russian Navy spokesman was quoted as saying by Interfax news agency. "This voyage conforms to annual plans" of the cruiser's exploitation, he added. The cruiser's crew member, quoted by RIA Novosti under cover of anonymity, said that the warship was cruising the Black Sea's eastern parts, not far from Georgia. However, both Russian and Ukrainian navy officials refused to comment when questioned on this report by AFP.
by Alexander Khramchikhin
Moscow (UPI) Aug 25, 2008
Tensions over the Russian naval base at Sevastopol in the Ukrainian-controlled Crimean Peninsula have flared time and again since the breakup of the Soviet Union at the end of 1991. The latest occasion has been provided by the recent conflict in South Ossetia, the Russian-backed secessionist region within the former Soviet republic of Georgia.

Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko aligned himself with his Georgian counterpart, President Mikheil Saakashvili, during the Russian-Georgian confrontation earlier this month. Now Yushchenko wants to control Russia's Black Sea Fleet, which could render it useless as a military force.

The rule is that a host country exerts ultimate control over foreign military bases on its territory. Such is global practice. In 2003 Turkey banned the United States from using Incirlik Air Base in the invasion of Iraq. Accordingly, if Ukraine does not allow Russia to use Sevastopol, Russia will not be able to use it.

The Russian Black Sea Fleet's only aim in the foreseeable future could be to protect the short Russian coastline in the North Caucasus and Russia's Black Sea economic zone. More ambitious tasks look out of place.

The Black Sea Fleet's Soviet-built ships are only getting older, and, as more vessels are being retired than come into service, its strength is slowly waning. From a military point of view, Sevastopol is becoming unnecessary and even a burden to the Russian navy.

In the future, the Russian Black Sea Fleet could consist of three to five diesel submarines and two or three dozen patrol ships and minesweepers to protect the economic zone in peacetime and fight the enemy in wartime. And as far as the Kremlin and Russian Defense Ministry planners are concerned, it must be based in Russia.

In 1997, when the Sevastopol lease agreement was signed between Russia -- which then was led by President Boris Yeltsin -- and the former Soviet republic of Ukraine, Russia could not give up its base in Sevastopol because its own Black Sea port at Novorossiisk was unable to receive all the Black Sea Fleet's ships and men. Now that problem is going away by itself, with ship numbers dwindling and missions curtailed.

But although Novorossiisk currently hosts most of the Russian Black Sea Fleet's light forces, it is not well suited to be a naval base, if only because of the strong northerly winds blowing in wintertime.

Perhaps a new base should be built for the Russian Black Sea Fleet. It would be an expensive undertaking, of course, but no more so than leasing the port of Sevastopol from Ukraine, which actually fuels Kiev's anti-Russian ambitions. Russians maintain that these ambitions were already apparent before Yushchenko came into office.

So militarily the issue of Sevastopol is largely an illusory one for Russia; it does not match with present-day realities.

(Part 2: Why the conflict is more emotional than strategic to Russia's domestic stability than to its defense capabilities in the south)

(Alexander Khramchikhin is head of the analytical department at the Institute of Political and Military Analysis in Moscow. This article is reprinted by permission of RIA Novosti. The opinions expressed in this article are the author's and do not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti.)

(United Press International's "Outside View" commentaries are written by outside contributors who specialize in a variety of important issues. The views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of United Press International. In the interests of creating an open forum, original submissions are invited.)

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Russia Says NATO Using Aid As Cover As NATO Demands Pre-Conflict Positions
Moscow (AFP) Aug 23, 2008
A top Russian general accused NATO on Saturday of using humanitarian aid deliveries to Georgia as "cover" for a build-up of naval forces in the Black Sea.

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