Ukraine facing loss of its navy as Russian forces in Crimea dig in

n13-iconReuters reports: Lashed by the wind as it whips across Crimea’s biggest lake, a third of Ukraine’s warships have nowhere to go and nothing to do but rise and fall on its choppy waves.

Russian forces have blocked their only exit point to the Black Sea by sinking two ageing vessels there, and Russia’s well-armed Moskva missile cruiser can be seen treading water a short distance off the coast, with menace.

With six more of Ukraine’s two dozen warships similarly blockaded and Russian forces building up their strength ahead of a referendum that seems likely to result in Crimea becoming part of Russia, Ukraine is facing the humiliating loss of its navy.

Pacing up and down a spartan room in an outbuilding overlooking a row of warships, support vessels, and tugboats, Brigade Commander Vitaly Zvyagintsev says he can’t believe the Russian Black Sea Fleet – with whom the Ukrainian navy regularly held exercises in the past – has turned hostile.

“I have two theories,” he told Reuters in an interview. “The first is that they want to prevent Ukrainian ships leaving their base and blockading them as they are us now. The second is that they want to make sure that if and when Crimea joins Russia, Ukraine can’t get its ships back.”

“Georgia doesn’t have a fleet any more and the same thing could now happen with Ukraine,” he said gloomily, referring to the 2008 Russia-Georgia war which ended with Russian forces taking control of a fifth of Georgia’s territory.

The Ukrainian navy has around 25 warships including one submarine, 15 support vessels of different categories and around 15,000 men under arms, 10,000 of whom are based on the Crimean Peninsula. [Continue reading…]

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