Tuesday, March 04, 2014

Elephant in the Room: the Black Sea Fleet Base in Crimea




The threat to Russia’s Crimean naval base looks plausible enough to provoke Putin’s intervention.

2008 Kiev Post:



Ukraine’s foreign minister says he has prepared a bill stipulating that the Russian Black Sea fleet must leave a Ukrainian port when a lease agreement expires in 2017. Ukrainian port when a lease agreement expires in 2017. The presence of Russian ships in the port of Sevastopol has become a sore point in already strained relations between the two ex­ Soviet neighbors. Ukraine wants the ships out, while Russia is eager to continue renting the naval base and is offering to pay more.



2010 Guardian:



Ukraine's parliament erupted when parliamentarians were asked to vote on a controversial law allowing Russia to continue to use a naval base in Crimea.

Opposition MPs oppose the move by Ukraine's new pro-Russian president, Viktor Yanukovych, describing it as a betrayal. As scuffles broke out, nationalist MPs unfurled the Ukrainian flag.


They then began pelting the speaker, Volodymyr Lytvyn, with eggs. As bodyguards protected him with two umbrellas, Yanukovych's supporters joined in, slapping and punching one hapless MP. Smoke then filled the chamber.

The clashes symbolise the split between Ukraine's Russian-speaking east and south and Ukrainian west and centre. These divisions, though sometimes exaggerated, have worsened since Yanukovych's narrow victory in February's election.

Soon after winning, Yanukovych torpedoed the coalition of his defeated Orange rival, Yulia Tymoshenko, luring MPs away from her government. "Today will go down as a black page in the history of Ukraine and the Ukrainian parliament," Tymoshenko said in parliament.

She vowed to tear up the deal with Russia as soon as she was returned to power. [emphasis added, natch]  Her party accuses the new government of selling Ukraine's sovereignty – with deputies today shouting "betrayal", "traitor" and "impeachment".

Yanukovych this week agreed to extend the lease to Russia's Black Sea fleet on the Crimean port of Sevastopol for 25 years, until 2042. In return, the Kremlin has given Ukraine a 30% discount on its gas bill.



2014 from a description of the manifesto “Save Ukraine” of the Izborsk Club:

"Consequences of the coup for Russia's strategic interests," the memorandum outlines what "a new political and ideological regime in Ukraine, ... based on an extreme nationalist ideology, as the only available mechanism for suppressing social tensions," can be expected to do: "decisions which directly affect the strategic interests of the Russian Federation." –

First item:



Rejection of the presence of the Russian Armed Forces in Crimea, including at Sevastopol as the base of the Russian Federation's Black Sea Fleet. The time frame will be set at six to ten months, which is insufficient for an orderly relocation of the military facilities to Russian territory in the vicinity of Novorossiysk. –



By the way, for neoliberals anxious for evidence that the current Ukrainian government is not the only haven for skeevy ultranationalists, the Izborsk Club is a well-funded Russian chauvinist advocacy group that, among other things, believes that Jews and other minorities sap Russian spiritual strength.  At the same time, the club vociferously condemns political developments in Ukraine as “fascist”, largely because of the prominence of, well, Ukrainian fascists enamored of World War II Ukrainian nationalist Stepan Bandera, who did his best to ethnically cleanse Ukraine of Jews as well as Poles and Russians while fighting with the Nazis against the USSR.

Most of Izborsk Club’s apocalyptic predictions for the subversion and destruction of Russia via a Russia-hostile/US and EU friendly government in Kiev don’t look like practical policy warnings—except for that thing about losing the Black Sea Fleet.

For good measure, in 2010 Robert Kagan, the prominent American neo-con, criticized the Obama "reset" of relations with Russia for, among other things, failing to take a stand against the lease extension:



As anyone who ever shopped for a rug knows, the more you pay for it, the more valuable it seems. The Obama administration has paid a lot... The recent deal between Russia and Ukraine granting Russia control of a Crimean naval base through 2042 was shrugged off by Obama officials, as have been Putin's suggestions for merging Russian and Ukrainian industries in a blatant bid to undermine Ukrainian sovereignty. 

So at least one effect of the administration's "reset" has been to produce a wave of insecurity throughout Eastern and Central Europe and the Baltics, where people are starting to fear they can no longer count on the United States to protect them from an expansive Russia. 



Robert Kagan is, of course, the spouse of Victoria Nuland, the assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian affairs, who has been very much at the center of the regime-change ruckus in Ukraine.  So we can surmise that she was aware that the issue of the Russian base in Crimea was central to Ukraine's contentious politics, and pro-Western politicians in Ukraine would be aware that the U.S. was not happy with the extended lease.

Yeah, anti-Russian Ukrainians have already shown they’d be happy to make an issue of the Black Sea Fleet, and the Russians would have definite reason to worry about it.

And, in my contrarian way, the fact that absolutely nobody—Russian, Ukrainian, US, or EU-- has raised the obvious issue of the fate of the Black Sea Fleet base in the Crimea makes me pretty convinced that it’s near the center of everybody’s calculations.

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