The Not-So-Strategic Base in Sevastopol

Alex K. – who appears to be providing me with a lot of blogging fodder these days – has written a post about the propaganda being fed to the Russian population which they appear to be swallowing wholesale.  This – coupled with this post of mine – got me thinking about how little the Russian population queries what they are told by their government compared to that of the UK, for example.

Now don’t get me wrong.  We have plenty of gullible idiots in the UK, and a lot of those who query the government are both wrong and blithering idiots at the same time, so I wouldn’t say the quality of public discourse in the UK is high (just look at the level of debate over Scotland’s independence referendum, for example).  But the inquiry is there, the desire to question and argue, even if wrong.

One of the most often repeated mantra over Russia’s annexation of the Crimea – one which I heard expressed by an educated, well-travelled, westernised, and intelligent Russian friend – is that Putin had no choice to intervene because Russia could not afford to lose its strategic base in Sevastopol, because it is “Russia’s only warm water port” on the Black Sea.

Except it isn’t.  Russia has the port of Novorossiysk on the Black Sea, and it is both large and busy.  What happened was that at the breakup of the Soviet Union the Russians inherited the Soviet fleet which was based in Sevastopol, which is part of Ukraine.  And in the chaos and economic collapse, I’m guessing there was no money or will to move the fleet to Russian territory and so Russia and the Ukraine entered an agreement whereby Russia would rent the base for a fee.  So in the 20 odd years that have passed since the Ukraine went its own way, Russia never bothered to invest the money and effort to move its Black Sea fleet to Novorossiysk, or any other Black Sea port.  Yet they had no problem hosing billions on Sochi, also on the Black Sea, to host the Winter Olympics.  And then in 2014 they decided the port was so vital to their strategic interests that they had to invade the Ukraine to secure it.

Seriously, are the Russians really buying this?  Has nobody asked the question why, if the Black Sea base at Sevastopol was deemed so vitally important to Russia’s strategic interests, why Putin – who has held power for 15 years – didn’t see fit to move it to Russian territory?

There’s a parallel with the UK here.  If Scotland goes independent in the next year or so, the status of the Royal Navy base at Faslane – which is home to the submarines used for launching the Trident nuclear missiles – becomes one of the main topics of negotiation.  The most likely scenario is that the submarines will head to the US temporarily while the London government figures out where best to base them in England or Wales.  But there is a possibility, albeit unlikely, that England could simply lease the base from Scotland in the way Russia leased Sevastopol from Ukraine.  In this event, I rather think the English population would be somewhat skeptical if, after 20 years, England invaded Scotland and annexed part of the country in order to protect its strategic interests in Faslane.  Whatever the merits of doing so, there would be a good portion of the country that would be asking what the hell such a strategic base was doing left in a foreign country for so long.

But in Russia?  No such questions.  My take is that most of them know it’s bollocks, but are happy with the land grab anyway.  Gangster rule it is, then.

(Of course, the other elephant in the room is that Sevastopol is a pretty crap strategic location anyway.  Good for a fleet patrolling the Black Sea perhaps, whoopee, but they still have to get through the Bosphoros and Dardanelles to get anywhere else.  As a location from which to base Russia’s global military reach, it is hardly worth going to war over.  Even the Soviets understood this.)


10 thoughts on “The Not-So-Strategic Base in Sevastopol

  1. Spot on, Tim. I’d go somewhat further in the bollocks category, though. What Putin is telling Russians (via state controlled TV, mainly) is that Sevastapol, strategic cul de sac that it is, was actually at risk of becoming a Nato base.

    This is beyond delusional. Ukraine had never given any indications-even in the immediate aftermath of Maidan-of kicking out the Russians, let alone handing it over to Uncle Satan. And as if, in this era of defense retrenchment, the US had the slightest interest in a base there: it is looking to cut back its own facilities around the world and in the US proper to save money, so it is going to plunge money into a strategic backwater?

    And as if the European states in Nato have the least fucking interest in the place, let alone the ships to base there. FFS, the Dutch couldn’t even scrape together a few ships to contest Russian intrusion into their waters this summer.

    Despite all this, the dipshit “realists” in the US and EU pull their chins and state in somber tones that we have to understand Putin’s fear over the loss of a vital (not!) base to his arch-enemy (most of which couldn’t fight their way out of a piss-soaked paper bag if they had the slightest inclination of doing so).

    This farce is just a perfect illustration of Putin’s and Russians’ narcissistic belief that of course everyone in the world is obsessed with Russia, and is constantly scheming against it.

  2. I asked myself the same questions 20 years ago. I’m sure “military experts” answered them – I just don’t remember the answers now because I did not find them satisfactory. Something about the weather in Novorossiysk (“Nord-Ost”), the commercial traffic, and the general hassle of the move.

  3. @SWP,

    This is beyond delusional. Ukraine had never given any indications-even in the immediate aftermath of Maidan-of kicking out the Russians, let alone handing it over to Uncle Satan.

    That was the third point I was going to raise, but didn’t bother: to my knowledge, never in the course of the 20 odd years of Ukrainian independence has anyone even hinted towards not letting Russia use the base. It was never a topic that was ever brought up, let alone discussed, at least not by anyone holding power (again, to my knowledge). It was a land grab, pure and simple, and the justification for it is exactly the same as that professed by a lot of Russians at the time of the Sakhalin II takeover:

    If we can get it, then why not take it? Better to have it than not.

  4. @Alex K,

    and the general hassle of the move.

    Yup. Nobody could be bothered to organise it. If we accept the Russians’ explanation for the seizure of Sevastopol, this might be the first time in history an invasion has been launched due to laziness.

  5. Now, assuming for some unknown and inexplicable reason that NATO did want to base a large fleet in the Black Sea, there are three NATO members with Black Sea coast already – Turkey, Romania, and Bulgaria. All of them would be much easier places to operate than Crimea. But the idea is still absurd.

    Having coast on the Black Sea is in peacetime a tremendous improvement on being landlocked. You can trade by ship with the rest of the world, just as you can with coast anywhere else. In wartime, though, it’s pretty much useless unless you are attempting to attack other places on the Black Sea or if you control Istanbul. NATO already controls Istanbul.

  6. Tim
    I find it hard to believe that Mr.Putin is too concerned with any sanctions the US and
    Europe impose. He’s simply waiting for winter to turn the tap off and/or charge them through the roof for Russian Gas/Oil. My recommendation to Europeans this year would be invest in long underwear companies.

  7. “Gangster rule it is, then”
    My take is that most of Englishmen well understand the crimes against hundreds of peoples all over the world which GB comitted for centuries, such as annihilation of native Americans and native Australians, having millions of Indians and other nations starving while GB was stuffing her pockets with their resourses, etc. , but they are proud of and happy with that anyway. Gangster attitute it is then, isn’t it?

  8. @Pavel Ivanov,

    Indeed, Britain built and maintained its empire using quite gangster-ish methods – around about the same time Russia was building its own, using the same methods. The difference between the two in 2014, though, is that Britain quit trying to expand its territory quite some time ago.

  9. “about the same time Russia was building its own, using the same methods”

    During as you call it “annexation of the Crimea”, not a single human being was shot and 99% of people were happy, because they have considered themselves Russian, not “Ukrainian”, since USSR fell apart, and they had no wish to live in Banderostan created by CIA for the only purpose: to make a zone of instability near Russia, following the US doctrines of “American Primacy” and of “dollar vacuum cleaner forever working”. And their wish to separate from Ukraine was confirmed by the referendum which you ignored. But you did like the referendum in Kosovo, didn’t you?

    And when we take UK, we see that only violence has been keeping your country together, even in the small territory you have now that all countries robbed by you got independant, mostly formally of course. What about the Bogside Massacre, when 26 people were shot? It was 1972 (already “the civilized nations’ period” in history, isn’t it? only the Barbarian USSR could make such things, eh, not a civilized nation!). It took 38 years for your government to make excuses, if excuses can interest anybody on Earth. I do not mention your (UK) army participating in all “pieceful” NATO operations all over the world up to now, when during this “piecemaking” millions of people got homeless, starved or dead. We will never forget what you did to Yugoslavia. So if you ask “how dares [put here what you like: Crimea or Novorossia] separate from Ukraine?”, there is one simple answer for ever: BECAUSE KOSOVO.

    It’s you, NATO, who ruined “the post-Cold-War order” by bombing Yugoslavia, Afganistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria, you’ve been shoving you nose into each country’s affairs all over the world, making coups where you need and can, robbing people by your banking system and multinational corporations working through corrupted governments put in power by you, because you left for the rest of the world only two choices:
    1. A corrupted government selling you resources at prices of a garage-sale.
    2. Bombing for the sake of democracy.
    We well remember your Western officials making speeches of “no interfering in Ukraine’s internal affairs” in the centre of Kiev, mostly in the “f… EU Nuland” style. But of course, that and the 5 billion USD spent on “democracy” in Ukraine were just because you are now so different from what you’d been. You began to eat more than one should in a different way recently, sure of that.
    All that is so clearly seen now, that even the blind God is beginning to notice, and He will punish you for each hamburger you’ve overeaten. Pray to God to punish you sooner than we choose to take this mission for Him.

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