There are two ways to be fooled. One is to believe what isn’t true; the other is to refuse to believe what is true.
From the start, I was a little reluctant to get drawn into the Kerch Strait fiasco, because I was convinced from the outset that it would not amount to anything despite the western cries of a major naval battle in the Kerch Strait between Russia and Ukraine. Knowing as we do that any incident in which Russia reacts in any way to Ukraine’s increasingly-ridiculous behaviour is going to get inflated until it looks like Guernica come to life, I was confident it would be the proverbial tempest in a teapot. Ukraine’s biggest surface combatant is the frigate “Hetman Sahaydachniy”, a 3,500-ton patrol ship built in the early 90’s at – ironically – the Kerch shipyard. That’s the flagship, and there’s only one of her type. There is a corvette, which is used as a training vessel, a small missile boat, and 6 Gurza-class gunboats, two of which are now interned in Kerch following the “Battle of Kerch Strait”.
You might snicker at ‘the fleet’, but a moment’s thought will cause you to realize that Ukraine is no longer much of a maritime nation.
This graphic (from Euractiv) displays the territorial limits within the Black Sea now controlled by Russia and those by Ukraine, since Crimea petitioned the Russian Federation for membership and it was granted. You can squirm around that fact all you like, but it only becomes more apparent that the west is ecstatic about freedom and self-determination just so long as it results in an enemy or a non-aligned country losing territory. The very minute such a rush of independence results in a strategic black eye for the western alliance, that’s the minute that a country’s leader is entitled to use whatever means and force he/she deems necessary to keep recalcitrant provinces under national control. Let anyone who is not on the western list of Approved Despots try anything like that, and an immediate outcry will ensue that he is ‘killing his own people’, and an urgent western intervention is required to ensure the equitable breakup of the country along ethnic lines, consistent with the finest traditions of freedom and democracy. Smaller pieces are often easier to boss around, unless you prefer the term ‘manage’. See how it works?
Be that as it may, you can see that while Ukraine still has access to the Sea of Azov, since it still has coastline which fronts upon it, it cannot get out of it without passing through the Russian-controlled Kerch Strait. That’s most inconvenient for it, since its other bit of seacoast, at Odessa, lies on the other side of the Kerch Strait. Similarly, the port of Mariupol, which is fairly busy commercially – there is an American-flagged merchant vessel there now at time of writing, and nearly half the ships in port are foreign-flagged – cannot be reached by sea without passing through the Kerch Strait. To be frank, Ukraine’s claim to decision-making on the Kerch Strait was always shaky; the Crimean Peninsula was gifted to Ukraine in 1954 by Nikita Khrushchev, in a move that was probably not even legal – considering it was a resolution adopted by the Presidium and was not considered or approved by the Politburo – and the demographics of Crimea at the time were overwhelmingly Russian-dominated, about 75%. Analysts suggest Khrushchev’s motive for his gift was to codify Soviet control over Ukraine, to fortify and perpetuate a subordinate relationship…and to add some 860,000 Russians to the already-large Russian minority in Ukraine. Seen in that light, it makes you wonder why Ukraine is making such a fuss over losing Crimea; it simply went back to its historic roots, and it removes a bunch of ethnic Russians – whom the Ukrainian nationalists hate with a passion – from Ukrainian territory. What’s not to like? Continue reading “The Bathtub Navy’s Christmas Vacation”