A recent attack by Ukraine on a Russian Navy vessel berthed in Crimea looks to have been the final act needed to force Russia to relocate its effective Black Sea base to Novorossiysk in the east. Russia has based its Black Sea fleet in Crimea for 240 years, even throughout the period when Khrushchev allocated the peninsula to the then Soviet Republic of Ukraine. But it now looks to be at risk of losing the flagship naval hub completely. The assaults have forced Russia to move its ships further from harm’s way. Russia annexed Crimea in 2014 and one reason for this was that Russia wanted to preserve the fleet’s presence there despite Ukraine moving closer to the US, Europe and, potentially, NATO.
Ruslan Pukhov, director of the Centre for Analysis of Strategies and Technologies in Moscow, said that Ukraine had “basically ejected the fleet from Crimea.” The attack by a cruise missile claimed a large Russian landing ship at the eastern Crimean port of Feodosia on Tuesday December 26th. Russia has lost at least 20 vessels including warships, a submarine and landing craft since the full-scale invasion of Ukraine began in February 2022. From having what it saw as de facto control of the northern half of the Black Sea from the border with Turkiye in the east to the border between Ukraine and Romania in the west, it now seems to have nothing more than a tentative control of the north-east – with even the Kerch Strait bridge at risk of sporadic drone and unmanned missile attacks.
The Ukrainian attacks have forced Russia to adopt “a more permanent basing pattern along the eastern Black Sea coast as it transfers assets away from Crimea,” the Washington-based Institute for the Study of War said in a report.
The effective move of the Russian fleet base to Novorossiysk makes considerably the “coast-hugging” route being used by vessels from Ukraine’s Odesa region to Istanbul. Meanwhile the pro-Russian military Telegram channel Rybar, which has 1.2m subscribers, has blamed Russia’s naval command for the latest embarrassment, alleging “negligence by the Black Sea fleet.”