Michael MacKay, Radio Lemberg, 24.09.2018
Ukraine sailed two naval vessels, the “Donbas” and the “Korets”, under the noses of the Russian invaders on September 23. In a wondrous scene, Ukrainian Navy ships flew the flag of Ukraine within sight of Kerch, Crimea, Ukraine. It is the first time that Ukrainian citizens living under brutal occupation by the Russian Federation have seen the banner of their nation since Putin began the invasion of Ukraine in February 2014.
The two ships sailed from the Ukrainian Navy’s western base of Odesa on the Black Sea to its new eastern base at Berdyansk on the Sea of Azov. To get there, the vessels had to pass through the Kerch Strait and under the Kerch bridge which the Russian invaders illegally built.
The “Donbas” is a search and rescue vessel. It was built at the Szczecin shipyard in Poland in 1969. The Ukrainian Navy had planned to decommission the almost 50-year-old vessel this winter, but found a powerfully symbolic use for it on this voyage from Odesa to Berdyansk. The “Donbas” has a single anti-aircraft artillery installation. The “Korets” is a tug. It was built in the Yaroslavl shipyard in 1973 in what was then the Russian Soviet Federated Socialist Republic. The “Korets” has one large-calibre machine gun.
Berdyansk will be a new base of the Ukrainian navy on the Sea of Azov. Two Gurza-M-class fast assault craft are now deployed to Berdyansk. The “Kremenchuk” and the “Lubny” were built by Kuznya na Rybalskomu in Kyiv. Delivery to the fast-emerging naval base at Berdyansk started on September 8.
At around 3:50 p.m. Ukrainian time, the “Donbas” and the “Korets” passed the illegally-built Kerch bridge which connects Krasnodar Krai in the Russian Federation and Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula – temporarily occupied by the Russian Federation.
A Boeing RC-135V reconnaissance aircraft from the US Air Force was on patrol south of the Kerch Strait while the “Donbas” and the “Korets” transited. An RQ-4 Global Hawk unmanned surveillance aircraft of the US Air Force was on patrol over land north of Berdyansk and also kept watch.
This is the first time since Russia began its war against Ukraine in 2014 that the Ukrainian Navy has acted on its own initiative. It was a bold and successful move. Until now, for the past four and a half years, the Ukrainian Navy has been reacting to provocations and aggression by the invaders of Ukraine from Muscovy.
To shadow the two Ukrainian naval vessels, the Russians deployed the following armada: the Federal Security Service border patrol ship “Svetlyachok”; two Mangust-class patrol boats of the Coast Guard; a Chibis-class small patrol boat of the Coast Guard; the Black Sea Fleet rescue tug SB-739; two Raptor-class high-speed patrol boats of the special forces of the Russian Navy. In the Kerch Strait on September 23 Russian hysteria was on full display. The cause of it was two small, ancient and practically unarmed Ukrainian naval vessels.
The “Kremenchuk” and the “Lubny” – the fast assault craft now based in Berdyansk met their sister ships and brought them in to Ukraine’s new eastern port. The Ukrainian Navy now has a Sea of Azov fleet consisting of four small vessels. Last month there were none.
The first initiative by the Ukrainian Navy in Putin’s War against Ukraine was a master-stroke. If Russia had stopped the “Donbas” and the “Korets” it would have faced condemnation and probably more sanctions from the international community. By letting the two vessels pass unmolested Russia now faces the possibility of further discontent domestically.
“Crimea is ours!” rings hollow in Russian ears when the Ukrainian Navy has just demonstrated that Crimea is Ukraine and is only temporarily occupied by the Russian Federation.
In an entirely peaceful operation, the Ukrainian Navy has shown convincingly the following: the Kerch Strait is an international strait; the Sea of Azov is an inland sea fully-accessible by Ukraine; Russia does not have an exclusive economic zone around Crimea; Crimea is integral territory of Ukraine that is temporarily and illegally occupied by the Russian Federation.
The so-called ‘annexation’ of Crimea by the Russian Federation will never be recognized. Russia showed its hysteria by confronting two old ships of the Ukrainian Navy with an excessive show of force. Russia then showed the weakness of its hold over Ukrainian land, sea and air by letting the “Donbas” and the “Korets” pass to their new port unmolested.
Crimea is Ukraine. Ukraine’s new naval base at Berdyansk brings the day of the liberation of Crimea closer.