Michael MacKay, Radio Lemberg, 28.09.2018
Ukraine now has two more ships to defend its sea and its coastline against invader Russia. On September 27, the United States officially transferred two former Coast Guard cutters to the Ukrainian navy. The additions to Ukraine’s naval fleet are badly needed, because four and a half years after the initial invasion Russia is pressing its war against Ukraine especially hard in the Sea of Azov and on the Black Sea.
The Americans are delivering to Ukraine two “Island” class cutters: 33-metre-length armed vessels that when in service with the US Coast Guard were named the “Drummond” and the “Cushing.” The cutters can carry a 25 millimetre machine gun and several .50-calibre machine guns. The vessels will undergo an extensive refurbishment scheduled to last five months at the US Coast Guard’s Baltimore yard. Training will be provided for two Ukrainian crews, totalling about 35 sailors. Along with the ships, the US is providing a support package that includes spare parts. The Ukrainian government approved the $10 million sale in September.
The President of Ukraine, Petro Poroshenko, is in the US on a working visit, and gave a speech to the UN General Assembly on September 26. On September 27 he was in Baltimore, Maryland for the hand-over ceremony.
After the ceremony, President Poroshenko tweeted (in Ukrainian): “The first two “Island” class Coast Guard patrol boats, which the United States has donated to Ukraine, will be another brick in strengthening the naval alliance between the Ukrainian and American peoples.” An example of this alliance is the “Sea Breeze” international military exercise co-hosted by the U.S. and Ukraine, which is held annually on the Black Sea and coastal areas of Ukraine. This year, the Americans sent the command ship USS Mount Whitney (LCC-20) and the guided-missile destroyer USS Porter (DDG-78) to lead the naval contingent.
Support for the recovery of the Ukrainian navy is coming from another NATO member: the United Kingdom. On September 21, Britain’s Secretary of Defence, Gavin Williamson, announced that the United Kingdom will deploy more Royal Marine commandos to the Odesa region and will assign a Royal Navy attaché as a liaison with the Ukrainian navy. Secretary Williamson also said the Royal Navy will conduct more patrols in the Black sea in 2019.
Russia invaded Ukraine on 20 February 2014 and completely occupied Crimea soon afterwards. The foreign invaders from Muscovy captured Ukraine’s port city of Sevastopol, and seized most of the ships of the Ukrainian navy. In April of 2014 Putin’s army invaded Donbas, the eastern region of Ukraine. The Armed Forces of the Russian Federation have been attacking Ukraine for the last four and a half years along a battlefront that stretches across Luhansk and Donetsk regions, from Stanytsia Luhansk near the Ukraine-Russian Federation border to east of Mariupol on the Sea of Azov.
Since the beginning of this year, aggressor Russia has been opening another battlefront on the Sea of Azov. The invaders illegally built a bridge across the Kerch Strait, and subsequently imposed an effective maritime blockade on the Ukrainian ports of Berdyansk and Mariupol on the Sea of Azov. In his war of imperialist aggression against Ukraine, Putin hopes to turn the Sea of Azov into a Russian lake. Putin hopes to harm the Ukrainian economy and also to support a combined armed amphibious assault against the Sea of Azov littoral, so that his invasion army will have a “land bridge” to Crimea.
To counter Russian aggression in the Sea of Azov and in the Black Sea off the coast of Odesa, Ukraine has embarked on an ambitious program to equip the Ukrainian navy with small ships as quickly as it can. “We can’t create a fleet like Russia has but we can create so-called Mosquito fleet: small ships but many of them,” said Valeriy Chaly, Ukraine’s ambassador to the US. Ukraine is building fast armed patrol boats – gunships – at the Kuznya na Rybalskomu shipyard in Kyiv. Early in September, the first two of these patrol boats, the “Kremenchuk” (P177) and the “Lubny” (P178) were delivered to Ukraine’s new naval base at Berdyansk on the Sea of Azov.
The Ukrainian navy has been passive and reactive since Russia invaded Ukraine in 2014. All that changed on September 23. In an operation that stunned the enemy Russians, the Ukrainian navy sent two vessels, the “Donbas” (A500) and the “Korets” (A830), from Odesa on the Black Sea to Berdyansk on the Sea of Azov, through the Kerch Strait. If the Russians had chosen to attack or to board the Ukrainian naval vessels it would have been an act of war. As it turned out, the Russians backed down. In a peaceful action which humiliated the Russians, the Ukrainian navy established freedom of navigation through the international Kerch Strait and proved that the Sea of Azov is not a “Russian lake.”
The Ukrainian navy now has a newly-emerging naval base at Berdyansk with four small vessels: the two old ships which came from Odesa and the two brand-new gunships. Two “Island” class cutters from the US Coast Guard will become ships of the Ukrainian navy in 2019. They will contribute to the “Mosquito fleet” that Ukraine is building to confront aggressor Russia.
The war aim of the Russian Federation is to destroy Ukraine. The short-term objective of the Muscovites is to cut off Ukrainians from the sea. To do that, Putin’s marauders on the land and pirates on the sea engage in total warfare to deny Ukraine access to the Sea of Azov, to the coast of Crimea, and to the Black Sea off of Odesa. Ukraine’s “Mosquito fleet” – including the two US Coast Guard cutters – is what stands opposed to Putin’s War of imperial conquest against Western civilization.