What Are the Truths And Myths About the War on the Black Sea?

August 22, 2023
Counting its internationally-recognized territory, Russia has around 10 percent of the Black Sea’s coastline.
Photo credit: European Pravda

However, as a result of its aggression against neighboring countries, Moscow now de facto controls about a third of the coastline.

So what are the truths and myths about the war on the Black Sea?

UkraineWorld spoke to Pavlo Lakiychuk, Head of Security Programmes at the Strategy XXI Centre for Global Studies Strategy XXI.

Key points – in our brief, #UkraineWorldAnalysis:

1. On comparing naval component of Russia's aggression in 2008 and 2022

  • If we compare the naval component of Russia's full-scale war with Ukraine and Russia's war with Georgia in 2008, we understand the changes that have taken place in the Black Sea region.
  • In 2008, a task force from the Russian Black Sea Fleet, led by the cruiser Moskva and consisting of several missile boats, anti-submarine warfare vessels, and a landing ship, which were based in Ukrainian Sevastopol, sailed to the Georgian coast.
  • The Russians were very much reluctant to engage Georgia at sea. The Georgians had two missile boats, the former Greek ship P17 (Dioscuria) and their flagship the Tbilisi, which was formerly the Ukrainian vessel Konotop. The Russians were very afraid of these missile boats launching cruise missiles against them.

In fact, unbeknownst to the Russians, Georgia had ships.

Russian propaganda reported a bitter but victorious battle between the Russian missile boat Mirage and several Georgian missile boats. In reality, Russia destroyed a Georgian hydrographic boat, an unarmed auxiliary vessel, with anti-aircraft missiles after mistaking it for the Tbilisi.

It is worth noting that the Georgian fleet was sunk by Russian special forces, who entered the Poti Sea Port from the shore, planted explosives, and sank the Georgian missile boats.

  • The Georgians tried to defend themselves and even fired an MLRS attack on Russian ships that approached the shore. In 2022, Ukraine took advantage of Georgia's experience by luring a Russian patrol ship towards its coast and sinking it.

2. On Ukrainian forces seizing the initiative

  • Russia made serious naval preparations for its attack on Ukraine. An example of this is the exercise in the fall of 2021 at the Opuk training ground, which involved amphibious assault ships from the Black Sea, Baltic, and Northern Fleets, landing and artillery boats from the Caspian Flotilla, as well as military transport aircraft and an airborne division. The exercise strongly resembled what one would expect of a Russian landing operation to take Odesa.

The Russians were stopped by our Neptune anti-ship missile system, which they did not believe we had.

The moment the Russian missile frigate Admiral Essen was damaged, even before the sinking of the Moskva, Russian hopes of carrying out a large amphibious landing against Ukraine were dead in the water. Russia's war at sea has now been reduced to supporting their ground forces close to the Azov Sea coast and launching Kalibr missiles at Ukrainian territory from areas under the protection of Russia's naval bases.

  • As Ukraine deploys more and more sophisticated weapons with longer and longer range, the Russians are forced to evacuate their ships further, first to Sevastopol, then to Feodosia, and to Novorossiysk, keeping themselves in harbor. We have forces and means that weaken the Russian advantage.

Vice Admiral Olexiy Neizhpapa, the commander of the Ukrainian Navy, recently stated that we entered the war with a naval power ratio of 12:1 in the Russians' favor, but it has now been diminished to 4:1. The enemy can conduct operations to control shipping, but ships that go to sea are in a combat zone, which scares them. They can launch missile attacks, but again, they are forced to hide in safe harbors.

  • Ukraine's defense forces have demonstrated that warfare in a closed sea is radically different from the strategy the Russians chose before their full-scale invasion of Ukraine. Ukrainian forces are seizing the initiative and establishing their own order of operations.
  1. On having the key to the Black Sea region
  • Our Black Sea neighbors and NATO partners swallowed the Russian aggression against Georgia back in 2008 and defined only the Black Sea coast as NATO territory. That is, Romania, Moldova, and Bulgaria up to the Black Sea coast belong in the Alliance, but the sea itself was left with murky status. We see that both the threat of mines and obstruction of free navigation pose a danger to the entire Black Sea region.
  • Since 2014, we have observed a successful, proactive strategy from NATO in the Baltic Sea, which was prompted by Poland and the Baltic states. The Black Sea states did not take such initiative. Obviously, Turkey's position was decisive here, because it seemed that having the key to the region in the form of the Black Sea straits was enough to control the sea.
Daria Synhaievska, Analyst at UkraineWorld
Pavlo Lakiychuk, Head of Security Programmes at the Strategy XXI Centre for Global Studies Strategy XXI
Daria Synhaievska
Analyst at UkraineWorld