The ongoing Ukraine crisis – naval aspects
The major build-up of Russian land forces around Ukraine has received a great deal of media attention, but the accompanying accumulation of warships of the Russian Federation Navy (RFN) has been largely ignored.
Analysts believe that there are now at least 40 RFN vessels positioned in and around the Black Sea and the eastern Mediterranean. Intelligence reports show that this fleet includes Rapucha-class and Ivan Gren-class amphibious warfare vessels laden with naval infantry and vehicles. There are also three battle groups of frigates and destroyers, headed by the missile cruisers Moskva, Varyag and Marshal Ustinov, together with Udaloy-class destroyers and Admiral Gorshkov-class frigates, and at least four Kilo-class diesel electric powered attack submarines.
The ships have been drawn from a number of RFN fleets, with some ships reportedly being resupplied on rotation at Russia’s naval base at Tartus, Syria.
Russia, meanwhile, has issued Notices to Mariners, warning international shipping to keep clear of large swathes of sea off Ukraine and Crimea.
Russian ultimate intentions remain unclear, but analysts believe that, with these naval movements, Moscow is visibly maintaining an option of initiating an amphibious landing in the southern part of Ukraine, as part of a possible invasion strategy. Also, the anti-shipping cruise missile-armed cruisers, frigates and destroyers constitute a strong threat-in-being to NATO’s aircraft carriers in the region.
In response, NATO naval forces are gathering in the eastern Mediterranean. Available assets currently include three aircraft carriers, namely the French Navy’s Charles de Gaulle, the American Harry S. Truman and the Italian Cavour, while the British flat-top Prince of Wales, currently flagship of the NATO Rapid Response Force, has been placed on standby.
Escorting the carriers is a growing fleet of frigates, destroyers and offshore patrol vessels, so far including ships from the US, UK, Spain, Italy, Norway and Turkey . Recently observed movements of US and UK nuclear-powered attack submarines indicate that some of these craft have also been deployed.