September 07, 2006  (the date of publication in Russian)

Maxim Kalashnikov


The lessons of the conflict on Cyprus raise a question whether the North Atlantic Alliance is able to help Ukraine to protect the Crimean Peninsula in case of an internationalized ethnic conflict in the area


In 1974, a short but very intensive war broke out in the Mediterranean – ironically, between two NATO member countries. The subject of the military conflict between Greece and Turkey was Cyprus. Despite its influence in the Alliance, the United States failed to cease the warfare.

To compare the situation of that time and today, it is useful to reconstruct the events of that time. In July 1974, the world was gripped with a severe energy crisis and industrial decline. While the United States was demoralized with economic difficulties and the war in Vietnam, the Gulf states were choking the whole Western community with a drastic oil price hike.

On this background, the Greek regime of "black colonels" was planning to overtake Cyprus. The independent republic of Cyprus, headed by Archbishop Makarios, was aware of those plans. A number of agents of the Greek regime, acting through the National Guard, which included 650 Greek officers, and the local rightist EOCA movement, were trying to get rid of the Archbishop, launching several physical assaults on his life. When the Cyprus leadership eventually demanded that Athens recall its officers, the agents of the "black colonels" initiated a riot which involved not only the whole National Guard (11,000 guns) but also the regiment of Greek motorized infantry (950 servicemen) and a number of air force units, along with EOCA's paramilitary groups.

The mutineers overtook the central airport, the broadcasting facility, the Presidential palace, along with other Government institutions in Nicosia. A bloody warfare with the forces, devoted to Archbishop Makarios, started in the streets of the city. The Black Colonels were following the pattern of the Spanish Francists of 1936. It seemed that in a short while, Cyprus will fall into the disposal of the Athens as a ripe fruit.

However, Turkey immediately intervened – under a perfectly justified pretext of protection of the Turkish community in the island's north. At July 20 morning, the Turks simultaneously dropped a unit of marines at a 5 km distance from port Cyrenia, and two squads of paratroopers at the Nicosia airport and to the south from Cyrenia, delivering 34,000 more soldiers to the island by sea. At the same time, the Turkish fleet blocked two major havens of the southern Cyprus – Limassol and Pathos.

Ankara managed to bypass the Greeks due to perfect intelligence and qualified military preparations. At the decisive moment, Turkey's 300 ships were ready to oppose the 88 Greek vessels; when the Greek side undertook reinforcement, it was defeated in the sea battle near Pathos. By that time, the troops under a red star-and-crescent ensign entered Cyrenia, overtook the airport of Nicosia, and seized control over the road connecting the port with the capital.

Thus, a war between two NATO member countries started, all the efforts of the United States and Britain being in vain.

On July 22, the senior powers managed to arrange a ceasefire, and to force the two sides for negotiations. Still, the diplomacy in Geneva bit dust, as the Turkish side was demanding that a sovereign ethnic Turkish state be established on a territory as large as 34% of the isle. Eventually, the republic of Turkish Cypriots was declared, since 1983 under the name of the Turkish Republic of North Cyprus (TRNC). Until today, it is not recognized by any state except Turkey, and de facto represents the interests of the Republic of Turkey.

In this way, the temporary weakness of the United States in 1974 did not allow to cease a military confrontation between the two allied states, which resulted in the division of the Cyprus, existing until today.



Now, just try to imagine a picture from a relatively close probable future: with Ukraine in NATO, and Russia's Black Sea Fleet withdrawn from Sevastopol.

The conditions for a military operation in the Black Sea basin are perfect. For a militarily rising Turkey with a 80 million population, a dream of overtaking the Crimean Peninsula is a long-time temptation. A convenient pretext is similarly obvious: to protect the fraternal minority of the Crimean Tatars, in order to assist in establishing of their own statehood – on the pattern of TRNC, effectively patronized by Ankara for decades.

Today again, the United States are in the midst of problems with the dollar and a relevant sensitive reshapement of national economy. Adding local social conflicts, likely to emerge in various places of the US, the superpower, weakened morally and financially also with troublesome involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan would hardly be able to intervene and protect one NATO member from another.

The role of a trigger for the warfare may be played by an unrest of Crimea's Russian population, humiliated with poverty and deliberate Ukrainization. The Crimean Tatar minority, with its long-existing conflict with the local Russians, is likely to wage a counter-revolt, deploying well-organized armed units, infiltrated by Turkish military instructors and supervised by Turkish intelligence.

An effective attack on Ukraine's Navy would allow the Crimean Tatars to paralyse the ports and to eventually declare a re-established state of Crimean Khans with a capital in Bakhchisarai.

In this situation, Turkey's General Staff, which had been long prepared to a probable development of this kind, would intervene, with no regard for the membership of Turkey and Ukraine in the same military block.

A number of a hundred paramilitary units of Crimean Tatars, operating in the area of Sevastopol, plus around 20 in Kacha, 25 in Gvardeiskoye, and 8 in Feodosia would be sufficient to overtake the major facilities of Ukraine's Navy, and to blast the ships right at the pier. (Any recent guest of Sevastopol and Balaklava is aware of the low level of protection of the Navy bases from an offensive from land.) Those units would kill officers along with their families, and overtake air fields. Units of marines, styled as scuba divers, would destroy the Ukrainian screw-guided ships – as they are mostly laid up.

Meanwhile, the Turkish side would declare support for the newly-emerged Crimean Tatar state. On the same day, Turkish forces would mine the entry of the Ukrainian Navy to the Black Sea, and launch a massive air force offensive operation (AFOO). From the air and from submarines, the stead of the Sevastopol base would be stuffed with mines. Four subsequent air attacks, two on the first and one on each of the next days, would completely destroy the Navy of Ukraine. A maximum deployment of the Turkish air forces may involve 300-400 aircrafts, along with 72 vehicles with 206 cruise missiles from the Turkish Navy. Each of the twelve freighters of a most modern type (Oliver H. Perry and MEKA 2000), is able to carry anti-boat Harpoon missiles. Add 19 missile carriers, 2 destroyers, and 15 patrol boats, each easily transformed in a missile carrier equipped with two cruise missiles. In general, Turkey's armed forces already possess between 206 and 240 anti-boat cruise missiles, as well as eleven cruise missile-carrying helicopters. Add a horde of seven Turkish submarines, scouring about the area.

All those forces altogether are sufficient for a destruction of the whole of Ukraine's Navy potential into thin powder. By year 2010, the potential of Turkey's Navy is likely to increase even more.

The destruction of the Navy potential would leave no obstacles for the deployment of Turkish landing convoys, starting from the ports of Trabzon, Derezun-Rheza, Gelcuk, and Iskenderun. Occupying the convenient bay of Balaklava, the Turkish troops would enter Sevastopol. Blocking the Isthmus of Perekop, they would effectively amputate Crimea from Ukraine.

Any Kiev's appeal to NATO allies would be in vain. Decision-making within the North-Atlantic Alliance has hardly improved with its expansion, involving a lot of political implications which have spectacularly surfaced during the war in Iraq. Though the Alliance is not divided in its policy towards Kiev, the distance between political sympathy and commitment for military support is great, given the fact that no European power has got a higher single Navy potential, as well as intelligence in the area than Turkey.

In the described case, the precedent of 1974 is likely to be reproduced. The United States is too occupied with other complicated affairs to intervene in time. For Turkey, the Crimea is a promising area for colonization. The peninsula, populated by two million people today, is large and fertile enough to host a population of 6 millions. Under Turkish rule, it is likely to emerge into a jewel of international tourism.



What counterbalance can an independent Ukraine provide against the Turkish Navy potential? We can judge upon the pompous anti-terrorist exercises, launched by Ukraine shortly after the September 11 attack.

According to the scenario, a small vessel with a terrorist squad approached the entrance of Balaklava Bay. Fusing a stinkpot, they imitated a fire. A patrol ship of Ukraine's Border Forces hurried to the "burning" vessel for help. But suddenly, the supposed "terrorists" gave a burst of gunfire. The spectators could see the whole crew of the patrol boat fall upon the deck, the "terrorists" from spetsnaz (special forces) easily storming UBF's ship.

When some natives, referring to the experience of the Soviet Navy, ridiculed the cowardly border servicemen, one of them replied, "But what for am I supposed to sacrifice myself? For this semi-criminal power which plays me sixpence for my service?"

That is the reality of today's Ukrainian Navy. With the described morale, it is hardly able to protect Crimea in case of a serious military challenge.

Ukraine's Navy, with its almost three hundred military ships, is twice smaller than Turkey's, and by one fifth smaller than Romania's. Bulgaria's and Georgia's naval capacities are even smaller. But in late 2004, after the "orange revolution", Ukraine's Navy underwent a new reduction. A number of newly-slashed vessels included Sevastopol freighter, Izyaslav corvette, and Uman missile launch. By 2015, Ukraine's Navy is supposed to possess only 16 military ships and a double or triple number of supply ships.

The earlier plans of the Navy to develop a multiple-force squadron have been cancelled. The construction of Ukraine missile cruiser (formerly Admiral Lobov) is unlikely to be completed, as the country is unable to sustain her maintenance.

Ukraine's submarine fleet is comprised of a single boat, Zaporozhie (until October 1997, known as B-435). The desperately outdated boat was built yet in May 1970 in Leningrad. For years, it served at Russia's Northern Fleet, to be relocated to the Black Sea in 1990. The boat, conveyed to Ukraine's Navy in 1997, had been since then under repair in the docks of Metallist Plant in Balaklava. In early 2003, it had to be conducted to Sevastopol Bay for a new repair of units and mechanisms at the 13th Shipyard of Russia's Black Sea Fleet. It leaks like a sieve.

That is how a Crimean observer describes the parade of Ukraine's Navy forces in 2006: "The Kremenec tugboat came first, dragging the motionless, though recently exhibited Pridneprovie missile corvette (a missile launch in Russian classification). Next came Konstantin Olshansky landing ship (in service). Next, Khmelnitsky corvette (a minor anti-submarine boat, MPL, in Russian classification). Next, Lutsk corvette (out of service); Chernigov trawler (out of service, promptly painted on the eve of the Navy Day); Getman Sagaidachny freighter (major patrol boat in Russian classification) – the flagship of Ukraine's Navy (in service but in a poor shape, all the major units demanding repair).

The parade was concluded with Slavutic control boat (today being unclear what to control) and Donbass control boat (rebuilt from what once was a floating dock). Among two Ukrainians, you traditionally find three getmans.

Focussing on the picture of the Kremenec tugboat, dragging a newly built missile corvette, one might inquire: how is Pridneprovie going to deal with an enemy ship or just with a trespasser? Would it need two tugboats?

New construction efforts suggest new problems for Ukraine's Navy. A new corvette, named Ternopol, was put into operation in early 2006; but on the very first day, it dashed its bow against the pier, which was no surprise: the "yellow-blue" servicemen have got too scarce practice due to budget austerity. The whole armament of the new ship is reportedly borrowed from outdated torpedo boats and minor anti-subs. For that reason, this "ship of the XXI century" is reputed as "second hand". Other new ships under construction include two minor anti-subs and one corvette. That is all.

The composition of Ukraine's Navy is striking with its unbalance. The fleet includes an excessive number of landing ships and anti-subs, while protection of the coastline requires primarily missile launches and artillery boats, minor missile boats, patrol boats, trawlers and basal aviation. Is the "liberated" country, with all signs of inconsistency, capable of building the required Navy potential? Too doubtful. Today's romantic nationalist powers in Kiev, with their efforts to oust Russia's Black Sea Fleet out of Crimean bases to join NATO, are just preparing the conditions for an effective "Northern Cyprus" scenario. As soon as Ukraine finds itself alone at the face of the Turkish naval power, it is doomed to lose the Crimea. Only while the Russian Navy is still in the game, the peninsula has got a chance to stay Slavonic.



The Black Sea Fleet of Russia, the successor of USSR's BSF, is a guarantor of Crimea's security. The 30th division of surface Navy ships includes Moscow missile cruiser, three major anti-submarine ships (Kerch, Ochakov, and Smetlivyi), and two patrol ships. The 197th brigade of commando ships is comprised of seven major commando boats. The 247th submarine division – of two boats, one of them in service.

The 68th brigade of local defense (OVR) includes five minor anti-subs of 1980-86, and four mine trawlers. The 184th OVR brigade supplies two more minor anti-subs and four trawlers.

To combat enemy surface ships, Russia's BSF has got the 41st brigade of missile boats, its major force represented by two super-speed missile carriers of a skeg (semi-magnetic cushion) type, Borah and Samoom, armed with two most perfect anti-boat Mosquito-type missiles. Add two older minor missile boats, Mirage and Still, with Granite-type missiles, plus six missile launches.

Around thirty Russian Navy ships are parked at a number of rented sites in the Sevastopol Bay. It also hosts BSF's Staff, the central communication unit, the Navy hospital, the 1096th flak regiment, the 810th Marine regiment, and the 17th armory. The airports of Kacha and Gvardeiskoye host twenty SU fighters and AN-26 [transport?] planes, plus around a dozen of Ka-27 helicopters.

This potential, however, is just a shade of a once powerful fleet, similar to a weak and ill-assorted "active brigade" of the Red Fleet at the Baltic in 1918-1920. Russia's BSF is also unbalanced. It includes too many landing ships, as if Russia were still planning to overtake the Bosphorus and the Dardanelles.

In 2001, this author had an opportunity to mount the board of Borah missile carrier during exercises. The event in a whole produced a sad impression. In order to save fuel, ships moved with a turtle speed; the whole of the involved ammunition dated back to 1982-83, half of it appearing faulty. In the times of the USSR, exercises involved rapidly moving radio-managed targets and jet imitators of military aircrafts; this time, the only target was a defunct laid-up barge. Flak artillery did not get any targets at all, having to attack an imaginable point in the heaven. The artillery's accuracy was miserable, as well as quality of communication. It was especially depressing that the location of the conditional enemy, supposed to be detected with special satellites and aircrafts, was conditional as well – as no air and space force was involved.

Since that time, however, something has changed in an encouraging direction. Russia is rising; unlike Ukraine, it is capable to upgrade and reinforce its Navy. Add the legal possibility to expand the Russian fleet in Ukraine's waters up to 388 ships, including 14 diesel submarines (in accordance with the agreement on division of the Navy, signed May 28, 1997). The rented airports of Gvardeiskoye and Kacha can host 161 vehicles – a potential comparable with Turkey's. Russia can definitely boost its Navy, reinforcing it with high-speed missile carriers and multifunctional cruisers, and to build up a formidable division of new diesel-electric submarines, as well as to establish a powerful air force group dominated with advanced SU-34 fighters.

Besides, the Russian Federation, unlike Ukraine, is a nuclear power. It has got tactical nuclear weaponry at its disposal as well. Turkey, or another potential enemy, would be reluctant to get involved in a conflict with a state, capable of destroying its fleet with cruise missiles and "special" warheads, and to deteriorate its naval ports.

Therefore, Kiev gas got all grounds for addressing Moscow to guarantee the security of its Black Sea coastline.

The process is likely to start. As soon as the official Kiev regains its capability for a reasonable defense policy, it will definitely realize that the ships under St. Andrew's (Russian Navy) flag is the best possible protection for Ukraine itself.

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