The sinking of the warship Moskva, the 600-foot, 12,500-tonne flagship of the Russian Black Sea Fleet — whether due to a Ukrainian missile strike or, as Russia claims, a fire on board — is a serious setback for Russia.
Russia and the Black Sea
- The famed water body bound by Ukraine to the north and northwest, Russia and Georgia to the east, Turkey to the south, and Bulgaria and Romania to the west, which links to the Sea of Marmara through the Bosphorus and then to the Aegean through the Dardanelles, has traditionally been Russia’s warm water gateway to Europe.
- The Sea is a marginal mediterranean sea of the Atlantic Ocean lying between Europe and Asia.
- It lies to the east of the Balkans in Southeast Europe, south of the East European Plain in Eastern Europe; and north of Anatolia and west of the Caucasus, both in Western Asia.
- The Black Sea is supplied by major rivers, principally the Danube, Dnieper, and Don.
- The Black Sea ultimately drains into the Mediterranean Sea, via the Turkish Straits and the Aegean Sea.
- The Bosporus strait connects it to the small Sea of Marmara which in turn is connected to the Aegean Sea via the strait of the Dardanelles.
- To the north, the Sea is connected to the Sea of Azov by the Kerch Strait.
- For Russia, the Black Sea is both a stepping stone to the Mediterranean as well as a strategic buffer between NATO and itself.
- Domination of the Black Sea region is a geostrategic imperative for Moscow, both to project Russian power in the Mediterranean and to secure the economic gateway to key markets in southern Europe.
- The Black Sea Fleet has a long history, and is considered to have been founded back in 1783.
- It comprises warships of the Russian Navy in the Black Sea, Sea of Azov, and the eastern Mediterranean, and is headquartered at Sevastopol, the major port on the Crimean peninsula.
- Although Crimea became part of Ukraine after the USSR collapsed, the Russian Navy continued to have its base in Sevastopol as part of an agreement between the two countries. In 2014, Russia annexed Crimea.
- While the Black Sea Fleet assists with the defence of southern maritime approaches to Russia, it also allows Moscow to use the Black Sea as a jumping off point into the eastern and central Mediterranean. From Moscow’s perspective, these activities enable its diplomacy and power projection into areas where Russia previously had limited influence, and they retard what Russia believes are US and NATO efforts to destablise its partners in places like Syria.
Black Sea in the Ukraine war
- Russia has been making efforts to gain complete control over the Black Sea since the Crimean crisis of 2014.
- During the ongoing invasion, the domination of the Black Sea has been a major Russian objective, along with the land bridge to connect Russia and Crimea.
- As such, there have been intense efforts to capture Mariupol, the Sea of Azov port in the breakaway eastern Ukrainian oblast of Donetsk.
- Russia was also expected to focus its military efforts on Odessa, to the west of Crimea.
- If the Odessa region were to fall as well, Ukraine would lose access to its entire Black Sea coastline and would in effect be reduced to a landlocked country.
- The Odessa oblast has a muti-ethnic population wherein the Russians form the second largest group.
- It is also the largest region in Ukraine which serves as an important energy and transport corridor with abundant natural resources.
- The Rhine-Main-Danube canal connects the Black Sea to the Atlantic Ocean and the North Sea and the port of Odessa serves as a vital link between Ukraine and the outside world.
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