Dominant in the Black Sea, Russia can hardly attack the part of the Ukrainian coast that, according to Western observers, is slipping from its control: Kyiv has seen its naval fleet destroyed but threatens the horizon with its coastal batteries.
The Black Sea, for the Russians, since the beginning of the war, “it is + Mare Nostrum +,” notes Captain Eric Lafault, spokesman for the French Navy. And that is, even if all other coastal states are, or aspire to be, NATO members.
According to British intelligence, there is a sea over which about twenty buildings prevail, in which Turkey has closed the Bosphorus and Dardanelles straits since the end of February under the Montreux Convention of 1936.
Another advantage of the Russians: the recent capture of Mariupol and the complete conquest of the Azov coast in the north-east allows them to provide a “very direct logistical chain” of combat units in the Donbass from the eastern port of Novorossiysk, notes Mr. LaVault.
However, by claiming to have struck the Russian cruiser Moskva on April 13, and then announcing the destruction of two Russian patrol boats on Monday near the island of Serpents, the kyiv managed to create a region of uncertainty near what remained of its coast, between Odessa. and Romania.
Ukraine, whose naval fleet has been decimated, has coastal batteries of anti-ship missiles, such as the Neptune, and it is possible that the Harpons were soon donated by Great Britain.
“This area represents a threat that the Russians must take into account,” said Igor Delanoe, deputy director of the Franco-Russian Observatory and a specialist in the Russian Navy.
– ‘Marine health cordon’ –
This may prevent Moscow from launching an amphibious operation in the Odessa region.
Such an operation would make it possible to encircle Ukraine and link up with its elements in the breakaway Transdniestria of Moldova, as stated again this week by a Russian general.
But in the near future, this hypothesis “looks far fetched. We have to see how things will settle in Donbass,” according to Mr. Delanoe. Above all, “we will have to neutralize the coastal batteries if they decide to pursue this option.”
“We don’t know exactly how many Ukrainians are from Neptune,” said Michael Petersen, director of the Institute of Russian Naval Studies at the US Naval War College.
Additionally, the Russians “don’t control the skies, and they’re not accurate in their missile strikes” which limits their ability to neutralize these batteries, Eric LaVault notes.
Since the start of the war, “Russia has had great difficulty finding and destroying portable surface-to-air missile batteries,” Petersen recounts, and “I think it would be the same for portable coastal defense batteries” which are often moved.
With these missiles, “most of which have a range of about 300 kilometers,” Mr. Petersen recalls, Ukraine has created a “sanitary sea cordon,” as Eric LaVault explains, which also makes it possible to threaten “supplies by sea. Russian forces clashed on the southern side” between Kherson And Mykolaiv.
– Surface drones and mines –
Mine-reinforced rope — some of which has begun to drift — and will be further augmented by naval drones promised by the United States, “aimed at assisting Ukraine in its coastal defense,” according to the Pentagon, which declines to say if they have weapons on board.
Petersen estimates that “most likely it will be used for surveillance and reconnaissance of weapons systems” on the coasts.
“The Russians should not be able to control the Black Sea. It is no longer up to them,” British Defense Secretary Ben Wallace told Sky News last Thursday, denouncing, among other things, the effects of the embargo on grain trade flows.
The Ukrainian military also has the Turkish Bayraktar combat drone – which was used on Monday while destroying two Russian patrol boats near Snake Island.
Historically, the Black Sea, formerly called Pont Euxin, was always so vital to Russia that it “must finally escape from its closed chamber (…), to fill its lungs with the air of the free seas” which Dostoevsky already wrote in 1877.
Whatever the outcome of the war, Russia will struggle to maintain its control and the Black Sea is expected to remain a focus of tensions that weigh on global economic flows.
“The merchant ships will return, they will go to Mariupol, they will go to Odessa which we hope will remain Ukrainian, they will go to the Romanian and Bulgarian ports … But the exploitation of the seabed and fishing in the occupied sea areas, could be Russian,” predicts Eric Laffault.
On a strategic level, Petersen asserts, “many coastal nations are learning the lessons of war, the importance of coastal batteries, and Romania, and the Turks in particular.”
If everyone equips themselves with such equipment, “the naval balance will swing toward these other countries,” predicts the American expert, and even if Russia maintains its hegemony, “it will surely feel less comfortable.”
fz / mep / lch