Russia Monitor is a review of the most important events related to Russian internal and external security, as well as its foreign policies.
Date: 25 January 2022 Author: Grzegorz Kuczyński
Could Russia Attempt A Sea Blockade Of Ukraine?
Southern Ukraine is particularly vulnerable to a Russian attack. First, a massive military force is stationed in Russian-occupied Crimea. Secondly, Russia enjoys an overwhelming advantage at sea. Possibly the Kremlin will block the Kerch Strait and sea routes running to Ukrainian sea ports west of Crimea, notably Odesa. A non-military blockade could eventually bring the Ukrainian economy to its knees.
For Moscow, this scenario is safe as it does not trigger Western sanctions. What also speaks for it is that Russian forces are more numerous and better stationed on the “southern front.” First of all, Ukraine is currently in no shape to resist Russia at sea whose Black Sea Fleet is far stronger than the Ukrainian navy. In 2014, Ukraine lost most of its already modest naval assets during the seizure of Crimea. As a result, the Ukrainian Navy is hopelessly outgunned and outnumbered by the Russian fleet, also because Ukrainian officers had betrayed their country. Of bigger vessels, Ukraine’s navy has its flagship frigate Hetman Sahaydachniy. In addition, Russia can add to its Black Sea Fleet some vessels that are now in the eastern Mediterranean, including those that are en route from the Baltic on six assault ships. Russia has also better infrastructure on land, notably facilities and ports in Crimea. Furthermore, the Russian military has an excellent firepower capacity from its ground positions. Crimea hosts also Bal and Bastion anti-ship missile systems. No bigger vessel will slip into and out of Ukrainian ports at their reach. Ukraine will receive its first delivery of new Neptun cruise missiles no sooner than in a few months. Russia can close the Kerch Strait to make the Azov Sea a Russian lake. This would pave the way for an assault on the Ukrainian coast and seize the ports of Mariupol and Berdyansk that are home to small Ukrainian vessels on the Azov Sea. Given such military disproportion, there emerges a risk of an amphibious landing in Odesa as part of a military operation to join forces with a Russian contingent in Transnistria. Another option is an assault operation to distract some Ukrainian forces as Russian land forces would attack from the Crimean side.
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