Crisis in Ukraine: Russia Extends its Control over the Black Sea and Strategic Waterways
On May 15, President Vladimir Putin took part in the opening ceremony of the Crimean Bridge – “a super 19-kilometre-long construction” linking Crimea to Russia’s Krasnodar region. This bridge is strategic and broader the economic and geopolitical implications in the region.
The decision of Crimea to join the Russian Federation has strategic and geopolitical implications.
The union of Crimea with Russia redefines both the geography as well as the geopolitical chessboard in the Black Sea basin. It constitutes a major setback for US-NATO, whose longstanding objective has been to integrate Ukraine into NATO with a view to undermining Russia, while extending Western military presence in the Black Sea basin.
With the March 18, 2014 Treaty signed between Russia and Crimea, the Russian Federation will extend its control over the Black Sea as well over the Sea of Azov, the West coastline of which borders on Eastern Ukraine and the Donesk region.
Under the agreement between Russia and Crimea announced by president Putin, two “constituent regions” of Crimea will join the Russian Federation: the “Republic of Crimea” and the “City of Sevastopol”. Both will have the status of “autonomous regions”.
The status of Sevastopol as an autonomous entity separate from Crimea is related to the location of Russia’s Naval base in Sevastopol.
Since the break-up of the Soviet Union, Russia retained its naval base in Sevastopol under a bilateral agreement with Ukraine. With the signing of the March 18th Treaty, that agreement is null and void. Sevastopol including the Russian naval base become part of an autonomous region within the Russian Federation. The naval base is no within Ukraine under a lease agreement. Moreover, Crimea’s territorial waters now belong to the Russian Federation.
Russia now formally controls a much larger portion of the Black Sea, which includes the entire coastline of the Crimean peninsula. The Eastern part of Crimea –including the Kerch straits– are now under Russia’s jurisdiction control. On the Eastern side of the Kerch straits is Russia’s Krasnodar region and extending southwards are the port cities of Novorossiysk and Sochi.
Novorossiysk is also strategic. It is Russia’s largest commercial port on the Black Sea, at the cross-roads of major oil and gas pipelines between the Black Sea and Caspian sea.
Historically, the Kerch straits have played a strategic role. They constitute a gateway from the Black Sea to Russia’s major waterways including the Don and the Volga.
During World War II, the Kerch peninsula occupied by Nazi Germany was an important point of transit by land and water. In the coldest months of Winter, it became an ice bridge linking Crimea to the Krasnodar region.
The Kerch straits are about 5 kilometers in length and 4.5 km. wide at the narrowest point between the tip of Eastern Crimea and the peninsula of Taman. Kerch is a major commercial port linked to railway, ferry and river routes.
the integration of Crimea into the Russian Federation means that Moscow is now in full control of the Kerch Straits linking the Black Sea to the Sea of Azov. The Ukrainian authorities are no longer in control of the port of Kerch. The bilateral agreement between Russia and Ukraine governing the maritime route through the Kerch straights has been scrapped.
The straits constitute an entry point into Russia’s major river waterways. The Sea of Azov connects with the Don River and the Volga, through the Volga Don Canal. In turn, the Volga flows into the Caspian sea.
The Kerch straits are strategic. The Kerch-Yenikalskiy Canal allows large vessels to transit from the Black sea to the Sea of Azov.
the Kerch Straits link the Black Sea to the Volga which in turn connects to the Moscow river through the Volga-Moskva canal.
Full control of the narrow Kerch straits by Russia ensures unimpeded maritime transit from the Black Sea to Russia’s capital as well as the maritime route to the Caspian Sea.
The Russia-Ukraine 2013 agreement pertaining to the construction of the bridge had, for all purposes already been scrapped before March 16. Crimea’s union to Russia was already in the pipeline prior to the referendum, it was a fait accompli. Less than two weeks before the March 16 Referendum, at the height of the crisis in Ukraine, Russia’s Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev ordered the state-road building corporation “Russian Highways” “to create a subsidiary company that will oversee the building of a bridge across the Kerch Strait”.
This bridge would largely be geared towards train transport routes linking Western and Eastern Europe to the Caspian Sea basin, Kazakhstan and China.
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