Ships, Cities and Modern Weapons: The Sevastopol Flashpoint


2014-03-01 Ed Timperlake

The late Chairman Gerald Solomon of the House Committee on Rules, “the Speaker’s Committee” focused intensely on Ukraine. In 1998 he was also Vice President of the North Atlantic Assembly, which is the legislative side of NATO. As Chairman he took a Congressional Delegation to Kiev and Sevastopol to assess how Ukraine and Russia were dividing up the old Soviet Navy.

Crimea and especially Sevastopol is actually a beautiful place.  It is so nice that it is much like our US military retiring in the South.  A lot of retired Russian Military Officers, mostly Navy, live there and Russians are in the majority.

It is fair to say that in the minds of both Russian leaders in Moscow and local citizens on the Crimea there is a legitimate case for Russian control because Sevastopol is a strategic Naval Base for the Black Sea Fleet of “Mother Russia.”

Consequently intervention by Russia to protect what they see as their equities in Crimea in general and Sevastopol in specific should not be minimized or overlooked.

The home of both Ukraine Navy and the Russian Black Sea Fleet Sevastopol it is a significant potential flash point.

Russian Ships in Sevastapol
Russian Ships in Sevastapol

Thus, the reporting by Eli Lake in the Daily Beast is of surprise:

“American intelligence has concluded that Russia won’t openly invade Ukraine, despite a massive military exercise on the border and the armed takeover of local airports.”

Let me start by introducing some history of ships in port as a key element for security.

It has been very obvious from the last century that ships and cities during times of uncertainty, mutiny rioting and World Wars there have been three historically important examples from the last century.

During the Irish Easter uprising in 1916, the Royal Navy armed steamer yacht the HMY Helga shelled Liberty Hall, Dublin, with 12 pound guns. For reference an 81 mm mortar fires a 9lb warhead.  The British put down with force an Irish rebellion and used a ship firing point blank into a city to help.

In 1905 the Tsarist Russian Battleship Potempkin was a focal point of a mutiny.

Two linear threads in history flowed from that event.

First, the 1905 mutiny was seen as a major precursor to the Russian Revolution.

Second to consolidate their taking over Russia and building the Soviet Empire “workers’ paradise” a brilliant propaganda move was made by the Russians in 1925. The Potempkin after the unsuccessful mutiny had a name it’s changed to Panteleimon.  During World War I the Germans captured the ship in Sevastopol in May of 1918.  After the end of the war in 1919 the British, then occupying Sevastopol disabled the Panteleimon so it could not be used by the Bolsheviks against white Russians.

Russian Port

World War II opened against Poland by the German Navy Battleship Schleswig-Holestein, which had fought in the famous WWI Naval Battle of Jutland, firing the first shot during the Battle of Gdynia to conquer Poland. The Battleship had been moored in the port of Danzig for a ceremonial visit and opened fire point blank on September 1st 1939.

Regardless of modern air and vastly improved ground combat combined arms a country had best pay attention to its Navy, both on the high seas and in port.

That is why the Congressional visit to the Crimean Peninsula was insightful. Having the opportunity to talk with Ukraine Chief of Naval Operations and tour the harbor by boat several issues stand out.

The Ukrainian CNO, was a very impressive Admiral who had been a Submarine Commander in the Soviet Navy. He was confident and proud in trying to make the best of the transfer to his nascent navy of older ships.

However, he was extremely upset and told us that the Russian had stripped his ships of their weapons and also limited access to guarded ammo bunkers. This was in 1998.

The water view of the port was amazing. In addition to three Ukraine Navy ships separated we saw active Russian subs and their surface ships pier side but also Russian subs run aground and beached. They were abandoned with hatches welded shut.

A question that was not answered to any satisfaction was; in the effort to de-nuke Ukraine did the Russian Navy keep any nuclear warheads at the home of their Black Sea Fleet?

Seeing the reported disharmony in US intelligence reporting about Russian intentions American and allied IC reporting must take in account if any potential nuclear devices can be lost. In addition to devices it is already established that there are very destructive conventional weapons owned by the Russian Black Sea Fleet at risk.

All nations that feel the need to follow events in Ukraine should take into consideration any Russian moves to secure and protect their naval weapons.

Protecting nuclear weapons is an area that the US has not ignored in a different part of the world.  The US has had some concern about ‘rogue” warheads and in the past there was some open source discussion about Pakistan Nuclear weapons being lost.

It has been reported that Pakistani “fail-safe” procedures are to protect their weapons by physical security. It has been speculated that their storage is to simply have the weapon and triggers in different secure locations. All of this is a very murky and a dangerous area for any speculating but again some open source reporting reflected American military worries. In the event of events spiraling out of control in Pakistan and possibly losing visibility on potential “Islamic bombs” would the US send in SEALs on sovereign territory to secure the triggers. They did cross into Pakistan to kill Osama be Laden.

Regardless of speculation about US contingencies Russian leaders in response to riots, spiraling out of control leading to a potential Civil War inside Ukraine, there are very deadly Russian weapons at risk.

Consequently, the actions of President Putin can be viewed in a different light.

If the Russian President feels the need to secure and safe guard any and all Russian weapons on sovereign Russian ships in their Black Sea Fleet he has some legal and historic justification.

Ships, cities and modern weapons used by either side for a deadly purpose can kill a lot of people as past history has shown.

Photo Credits:

Lead Photo:

Port Graphic: