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Generational Dynamics Web Log for 19-Apr-2021
19-Apr-21 World View -- Britain sends warships to Black Sea amid Russia's military buildup around Ukraine

Web Log - April, 2021

19-Apr-21 World View -- Britain sends warships to Black Sea amid Russia's military buildup around Ukraine

Britain to send warships to Black Sea after US backs down

by John J. Xenakis

This morning's key headlines from

Britain sends warships to Black Sea amid Russia's military buildup around Ukraine

Ukraine.  In 2014, Russia invaded and occupied Donbas, and invaded and annexed Crimea.  In 2018, Russia completed a bridge over the Kerch Strait, controlling access to the Sea of Azov.
Ukraine. In 2014, Russia invaded and occupied Donbas, and invaded and annexed Crimea. In 2018, Russia completed a bridge over the Kerch Strait, controlling access to the Sea of Azov.

Britain is reported to be sending two warships to the Black Sea, as Russia continues its military buildup on the Ukraine border, and a naval buildup in the Black Sea. Britain's announcement came when the US backed out of plans to send ships to the Black Sea after being warned by Russia to stay out.

Russia appears to be taking the next step in a plan that began with its invasion of eastern Ukraine in 2014, following a military buildup on the border of Ukraine similar to the military buildup going on at the current time. The invasion took place after Vladimir Putin promised not to invade Ukraine.

During the course of that invasion, Russians in eastern Ukraine in July 2014 shot down a passenger plane, Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17, with a Russian Buk 9M38 missile. The Russians claimed that the US shot down the plane to embarrass Putin. Russia lied about not invading Crimea, and then invaded Crimea. Putin lied about not annexing Crimea, and then annexed Crimea.

In May 2015, Russia began constructing an 11.8 mile bridge across the Kerch Strait (see map above), said to be the longest bridge in Europe.

Russia used the bridge to strangle commerce into Ukraine's seaports of Mariupol and Berdyansk, resulting in substantial economic damage to Ukraine. In November 2018, Russia completed the bridge, and opened live fire for no reason on three Ukrainian vessels, wounding six sailors, boarding and seizing the vessels. The sailors were transferred indefinitely to a jail in Moscow.

The point of reviewing this history is to set the framework for Russia's latest actions, and to show that pretty much everything Russia claims is garbage. The typical Russian playbook is to commit some atrocity and then blame the United States or Nato, such as when the Russians shot down the MH17 passenger plane.

In the current scene, Russian analysts are claiming that the military buildup is because the United States wants Ukraine to join Nato, and because Ukraine is planning to invade Russia. Over the years, I've dealt with dozens of Russian trolls excusing Russia atrocities with some of the most ridiculous excuses, and this is typical.

The problem is that we have absolutely no idea what the Russians are planning.

Whatever military action Russia is planning will probably take place in early or mid-May, after the snows have melted and the fields have dried and are able to hold tanks. We'll have to wait until then to see which of these options Russia will pursue.

Russia builds up its naval forces in Black Sea

Coinciding with the huge build-up of over 100,000 Russian troops near the border with Ukraine, Russia is bolstering its naval fleet in the Black Sea.

Two Russian warships from Russia's Baltic fleet, accompanied by 15 smaller vessels, transited from the Mediterranean Sea through the Bosphorus to the Black Sea on Saturday. The Bosphorus is the waterway, controlled by Turkey, connecting the Mediterranean Sea with the Black Sea.

This comes after Russia announced that Russia is sending 15 naval vessels from its Caspian Sea Flotilla to the Black Sea. These vessels must travel up the Volga River, through a canal built in 1952 with 13 locks, to the Don River, and then to the Sea of Azov and the Black Sea.

So Russia's naval buildup is large and expensive, just like its ground buildup.

Britain to send warships to Black Sea after US backs down

Map of Russian deployment around Ukraine (RFE/RL)
Map of Russian deployment around Ukraine (RFE/RL)

There are a number of news stories from multiple international sources describing this situation, and they seem to boil down to the following:

The US was planning to send two warships into the Black Sea, for a long-scheduled routine mission. However, Russia warned the United States on Tuesday (4/13) against sending the warships, "for their own good." Russia's Deputy Foreign Ministry Sergei Ryabkov was quoted by Russian news agencies as follows:

"There is absolutely nothing for American ships to be doing near our shores. We warn the United States that it will be better for them to stay far away from Crimea and our Black Sea coast. It will be for their own good."

Also on Tuesday, president Joe Biden phoned Russia's president Vladimir Putin, after which the US backed down on the plans to send warships to the Black Sea. US officials described the reason was to avoid needlessly escalating the situation, and a desire not to provoke Moscow during a delicate time.

However on Sunday, British media is reporting that a flotilla of ships from the Royal Navy's carrier task group in the Mediterranean, including a Type 45 destroyer armed with anti-aircraft missiles and an anti-submarine Type 23 frigate, will travel to the Black Sea in May. The deployment is aimed at showing solidarity with Ukraine and Britain's NATO allies.

I heard one analyst make the following speculation about what happened: Perhaps Biden fears a coordinated attack next month on Ukraine by Russia simultaneously with a Chinese attack on Taiwan, and so Biden did not want American warships to be trapped in the Black Sea.

Russia continues military buildup on Ukraine's border

If major hostilities break out again in the Donbas (eastern Ukraine), then the situation will have changed a lot since the last war in 2014, since both Ukraine's and Russia's militaries are better prepared.

Ukraine has significantly boosted defense spending since 2014, has U.S.-supplied Javelin anti-tank missiles in its arsenal, and has troop numbers of nearly 250,000 compared to 168,000 in 2013.

In recent weeks, Russia has unexpectedly boosted its troop presence near the conflict zone in Ukraine. Analysis of open-source material has identified tanks, infantry fighting vehicles, long-range artillery, rocket launchers, and Iskander short-range ballistic missile systems among the materiel that has been moved to the area since mid-March. U.S. and NATO officials have called it the largest military buildup in the region since Russia’s surprise occupation of Crimea and the start of fighting in the Donbas, which has killed more than 13,000 combatants and civilians since April 2014.

So what are Russia's plans? We probably won't know until early to mid-May.

Major diplomatic row between Russia and Czech Republic

This is a (probably) unrelated story, but it's being described as a major diplomatic development between Russia and Europe.

The Czech Republic expelled 18 Russian diplomats on Saturday. Czech local intelligence agents claim the diplomats are Russian intelligence operatives. They are suspected of involvement in an explosion at an arms depot in 2014. On Sunday, Russia retaliated by announcing that 20 diplomats from the Czech Republic will be expelled. At the time of the explosion, it was assumed to be an accident, but through detective work, Czech officials now say that it was Russian sabotage.

Czech Police have identified two suspects in connection with the blast - Alexander Mishkin and Anatoly Chepigov - who are also accused of using the chemical nerve agent weapon Novichok to murder Sergei Skripal, a former double Russian agent, and his daughter Yulia. The murder took place in the UK in Salisbury in 2018.


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