The Russian Federation and the Implementation of the A2/AD System in the Black Sea: Risks and Threats to Romania
Note: This paper was presented during the International Conference "STRATEGIES XXI: The Complex and Dynamic Nature of the Security Environment" organized by the Center for Strategic Studies in Defense and Security of the National Defense University "Carol I", taking place in Bucharest, Romania, on 24-25 November 2016.
The importance of Crimea for the Russian Federation
The breakup of the Soviet Union meant that its successor state, the Russian Federation, lost the strategic position and the freedom of maneuver which Crimea offered in the Black Sea region.
The Crimean Peninsula was under Tatar control until the end of the eighteenth century when Catherine II announced the annexation of the region in 1783 to the Russian Empire. She established the main naval base of the Russian Empire on the Black Sea in the city of Sevastopol in 1785. It retained its importance until 1991 when the Soviet Union collapsed and the peninsula became part of independent Ukraine since it had been offered to the Ukrainian SSR as a gift in 1954 by Nikita Khrushchev, the leader of the Soviet Union at that time, celebrating 300 years of Russian-Ukrainian friendship. The breakup of the Soviet Union meant that its successor state, the Russian Federation, lost the strategic position and the freedom of maneuver which Crimea offered in the Black Sea region. However, Moscow would regain its position on May 28th 1997 when Russian President Boris Yeltsin and Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma signed the Treaty of Friendship Cooperation and Partnership in Kiev. Among other things, it created the division of the Soviet Black Sea Fleet in two parts and allowed the use by the Russian Federation of the Ukrainian port of Sevastopol and its territorial waters until 2017, for 98 million dollars per year.
The agreement was, for a short time, endangered by the tensions between Moscow and Kiev in 2005 when the Orange Revolution brought a new president to Kiev, Viktor Yushchenko, with a pro-Western vision. It refocused Ukraine's foreign policy towards the West to the significant discomfort of the Kremlin, which leveraged its various ties to Kiev, especially energy, to put pressure on Yushchenko during his entire term, leading Western analysts to liken Russia’s energy extraction and transit capabilities to a 'weapon'. Between 2005 and 2010, Gazprom continued to increase gas prices for Ukraine and to put pressure on it to pay its outstanding debts. Therefore, in 2007 the Ukrainian President said that if Russia will stop gas supplies, Ukraine will review the contract on the stationing of the Russian fleet in Crimea. Eventually, the crisis was over and the two sides reached a settlement. However, Russian worries were renewed when, in 2009, Viktor Yushchenko removed the Russian intelligence service, the Federal Security Service, from Crimea. Its agents were embedded with the fleet in Sevastopol, but Ukraine insisted their presence undermined their state institutions by recruiting informants among Ukrainian officials and undertaking clandestine operations trying to smuggle secret documents.
Russian-Ukrainian relations improved significantly in 2010 when Viktor Yanukovych, a pro-Russian politician, was elected president of Ukraine. Shortly after taking office, the Federal Security Service returned to Crimea and the agreement on the stationing of the Russian fleet in Sevastopol was extended until 2042, with the signing of the Kharkiv Agreement on 21 April 2010, between Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych. The Ukrainian revolutionary upheaval in early 2014 put the Russian Federation in a difficult situation given that one of the consequences of the Euromaidan was to replace the pro-Russian leadership in Kiev with a pro-Western one. Thus, Moscow was forced to act because there were well founded fears that the new leadership would suspend the Kharkiv Agreement. If this would have been happened, Russia would have lost a vital strategic point in the Black Sea. The Crimean Peninsula offers Moscow great freedom of maneuver in the Black Sea area and the ability to project its naval power to the Mediterranean and the Middle East.
The Crimean Peninsula offers Moscow great freedom of maneuver in the Black Sea area and the ability to project its naval power to the Mediterranean and the Middle East.
Furthermore, the link with the Eastern Mediterranean must be maintained by the Russian Federation to facilitate access to the port of Tartus in Syria where it has operated a naval base since 1971. In turn, the Syrian port represents an important strategic position in the region especially in the current regional context. At the same time, the peninsula facilitates Russia’s access to warm waters, which was far limited by the winter ice after the Soviet Union collapsed and lost the ports of Riga and Tallinn. Therefore, the Russian Federation could not afford to lose Sevastopol and so decided to act when the pro-Russian political regime from Kiev was replaced by a pro-Western one after the Ukrainian revolution in February. On 28 February 2014, armed personnel without military insignia began the illegal takeover of the peninsula without encountering any opposition from the Ukrainian army.
Shortly thereafter, a referendum was held which resulted in 95% of the population voting for annexation to the Russian Federation which happened on the 18th of March, 2014. With this decision, Moscow has arguably found itself in willful violation of International law and, in response, the West has imposed economic and political sanctions that attempted to isolate Russia on the international stage. However, the annexation of Crimea has significantly changed the balance of power in the Black Sea, which is a critical matter for the riparian states, Turkey, Bulgaria, Romania, Ukraine and Georgia, as well as for NATO and for European Union. One should also take into account the importance of the Black Sea in the economic and energy security fields for the European Union and NATO. For both organizations, energy security is a strategic priority and the route for delivery of the energy resources from Central Asia, the Caspian Sea and the Caucasus passes through the Black Sea to reach Europe. Therefore, after the annexation of Crimea, a tense atmosphere settled on the Black Sea because in a place where Western interests collide like tectonic plates with those of the Russian Federation, the balance of power had suddenly shifted in favor of Moscow.
Maritime Delimitation in the Black Sea before the annexation of Crimea and after the event
The implementation of the A2 / AD system in Crimea
With the occupation of the Crimean Peninsula, the Russian Federation has obtained a territory of approximately 27.000 and an exclusive economic zone based on the continental shelf around it where there are large reserves of oil and natural gas that Moscow can now exploit. Moreover, Russia obtained 14 military and civilian airports and 8 ports in Chornomorske, Novoozerne, Yevpatoria, Sevastopol, Balaklava, Mikolaivka, Feodosia and Kerch. In addition, Russia took possession of significant Ukrainian military equipment and military and industrial infrastructure from the peninsula. However, on the 29th of April, 2014, Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin said that all 23 facilities of the defense industry and the ports will be used to modernize the Russian Black Sea fleet. Also, 79 vessels, including 22 Ukrainian war ships, were captured with the occupation of Crimea, of which only 33 were returned, reducing Ukraine's Black Sea fleet by more than half.
Thus, after the annexation of the peninsula, Russian Federation began its militarization to secure it with an A2 / AD - Anti-Area/ Access Denial system which signified a fundamental transformation of the security environment in the Black Sea region. The development of A2 / AD by a state actor involves creating anti-access and interdiction capabilities in order to block access by land, sea and air of other countries in certain regions. Its effectiveness acts as an impediment for others states and requires significant political will, economic, information and military capacity to implement successfully. Moreover, the system must incorporate military capabilities in the field of land, sea, air, space and cyberspace. Military interdiction capabilities include weapons of mass destruction, ballistic and cruise missiles, artillery, naval mines, electronic warfare, radar systems, short-range / man-portable air defense and anti-armor systems, all of significant technological sophistication. Also, the state that develops such a system must have the capacity to wage cyber warfare and irregular and hybrid warfare that could include terrorist attacks, strikes against critical infrastructures and proxy war. The aim is to distract the attention of a state from a certain area by turning its focus on another. The Russian Federation had all the elements necessary for the development of such a system and its construction began around the Crimean Peninsula immediately after annexation. The main purpose is to keep the territory under Russian occupation and to discourage any attempt of Ukraine to regain the peninsula. At the same time, Moscow wants to block the unauthorized access of other actors in the area, especially NATO members, which is already limited by the Montreux Convention. Also, Russia desires the capability to restrict freedom of movement of enemy ships and aircraft in the region.
After the annexation of Crimea, a tense atmosphere settled on the Black Sea because in a place where Western interests collide like tectonic plates with those of the Russian Federation, the balance of power had suddenly shifted in favor of Moscow.
In January 2014, before the annexation of Crimea, Moscow had approximately 12.500 soldiers, 116 armored vehicles, 24 artillery pieces, 22 fighter jets, 37 helicopters, 26 warships and two submarines in the peninsula. On the 28th of February, 2014 the Russian Federation began sending more troops to Crimea. On the same day, thirteen Russian aircraft landed at a military airport near Sevastopol, leaving on the ground 2.000 Russian soldiers. This comes after the revolution succeeded in removing Ukrainian pro-Russian central leadership from Kiev and after forming a new pro-Western national government on February 27. Since then, the annexation of the peninsula progressed alongside the gradual accumulation of soldiers and military equipment through which Moscow has strengthened its presence. Therefore, on March 10, there were at least 100 Russian vehicles including trucks, armored personnel carriers and artillery pieces sighted on a road near the port of Sevastopol. Shortly thereafter, on March 14th in the Kazachaya Bay near Sevastopol, there were reported sightings of trucks, troops and at least one amphibious armored carrier, which were disgorged from the Russian warship Yamal 156.
In the absence of a road linking the peninsula to Russian territory, Moscow had to bring military equipment and troops by air and sea. So, to ease access and transport combat equipment and troops in the peninsula, the Russian Federation announced in March 2014 that it would build a bridge across the Kerch Strait which will connect the peninsula to the Krasnodar region from southwestern Russia. This infrastructure will not only serve a military role, but also a civilian one as a vital substitution to Ukrainian critical infrastructure connections necessary to the peninsula (water, energy, transport etc). In the peninsula Ukraine uses these resources in a hybrid war against the Russian Federation. The bridge will have a four-lane highway and two rail lines and is expected to become operational in December 2018, the total costs declared by the Kremlin reaching 6 billion dollars. In July 2016, the Russian government decided to allocate 1.5 billion dollars to build a motorway which would be ready by 2020, whose role is to continue the bridge in order to link the main cities of the peninsula, Simferopol (the Crimean capital) and Sevastopol. Russia has considered several plans for the rehabilitation and upgrading of the road infrastructure in order to have quick access routes that will allow Moscow to supply the population and its troops, to ensure better control over the peninsula and to boost the economy in the area. Russia also invested in the construction and modernization of the energy and military infrastructure from the region. In April 2014, the Russian Ministry of Economic Development announced that it will invest 19.5 billion dollars for the development of Crimea between 2014 and 2017. The Russian Federation continued to bring troops and military equipment to the peninsula and in November 2014 brought more mobile systems-air missiles, S-300PMU type with a range of 150 km.
Thus, the airspace around Crimea became fully secure since the radar system has a range of 300 km. In April 2015, Crimea was incorporated into the South Military District of the Russian Federation and concomitantly Sergey Shoigu, the Russian defense minister, stated that about 100 army units had been set up in peninsula. The consolidation of its military presence continued and, by the end of 2015, the Russian Federation had in Crimea two infantry brigades near Sevastopol and one near Simferopol, with a total of about 7.000 soldiers, with BTR-82 armored personnel carriers and T-73 tanks. Rounding out the force was one regiment for electronic warfare near Yalta, as well as one artillery regiment and one air defense division near Simferopol. Russia also has in Crimea a mobile surface-to-ground and ground-to-air missile system type 3K60 BAL, with a range of 260 km and another mobile system of anti-ship missiles, type K-300 Bastion, with a range of 300 km, both positioned in southern Crimea. In order to further strengthen its position, in early August 2016, the Russian Federation brought to the Feodosia port in Crimea the most advanced mobile surface to air missile system of its Army, the S-400 type, with a range of 400 km. Therefore, the deployment of such mobile rocket systems in Crimea created a bubble around the peninsula which does not allow foreign aircraft, ships or infantry to approach without being hit. According to Russian Air Force Chief of Staff Vladimir Shamanov, Moscow intends to create at the beginning of 2017 an Airborne Assault Regiment in the Dzhankoy region of Crimea. Also in 2017, Russia could bring to the Peninsula Podsolnukh radars with a range of 450 km which, according to the Russian military, can also detect stealth aircraft.
On June 21, 2014, Moscow announced the modernization and enlargement of the Black Sea fleet. The former commander of the Naval Forces of the Russian Federation, Viktor Chirkov, said that the Russian Black Sea Fleet will receive about 30 new combat ships by 2020, an investment worth 2.3 billion dollars. These include six Admiral Grigorovich class frigates, six Varshavyanka class submarines, six patrol ships for territorial waters and the exclusive economic zone of Crimea, three ships for detecting and destroying mines of the Aleksandrit class, four fast patrolling ships of Raptor type and other vessels, all from the latest technological generation. This will facilitate a better control over the region and will make it more difficult for Ukraine to attempt to restore control in the area. From August 2014 to June 2016, the Russian Black Sea fleet has received all of the ordered submarines from the Varshavyanka class, equipped with Kalibr cruise missiles with a range of 1,500 km. The submarines are based in the Black Sea port of Novorossiysk, which is in an upgrading process to ensure their safe residence. By June 2016 only three berths were built out of six planned by 2020. Regarding the frigates, only two of the six planned were assigned during 2016, with another one slated to join them by the end of this year. Three more frigates would have to enter into use by 2018 but the Russian Federation has sold them to India in early August because the Ukrainian factory which was producing gas turbines for such ships decided to stop deliveries after the annexation of Crimea. Also added to the composition of the fleet in November 2015 were two Buyam class corvettes equipped with Kalibr cruise missiles, and until the end of this year another one will have arrived.
According to Russian news agencies by May 2016, the Russian Black Sea fleet’s included 277 ships, of which 49 were warships, and about 2,500 soldiers. Therefore, Russia has strengthened its position as the most powerful actor in the Black Sea region, changing the balance of power in the Pontic basin and marginalizing Ukrainian power. Besides taking several Ukrainian ships during the occupation of Crimea, the Russian Federation also entered into possession of the military dolphin facilities from the peninsula which Ukraine inherited after the Soviet Union collapsed. During the Cold War, these dolphins were trained to attack divers with harpoons which were tied to their back, as well as detect mines and carry out kamikaze missions. They were sold to Iran in 2000, but, from 2014 onward, the Russian Federation has started to train dolphins again yet, when the information appeared in the press, Moscow issued a denial. However, in March 2016, the Ministry of Defence of the Russian Federation announced on its official website that it plans to buy five dolphins. In the world, there are only two such training bases for dolphins, one in the United States at San Diego and one in Sevastopol.
The air dimension
Therefore, Russia has strengthened its position as the most powerful actor in the Black Sea region, changing the balance of power in the Pontic basin and marginalizing Ukrainian power.
By March 2016, the Russian Federation had brought to Crimea a squadron of Su-24 bombers, one of Su-25, both stationed near Simferopol and two squadrons of multi-role Su-27 and Su-30 type fighter jets, at Belbek air base, totaling around 40 fighters. In addition, in the north of the peninsula, at the Dzhankoy airbase, three squadrons of Ka-52, Mi-35, Mi-28, Mi-26 and Mi-8 helicopters and several drones were stationed. Moscow has also invested in the aerial transportation infrastructure of Crimea, starting with the modernization of several military and civilian airports from those 7 which are in the peninsula. Moreover, the Federal Agency of Transport of the Russian Federation approved in April 2016 the building of a new airport near Simferopol that will be ready by 2018. So, by implementing the A2 / AD system, the Russian Federation has built a real stronghold in Crimea. The military capabilities positioned there are a threat to the freedom of movement in the Black Sea but also for the security of riparian states. According to the Ukrainian Army Intelligence Service (GUR), by May 2016 the Russian Federation had in Crimea 23.900 soldiers, 613 tanks and armored vehicles, 162 artillery pieces of which 56 are multiple rocket launchers. Also accounted for on the peninsula are 101 fighter jets, 56 helicopters, 34 warships, four submarines and 16 missile systems to defend the coast including 3K60 BAL, K-300 Bastion mobile missile launchers and eight S-400 launchers arrived in August this year. In addition, by the end of August about 24 SU-34, SU-29 and MIG-35C fighters arrived at the Belbek and Kirovsk airports.
Risks and threats to the security of Romania
Romania announced in March 2014 through an official press release of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs that it does not recognize the illegal annexation of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea by the Russian Federation. According to the release, this action:
"[…] is likely to boost the existing prolonged conflicts in Romania’s neighboring areas, implicitly in those of the EU and the North Atlantic Alliance, threatening to affect stability and security in the European space".
Also on 16 May 2014, the President of Romania at that time, Traian Băsescu told a press conference in the presence of Anders Rasmussen, Secretary General of NATO, that the occupation of Crimea "creates imbalances in the balance of power in the Black Sea, which will be compensated for". President Băsescu added that "in our opinion the Black Sea has become the most sensitive part in the region, it’s the biggest vulnerability we have". However, Rasmussen assured Romania of the Alliance's support in a possible conflict.
In the current context, both Romania and NATO must pay greater importance to the Black Sea region because of the actions of the Russian Federation which continues to militarize Crimea. Thus, the placement of 3K60 BAL, K-300 and S-400 Bastion mobile missile launchers in the peninsula represents a threat because their range penetrates deep into the airspace and Exclusive Economic Zone of Romania from the Black Sea. Moreover, the S-400 is capable of hitting air targets that are above the port of Constanța. At the same time, the consolidation of the Russian Black Sea Fleet’s capacity tilted the balance of power further towards the Russian Federation to the detriment of NATO forces, which have limited access in the region on account of the Montreux Convention from 1936. Turkish President Recep Erdogan, in the context of the tenth Conference of Chiefs of Defence of the Balkan States, which took place in May 2016, following discussions with the NATO Secretary General, conveyed Turkey’s dissatisfaction with the Alliance lack of presence and visibility in the Black Sea. Erdogan claims that he told Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg:
"You are not visible in the Black Sea. And your invisibility in the Black Sea turns it into a Russian lake. As riparian countries, we should live up to our responsibilities. As NATO members, we should take all required steps in all spheres, including the sea, air and ground”.
The risk of a military confrontation between NATO and the Russian Federation in the Black Sea basin is low. However, the existence of the Alliance fleet would discourage Moscow from taking certain actions such as violating the sea and air space of NATO allies, something that Russia has done several times from 2014 to the present day.
This statement comes shortly after the beginning of 2016, when the Romanian Defence Minister, Mihnea Motoc, announced that Romania will begin negotiations with allies to create a permanent NATO fleet in the Black Sea. Even if Bucharest and Ankara wanted to strengthen NATO's presence in the area, the Romanian initiative was unsuccessful because of Bulgaria’s opposition to avoid upsetting Russia in a difficult electoral and economic internal context. The Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borisov, shortly after the official visit of President of Romania in Bulgaria on June 2016, stated that “our country will not become part of the Black Sea fleet being prepared against Russia” adding that “I always say that I want the Black Sea to see sailboats, yachts, large boats with tourists and not become an arena of military action (…) I do not need a war in the Black Sea”. Thus, the special visit of Romanian President to Sofia, who traveled there in order to gain Bulgaria’s support in achieving the creation of the fleet, was unsuccessful.
However, the presence of a NATO fleet in the Black Sea is needed to deter and counter a possible threat from the Russian Federation. NATO sought to consolidate its presence in the Black Sea by bringing warships by rotation but in limited number and for short periods of time.The number of vessels and their total tonnage during their stationing are regulated by the Montreux Convention, but the creation of a permanent Alliance fleet in the Black Sea would ameliorate this problem. The risk of a military confrontation between NATO and the Russian Federation in the Black Sea basin is low. However, the existence of the Alliance fleet would discourage Moscow from taking certain actions such as violating the sea and air space of NATO allies, something that Russia has done several times from 2014 to the present day. Another threat to Romania’s security is generated by the Kalibr cruise missiles that are equipped on the new Russian frigates and corvettes from the Black Sea. The range of such missiles reaches 1,500 km, which was confirmed in October 2015 when Russia launched 26 Kalibr rockets, from warships located in Caspian Sea, which hit multiple targets in Syria. Therefore, from Sevastopol such a missile could easily hit Bucharest, Budapest, Ankara, Sofia, and even NATO's Aegis anti-missile defense system from Deveselu. Russian Army military sources claim that the Aegis system is not capable of intercepting Kalibr missiles.
Although Romania does not acknowledge and accept the new boundaries set by the Russian Federation in the Black Sea, Bucharest must be aware that it has regained a common maritime border with Russia, after 25 years, which could generate disputes.
Moscow also began organizing more complex military exercises in the region after the annexation of Crimea and developed an aggressive behavior towards the Ukraine and NATO in the Black Sea. From 2014 to the time of writing this paper, the Russian Federation has undertaken dozens of military exercises in Crimea and in the maritime area around the peninsula. The largest exercise, called "Caucasus 2016” took place between 5-10 September and involved 100.000 troops, 2.500 combat vehicles, 60 ships and 400 aircraft. Also, in the last two years, several Russian fighter planes, bombers and reconnaissance planes flew very close to Turkish, Bulgarian and Romanian air space, being intercepted by the fighter planes of those countries. According to Laurian Anastasof, Chief of the Romanian Air Force, from the beginning of 2016 to June, Romanian fighter jets rose 4 times from the ground to intercept Russian combat aircraft that were coming too close to Romania’s airspace. At the same time, Russian fighters, starting from March 2014, made several provocative gestures against NATO warships, which were in International waters in the Black Sea.
All these actions, corroborated with the occupation of two offshore energy platforms of Ukraine in December 2015, prove Moscow’s aggressive behavior which has manifested in the Black Sea region since the annexation of Crimea. So, although Romania does not acknowledge and accept the new boundaries set by the Russian Federation in the Black Sea, Bucharest must be aware that it has regained a common maritime border with Russia, after 25 years, which could generate disputes. Moreover, in the absence of a NATO permanent fleet in the Black Sea, Romania must strengthen its full spectrum military capabilities by purchasing current generation hardware able to counter the A2 / AD system of the Russian Federation, like the Polish model on the Baltic Sea. Thus, Romania should strengthen its coastal zone, from Constanța to Tulcea, by purchasing TRS-15 three dimensional radars, with a range of about 240 km, which would give it a better capacity of monitoring the airspace in its Black Sea vicinity. It is also necessary to endow the army with NSM anti-ship cruise missiles, which can hit ground targets at distances of 185 km. Also required are Patriot anti-aircraft and anti-missile systems with a range of 160 km. Russian territory and the Crimean Peninsula are not within the range of these systems, therefore Moscow could not accuse Romania that it is gearing up for offensive action. Finally, to successfully counteract the A2 / AD system, in addition to those listed above, Romania needs political will and a good quality of governance to pursue the long-term strategies required for ensuring National defense and security.
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