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By John Helmer, Moscow

The Black Sea is a small body of water by international sea standards.

It is so small that when the navies of the shore states go to war, the battles tend to be brief, hit-and-run affairs, like the skirmishes between the Romanians, Germans and Soviets in 1941-42, and between the Georgians and the Russians in August 2008. The Russians, with the bigger, better equipped navies,  tend to win. When they win, as they did over the Ottoman Turks at the Battle of Sinope in 1853, the outside powers try to equalize by taking the anti-Russian side: it was the French and British in 1853; the Americans and the NATO allies now.

In the recent history of their direct encounters with the Russian vessels and their air support, the Americans  and British   have come off with what is known in maritime history as their tails between their legs.

The surface area of the Black Sea is 436,400 square kilometres.   By comparison, the Mediterranean, into which the Black Sea drains, is 2.5 million square kms, and there are several much larger seas than that. .

The Black Sea is also not the biggest of the seas on which Russia has a shore line and frontier. The Caspian Sea is 371,000 square kms; the Baltic Sea is 377,000 square kms; the Chukchi Sea,  595,000 square kms; the Barents Sea, 1.4 million square kms; the Sea of Okhotsk, 1.6 million square kms; and the Bering Sea, 2.4 square million kms. For the time being, the Black Sea is the only one of these seas in which one of the littoral territories, the Ukraine, has declared war on one of the littoral states, Russia.

In the year since the Special Military Operation began on February 24, 2022, Turkish figures count 52 ship losses altogether;   most of the Russian losses are Ukrainian claims which have not been verified. All of the Ukrainian losses on the Turkish list have occurred in port harbours or at a limit of 12 nautical miles (23 kms) offshore. The principal causes have been mines, shore-based artillery, missile, aircraft, and drone strikes.

In the past three weeks, the Kiev regime has declared war in the international waters of the Black Sea by launching drone boats to attack two Russian naval vessels operating to guard the gas pipelines which run on the seabed between Russia and Turkey. The pipelines are known as Blue Stream, operational in 2003, and Turkstream from 2020. On May 24, the Russian Navy’s  Ivan Khurs (lead image, left) was attacked by three Ukrainian surface drones; at the time the location was  140 kms northeast of the Bosphorus Strait, outside Turkish territorial waters, inside Turkey’s exclusive economic zone, but in international waters.

The Russian Defense Ministry reported the destruction of the attacking vessels without their reaching the Ivan Khurs, and the return of the vessel undamaged to its homeport of Sevastopol.  Its mission, the ministry said, had been “to ensure safe operation of the Turkstream and Blue Stream gas pipelines in the exclusive economic zone of the Republic of Turkey and also [it] monitored the surface situation in the southwest part of the Black Sea to ensure the safety of navigation under the ‘grain deal.’”  

On June 11, six Ukrainian surface drones attacked the Russian Navy’s Priazovye (“Azov Sea”, lead image, right). All six were destroyed before they could strike. The reported location was about 300 kms southeast of Sevastopol; that is the northern limit of the Turkish exclusive economic zone, but still in international waters.  

The Ukrainian military have made no claim of responsibility.

The official Russian reporting of the incidents has treated them as Ukrainian terrorism. The method of the operations, and the vessels from which the drone boats were  launched, have not yet been disclosed, although the positional data appear to have been recorded by the overhead US Air Force FORTE11 operation,   and by overhead Russian surveillance aircraft, drones, and satellites, and by naval radars. The probability is also that real-time course targeting coordinates for the drones in their runs at the Ivan Khurs and the Priazovye were transmitted to the Ukrainians by the US Air Force (USAF).

The likelihood also is that the Ukrainian attackers used the shipping channel designated for the security of grain transportation under the Black Sea Grain Initiative agreements of July 2022. Compliance with these agreements is the responsibility of the United Nations Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres. Ukrainian terrorism in violation of the agreements indicates the complicity of that UN official as the war has been extended by the Ukrainians and the USAF into international waters.


Source: https://www.euronews.com/


Source: https://www.thedrive.com/


Source: https://www.itamilradar.com/

A pro-Ukrainian Turkish naval analyst has called Ukrainian naval operations in the Black Sea the “mosquito fleet concept”.  “The Mosquito fleet concept was designed by the Ukrainian Navy and aimed to rectify its weakness by investing in asymmetrical warfare through small boats with large punches. Ukraine’s efforts to use its own shipbuilding industry for warship production did not make important progress, forcing Ukraine to procure warships from abroad. The USA donated 4 Island-class large patrol boats. And Ukraine has procured one Milgem-class corvette from Turkey with one as an option. However, these actions were not enough to boost the Ukrainian Navy at the start of the Russian Invasion in February 2022. The American-made boats were too small and lacked any effective armament, whereas the Turkish-made corvette was still under construction.”  

This was published before the Turkish gas pipeline supply was threatened with destruction by the attacks on the Russian patrol vessels on guard above. The delivery capacity of Turkstream and Blue Stream is about 48 billion cubic metres (bcm); this amounts to 80% of Turkish gas consumption at present of about 60 bcm.  

The hostile Turkish analyst went on: “The Black Sea Grain Initiative was signed, and Ukraine was able to export its grain to the whole world again. The naval front of the war is at a stalemate. While the Russian side has a clear superiority in numbers and capability it lacks the will and apparently the courage to bring the war back to Ukraine’s shores again. The Russian seems to be happy with the ‘fleet in being’. On the other hand, Ukraine was able to create its own humble A2/AD bubble without a navy and break the Russian Fleet’s will to fight. But it lacks the very basic ability of any naval force to conduct any operations on high seas and has very limited means to bring the fighting to the Russian shores.”

For reports of what exactly took place in the Ivan Khurs and Priazovye incidents, read this.

One of the Ukrainian drone boats filmed from the deck of the Priazovye; source: Reuters.   A Ukrainian film of the Ivan Khurs attack can be viewed here.  For a US Government-funded version of the incident, click.   For Russian Defense Ministry footage of the Priazovye attack, click on this.

Guterres and the UN staff of the Black Sea Grain Initiative operations have issued no public  statement on the naval engagements inside the so-called corridor of vessels transporting grain. Instead, on May 26, two days after the attack on the Ivan Khurs, Guterres’s staff admitted publicly that the inspections of vessels moving north and south in the Black Sea corridor had dropped sgnificantly. The UN announced that it “calls on all parties to work towards the full implementation of the Initiative’s provisions. The Office further calls on all parties to work towards predictable, stable operations in line with their commitment to contribute to global food security.”

Lisa Buttenheim, a US national who is chief of operationsfor the grain shipping programme, in a March 2023 visit to  the Joint Coordination Centre where she inspected the data displays for the maritime corridor using terrestrial and satellite means and communications with vessel masters. Source: https://www.un.org/

After the Priazovye attack on June  11, Guterres and Buttenheim have said nothing at all. The Ukrainian actions at sea, and the bombing attack on the land pipeline carrying ammonia from Togliatti to Odessa on June 6, have all but eliminated the grain transportation agreements and the UN role; for more details, read this.  

On June 12, Vzglyad, the leading Moscow press platform for security analysis, published its assessment of the war in the Black Sea. Here is the original.  The translation into English which follows is verbatim, without editing. Illustrations and captions have been added.  

Source: https://vz.ru/

 June 12, 2023

 Experts identified the goals of the AFU during the attack
 on the vessel Azov
The AFU has attacked a Russian reconnaissance vessel again
By Alyona Zadorozhnaya

The Armed Forces of Ukraine (AFU) have attacked a Russian reconnaissance vessel again. According to the Ministry of Defense, six Ukrainian naval drones that tried to destroy the ship of the Black Sea Fleet Azov were destroyed. What are the enemy’s goals and how can Russia counter the threat in the Black Sea?

The vessel Priazovye,  which ensures the safety of the gas pipelines Turkstream and Blue Stream, has repelled an evening attack by unmanned  marine vehicles, the Ministry of Defense has reported. The Telegram channel of the Ministry says that the attack occurred around 1.30.

The AFU used six high-speed unmanned sea boats. All of them were destroyed when  the attack was repelled using the standard armament of the Russian ship at about 300 kilometres southeast of Sevastopol;  there were no casualties, the ship was not damaged.

As in previous similar attacks, the strategic reconnaissance drone RQ-4B Global Hawk of the United States conducted reconnaissance in the airspace of the central part of the Black Sea, the Defense Ministry added.

Left: the Northrop-Grumman RQ-4 Global Hawk drone, which resumed overflights of the Black Sea after a Russian SU-27 (right) intercepted a USAF MQ-9 Reaper drone on March 14, 2023, forcing the aircraft to crash into the water. See: https://www.reuters.com/

This is the second attempt by the enemy to strike a reconnaissance ship of the Black Sea Fleet. Recall that on May 24, Ukrainian surface vehicles attacked the Ivan Khurs, a ship of the Black Sea Fleet of Russia in the exclusive economic zone of Turkey. Attacked by AFU drones, the Black Sea Fleet ship  returned to Sevastopol under its own power.

The newspaper Vzglyad has analyzed in detail the threat of these fireships to Russian bases and ships at their berths and on the roadstead. According to experts, in order to strengthen them, it is necessary, firstly, to replace some of the deck-mounted pedestal machine guns on the vessels with remotely controlled systems with a high-quality sight, stabilized guidance and coupling with ship radars.

Left: MTPU gun mount with 14.5mm KPVT machine gun in the Ivan Khurs version (right), according to Defense Ministry video of the attack. In this video, it is not the manned gun but the heavier-calibre turret-mounted gun on the left whose fire hit the drone in the distance; this may be a variant of the AK-176 rotating turret gun.  Click to watch.  The pedestal-mounted weapon has drawn sharp criticism from Russian military experts. For more details of the Yury Ivanov-class Project 18280 intelligence collection vessel, click to read.

The operator, having received a signal from the radar, will be able to detect the drone at a great distance and hit it with an accurate machine-gun burst. Together with booms and disciplined watchkeeping, this will reduce the danger from Ukrainian fire-launching drones to an acceptably small one. Secondly, a thermal imaging surveillance system is needed in parallel with the radar. This will make detection more likely and will allow the alarm to be announced before the personnel can detect the fireships visually.

Thirdly, it is worth talking not so much about replacing some of the pedestal-mounted machine guns with remotely controlled systems,  as about building up the barreled weapons on board ships and vessels. In place of one part  of the machine-gun installations, modules with machine guns should appear, capable of firing when pitching, according to the stabilized optoelectronic sighting system, accurately over long distances. However, the pedestal mounts should not be removed, but simply moved so that there are more machine guns on board. And of course, there should always be individual marksmen on the machine guns around the clock during the combat watch. In addition, it is necessary to equip machine guns with thermal imaging sights in case of a night attack.

“In addition, the technology of remote control of boats creates scenarios that could not even have been imagined until recently. And the cheaper and more widespread this technology eventually turns out to be, the greater the danger to the Navy from any country,” the authors of Telegram channel Взгляд человека в лампасах  note. At the same time, unmanned boats will not always be similar to those examples which attacked the Russian ships Ivan Khurs and Priazovye.  In profile these can look like a small trawler, fishing boat, longboat, scow, dinghy or yacht.

“And if your destroyer or corvette goes through a narrow strait? Or if it is standing on the roadstead of a crowded port, and hundreds of varied local boats always sail around it? What if two or three dozen boats suddenly separate from this group at a distance of two or three cables and go to your warship at anchor? How many of them will the duty watch be able to destroy in the couple of minutes that will be at its disposal?” – these are the questions analysts are asking.

In addition, explosives can be secretly placed on an ordinary fishing boat, as well as the remote control system to direct it. And the sailors of this fishing boat can become the same victims as the target against which the boat will be sent. According to experts, any watercraft can be filled with explosives triggered by a remote-control system. “This technology may eventually become available even to the most primitive countries and organizations – as the savages of the Amazon jungle use mobile phones today. And the problem will be much more serious than the adventures which the pirates from Somalia once arranged for the merchant fleet,” the Telegram Channel authors emphasize. 

As for the direct attacks on Ivan Khurs and Priazovye, the AFU is trying to achieve two goals with these weapons. On the one hand, to achieve a significant media effect against the background of an unsuccessful ‘counteroffensive’ in the Azov Sea (not to be confused with the ship). On the other hand, to cast doubt on the reliability of the Russian–Turkish infrastructure for gas exports.

“The Azov Sea protects the surface area of the pipes of the gas pipelines Blue Stream and Turkstream. This does not suit either the Ukraine or, in general, its overseas allies. After the destruction of the Nord Stream pipelines in the Baltic,  the Ukrainians are setting out now to disrupt finally all possibility of exporting gas from Russia”, comments Vasily Dandykin (right), captain of the first rank, deputy editor-in-chief of the magazine Warrior of Russia. “In addition, the Ukrainian side is thus trying to “express its defiance of Turkish President Erdogan, who is closely cooperating with Russia. It is also important which specific ships were attacked. The first was the Ivan Khurs which is a totally domestic development. That vessel is capable of performing tasks of scanning the situation at sufficiently large distances,” the expert notes.

“Now there is the Priazovye. This is also a serious vessel. Despite the fact that it was built in the Soviet years, it was modernized in a timely manner. It is the Priazovye that is engaged in the protection of gas pipelines in the Black Sea,” the source emphasizes. “If we assume that the West wants to limit our [gas pipeline] exports, it becomes obvious why these ships are interfering with that plan”, concludes Dandykin.

“I believe that the AFU chose either Ochakov, where they have dug in for a long time, or Odessa as their hub to operate under the cover of the grain corridor. The enemy’s bet, apparently, was made on the fact that reconnaissance ships are usually poorly armed. But practice has shown that the available weapons are enough to destroy unmanned boats. Now our task is to find the place of their primary deployment and eliminate the target,” Dandykin points out.

 “The AFU attacks everything they can reach. The priority, of course, is weakly armed targets, which are reconnaissance ships of the Priazovye and Ivan Khurs types. There is no strategy here. Only tactical actions aimed primarily at obtaining a powerful media effect,” adds Maxim Klimov, captain of the III rank in reserve.

“In the light of the threat that has arisen, such ships urgently need to strengthen their weapons. In addition, we need to think about the transfer of some ships from the Baltic to the Black Sea. First of all, we are talking about small missile vessels of the Karakurt corvette type. Moreover, the first two Karakurt vessels, which do not have the Pantsir-M complexes in their armament, must be equipped with the Tor air defense system. This will significantly enhance the safety of the ships,” Klimov concluded.”

The Karakurt-class corvette. “The first two corvettes of this class were fitted with two AK-630M Close-In Weapon Systems and a total of 8 Igla-S and Verba man-portable air defense missiles to protect against air threats. Though from the third ship onwards the air defense weapons were modernized. Newer vessels carry Pantsir-M air defense gun/missile system. It is a naval version of the Pantsir. Missiles have a range of 20 km and can reach targets at an altitude of 15 km. Guns have a range of 5 km. This system can engage four targets simultaneously with missiles and its anti-aircraft guns automatically engage targets that the missiles missed. It can also engage sea-skimming missiles, flying as low as 2 meters above the water. This air defense system is fully automated. Standard ammunition load includes 32 missiles in a storage and reload system below the deck”.

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