Ukraine’s statement at the UN that 16,000 Russian soldiers have been deployed to Crimea has caused a frenzy among Western media which chooses to ignore that those troops have been there since the late 1990s in accordance with a Kiev-Moscow agreement.
Western media describes the situation in the Autonomous Republic of Crimea as if a full-scale Russian invasion were under way, with headlines like: “Ukraine says Russia sent 16,000 troops to Crimea” and “Ukraine crisis deepens as Russia sends more troops into Crimea,” as well as “What can Obama do about Russia’s invasion of Crimea?”
It seems they have chosen to simply ignore the fact that those Russian troops have been stationed in Crimea for over a decade.
Russia’s representative to the UN, Vitaly Churkin, reminded on Tuesday that the deal surrounding the Black Sea Fleet allows Russia to station a contingent of up to 25,000 troops in Ukraine. However, US and British media have mostly chosen to turn a deaf ear.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov underlined that the country’s military “strictly executes the agreements which stipulate the Russian fleet’s presence in Ukraine, and follows the stance and claims coming from the legitimate authority in Ukraine and in this case the legitimate authority of the Autonomous Republic Crimea as well.”
So here are the facts, numbers, and details of this long-standing (but rarely cited) deal:
1) The Black Sea Fleet has been disputed between Russia and Ukraine since the collapse of the Soviet Union back in 1991.
2) In 1997, the sides finally managed to find common ground and signed three agreements determining the fate of the military bases and vessels in Crimea. Two years later, in 1999, the Russian and Ukrainian parliaments ratified them. Russia has received 81.7 percent of the fleet’s ships after paying the Ukrainian government a compensation of US$526.5 million.
3) Moscow also annually writes off $97.75 million of Kiev’s debt for the right to use Ukrainian waters and radio frequency resources, and for the environmental impact caused by the Black Sea Fleet’s operations.
4) According to the initial agreement, the Russian Black Sea Fleet was to stay in Crimea until 2017, but the deal was later prolonged for another 25 years.
5) The 1997 deal allows the Russian navy to have up to 25,000 troops, 24 artillery systems with a caliber smaller than 100 mm, 132 armored vehicles, and 22 military planes on Crimean territory.
6) In compliance with those accords, there are currently five Russian naval units stationed in the port city of Sevastopol in the Crimean peninsula:
– The 30th Surface Ship Division formed by the 11th Antisubmarine Ship Brigade, which includes the Black Sea Fleet’s flagship guard missile cruiser Moskva as well as Kerch, Ochakov, Smetlivy, Ladny, and Pytlivy vessels, and the 197th Landing Ship Brigade, consisting of seven large amphibious vessels;
– The 41st Missile Boat Brigade, which includes the 166th Fast Attack Craft Division, consisting of Bora and Samum hovercrafts as well as small missile ships Mirazh and Shtil, and 295th missile Boat Division;
– The 247th Separate Submarine Division, consisting of two diesel submarines – B-871 Alrosa and B-380 Svyatoy Knyaz Georgy;
– The 68th Harbor Defense Ship Brigade formed by the 400th Antisubmarine Ship Battalion of four vessels and 418 Mine Hunting Ship Division, which consist of four ships as well;
– The 422nd Separate Hydrographic Ship Division, which includes Cheleken, Stvor, Donuzlav and GS-402 survey vessels as well as a group of hydrographic boats.
7) Besides the naval units, Moscow also has two airbases in Crimea, which are situated in the towns of Kacha and Gvardeysky.
8) The Russian coastal forces in Ukraine consist of the 1096th Separate Anti-Aircraft Missile Regiment in Sevastopol and the 810th Marine Brigade, which hosts around 2,000 marines. (Several other coastal units of the Black Sea Fleet are located in Russia’s Krasnodar Region, including the 11th Separate Coastal Missile Brigade in Anapa, the 382th Separate Marine Battalion, and a naval reconnaissance station in Temryuk).
Last week, Russia’s Federation Council unanimously approved President Vladimir Putin’s request to send the country’s military forces to Ukraine to ensure peace and order in the region “until the socio-political situation in the country is stabilized.”
However, the final say about deploying troops lies with Putin, who hasn’t yet made such a decision, stressing that deploying military force would be a last resort.
Authorities in the Ukrainian Autonomous Republic of Crimea – where more than half the population is Russian – requested Moscow’s assistance after the self-proclaimed government in Kiev introduced a law abolishing the use of languages other than Ukrainian in official circumstances.