Fact Check: Has Russia’s Black Sea Fleet Really ‘Fled’ Crimea as Kirby Claims?

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In a recent briefing, White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby made a significant claim about the state of Russia’s Black Sea Fleet. According to Kirby, American missiles supplied to Ukraine have been instrumental in destroying the fleet, leading to its supposed retreat from its home port of Sevastopol in Crimea. This statement has stirred considerable discussion and controversy, raising questions about the accuracy of Kirby’s assertions and the broader implications of such a claim.

The Claim and Its Context

John Kirby’s assertion that Ukraine’s use of US-provided Army Tactical Missile Systems (ATACMS) has effectively dismantled Russia’s Black Sea Fleet and caused it to abandon its home port in Sevastopol is a bold one. “Ukraine has put US-provided ATACMS to good use in Crimea,” Kirby stated, highlighting the sinking of the last cruise-missile capable warship in Sevastopol and the subsequent flight of the Black Sea Fleet. This statement was made in the presence of White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre, adding weight to its perceived credibility.

To scrutinize Kirby’s claim, it is crucial to examine the current state of the Russian Black Sea Fleet, the actual impact of Ukrainian missile strikes, and the veracity of the notion that the fleet has “fled” Crimea.

The Composition of the Black Sea Fleet

A straightforward internet search reveals the extensive inventory of the Black Sea Fleet, contradicting Kirby’s claim of its total decimation. The fleet includes:

  • Guided Missile Frigates: Five Krivak and Admiral Grigorovich-class ships.
  • Submarines: Seven Project 636 (Kilo) class submarines capable of launching Kalibr cruise missiles.
  • Missile Corvettes: Over half-a-dozen Dergach, Buyan-M, and Karakurt class vessels.
  • Other Vessels: Dozens of smaller ships, some equipped with long-range anti-ship missiles.

This substantial fleet indicates that the claim of its complete destruction and retreat is questionable.

Recent Activities of the Black Sea Fleet

Despite reports of some larger ships being moved to other ports due to the Ukrainian drone threat, there is significant evidence that the Black Sea Fleet remains active in Sevastopol. For instance:

  • Live-Fire Training: On July 4, local authorities reported nighttime live-fire exercises by Fleet units in the Sevastopol area.
  • Previous Drills: Similar drills were conducted in the piers and bays of Sevastopol on June 12 and 15, showcasing ongoing fleet activities.
  • Operational Readiness: The fleet’s sophisticated vessels, including anti-submarine ships, corvettes, and frigates, remain on alert to maintain Russia’s national security.

These activities suggest that the fleet has not retreated as claimed but continues to operate from its home port.

Historical Context of the Black Sea Fleet

The Black Sea Fleet holds a venerable position within the Russian Navy. Established by Empress Catherine II in 1783, the fleet’s home port, Sevastopol, has been a strategic naval base since its founding. Celebrating its 241st anniversary recently, the fleet’s legacy is marked by its role in upholding Russia’s national interests.

Command and Structure of Russia’s Black Sea Fleet: A Comprehensive Analysis

Commander-in-Chief of the Russian Navy: Admiral Alexander Moiseyev

Admiral Alexander Moiseyev, the Commander-in-Chief of the Russian Navy, plays a crucial role in overseeing the operations and strategic decisions of the Black Sea Fleet. His leadership ensures that the fleet remains a vital part of Russia’s naval capabilities, maintaining readiness and operational efficiency.

Main Bases

The Black Sea Fleet operates from several key bases, each strategically located to enhance its operational capabilities in the Black Sea region:

Sevastopol

  • Location: Southwestern Crimea, along the Black Sea coast.
  • Significance: Primary home port of the Black Sea Fleet. Historically and strategically significant due to its deep-water harbor and proximity to crucial maritime routes.

Novorossiysk

  • Location: Krasnodar Krai, Russia.
  • Significance: Secondary base, providing additional logistical and operational support. Equipped with modern facilities to accommodate various classes of naval vessels.

Temryuk

  • Location: Near the Kerch Strait, Krasnodar Krai, Russia.
  • Significance: Supports amphibious operations and acts as a logistics hub. Its location is critical for controlling access to the Sea of Azov and the Black Sea.

Tuapse

  • Location: Krasnodar Krai, Russia.
  • Significance: Serves as a minor support base, aiding in logistical and maintenance operations. Enhances the fleet’s operational reach along the eastern Black Sea coast.

Advanced Vessels

The Black Sea Fleet comprises a variety of advanced vessels designed for multiple roles, including anti-submarine warfare, missile strikes, patrol operations, and reconnaissance. Here is a detailed overview of the primary vessel types:

Anti-Submarine Ships

  • Class: Krivak-class (Project 1135)
  • Technical Specifications:
    • Displacement: Approximately 3,500 tons
    • Armament: RBU-6000 anti-submarine rocket launchers, torpedoes, SAM systems
    • Capabilities: Designed for ASW operations, equipped with sonar and advanced tracking systems.

Missile Ships

  • Class: Admiral Grigorovich-class (Project 11356)
  • Technical Specifications:
    • Displacement: Approximately 4,000 tons
    • Armament: Kalibr cruise missiles, SAM systems, artillery
    • Capabilities: Versatile frigates capable of launching long-range missile strikes and engaging aerial threats.

Corvettes

  • Class: Buyan-M class (Project 21631) and Karakurt class (Project 22800)
  • Technical Specifications:
    • Displacement: 850-1,000 tons (Buyan-M), 800 tons (Karakurt)
    • Armament: Kalibr-NK cruise missiles, artillery, SAM systems
    • Capabilities: Equipped for coastal defense and precision strike operations.

Destroyers

  • Class: Sovremenny-class (Project 956)
  • Technical Specifications:
    • Displacement: Approximately 7,940 tons
    • Armament: Anti-ship missiles, SAM systems, artillery
    • Capabilities: Designed for engaging surface ships and providing naval gunfire support.

Frigates

  • Class: Admiral Grigorovich-class (Project 11356)
  • Technical Specifications:
    • Displacement: Approximately 4,000 tons
    • Armament: Kalibr missiles, SAM systems, artillery
    • Capabilities: Multi-role vessels capable of anti-air, anti-surface, and anti-submarine warfare.

Patrol Boats

  • Class: Svetlyak-class (Project 10410)
  • Technical Specifications:
    • Displacement: Approximately 375 tons
    • Armament: Artillery, machine guns, SAM systems
    • Capabilities: Fast, maneuverable, used for coastal patrol and search-and-rescue operations.

Large Landing Ships

  • Class: Ropucha-class (Project 775)
  • Technical Specifications:
    • Displacement: Approximately 4,080 tons
    • Armament: Artillery, machine guns
    • Capabilities: Designed for amphibious operations, capable of transporting troops and equipment.

Reconnaissance Vessels

  • Class: Vishnya-class (Project 864)
  • Technical Specifications:
    • Displacement: Approximately 3,470 tons
    • Capabilities: Equipped with advanced electronic surveillance and reconnaissance systems.

Diesel Submarines

  • Class: Kilo-class (Project 636)
  • Technical Specifications:
    • Displacement: Approximately 3,100-4,000 tons submerged
    • Armament: Torpedoes, Kalibr missiles
    • Capabilities: Stealthy, capable of anti-ship and land-attack missions.

Support Units

In addition to its advanced vessels, the Black Sea Fleet includes several support units crucial for maintaining operational readiness and providing comprehensive defense capabilities:

Naval Aviation

  • Aircraft: Su-24M bombers, Su-30SM fighters, Ka-27 and Ka-29 helicopters
  • Roles: Maritime strike, air superiority, reconnaissance, and anti-submarine warfare.

Air Defenses

  • Systems: S-300, S-400, Pantsir-S1
  • Capabilities: Provides comprehensive aerial defense, capable of intercepting aircraft, drones, and missiles.

Coastal Troops

  • Units: Coastal defense brigades equipped with Bastion-P and Bal coastal missile systems
  • Roles: Defense of coastal areas, support for amphibious operations.

Support Groups

  • Functions: Logistics, maintenance, medical support, and training.

Detailed Scheme and Table of the Black Sea Fleet’s Command and Structure

Here is a detailed table summarizing the key components of the Black Sea Fleet’s command and structure:

ComponentDetails
Commander-in-ChiefAdmiral Alexander Moiseyev
Main BasesSevastopol, Novorossiysk, Temryuk, Tuapse
Anti-Submarine ShipsClass: Krivak-class (Project 1135)
Displacement: ~3,500 tons
Armament: RBU-6000, torpedoes, SAM
Capabilities: ASW ops
Missile ShipsClass: Admiral Grigorovich-class (Project 11356)
Displacement: ~4,000 tons
Armament: Kalibr missiles, SAM, artillery
CorvettesClasses: Buyan-M (Project 21631), Karakurt (Project 22800)
Displacement: 850-1,000 tons (Buyan-M), 800 tons (Karakurt)
DestroyersClass: Sovremenny-class (Project 956)
Displacement: ~7,940 tons
Armament: Anti-ship missiles, SAM, artillery
FrigatesClass: Admiral Grigorovich-class (Project 11356)
Displacement: ~4,000 tons
Armament: Kalibr missiles, SAM, artillery
Patrol BoatsClass: Svetlyak-class (Project 10410)
Displacement: ~375 tons
Armament: Artillery, machine guns, SAM
Large Landing ShipsClass: Ropucha-class (Project 775)
Displacement: ~4,080 tons
Armament: Artillery, machine guns
Reconnaissance VesselsClass: Vishnya-class (Project 864)
Displacement: ~3,470 tons
Capabilities: Electronic surveillance, reconnaissance
Diesel SubmarinesClass: Kilo-class (Project 636)
Displacement: 3,100-4,000 tons submerged
Armament: Torpedoes, Kalibr missiles
Naval AviationAircraft: Su-24M, Su-30SM, Ka-27, Ka-29
Roles: Maritime strike, air superiority, reconnaissance, ASW
Air DefensesSystems: S-300, S-400, Pantsir-S1
Capabilities: Aerial defense against aircraft, drones, missiles
Coastal TroopsUnits: Coastal defense brigades
Equipment: Bastion-P, Bal missile systems
Roles: Coastal defense, amphibious

support |
| Support Groups | Functions: Logistics, maintenance, medical support, training |

Updated Data and Recent Developments

Main Bases

  1. Sevastopol: The primary base continues to be heavily fortified and remains central to the fleet’s operations. Recent satellite imagery and open-source intelligence confirm the presence of multiple ships and submarines at the port, contradicting claims of a complete retreat.
  2. Novorossiysk: Significant investments have been made to modernize facilities. The base now includes advanced docking facilities and expanded logistics support, enabling it to accommodate larger vessels and more extensive operations.
  3. Temryuk: This base has seen an increase in amphibious and logistical activities. The strategic location near the Kerch Strait makes it a critical hub for controlling maritime traffic between the Black Sea and the Sea of Azov.
  4. Tuapse: Recent enhancements to the base include upgraded maintenance facilities and increased capacity for handling smaller patrol and support vessels.

Advanced Vessels

The fleet’s inventory of advanced vessels has been maintained and even expanded in certain categories:

Anti-Submarine Ships:

  • Krivak-class: Continuous upgrades have been made to sonar and tracking systems, improving ASW capabilities.

Missile Ships:

  • Admiral Grigorovich-class: Newer models have been equipped with more advanced Kalibr missiles, increasing their strike range and precision.

Corvettes:

  • Buyan-M and Karakurt classes: The latest models feature enhanced stealth capabilities and electronic warfare systems.

Destroyers:

  • Sovremenny-class: These ships have undergone significant refits to modernize their missile and radar systems.

Frigates:

  • Admiral Grigorovich-class: Continues to be the backbone of the fleet, with ongoing updates to missile systems.

Patrol Boats:

  • Svetlyak-class: Upgrades include improved navigation systems and more robust armament for increased patrol efficacy.

Large Landing Ships:

  • Ropucha-class: Recent exercises have demonstrated their capability to deploy rapidly and support amphibious operations.

Reconnaissance Vessels:

  • Vishnya-class: These vessels have been equipped with state-of-the-art electronic surveillance systems, enhancing their intelligence-gathering capabilities.

Diesel Submarines:

  • Kilo-class: Known for their stealth and ability to launch Kalibr missiles, these submarines have been a crucial part of the fleet’s strategic deterrence.

Support Units

Naval Aviation:

  • The fleet’s aviation component has seen the introduction of newer aircraft and helicopters, enhancing its strike, reconnaissance, and ASW capabilities.

Air Defenses:

  • The deployment of advanced S-400 systems around Sevastopol and other bases provides a formidable defensive shield against aerial threats.

Coastal Troops:

  • Equipped with the latest Bastion-P and Bal missile systems, these units play a crucial role in defending the coastline and supporting naval operations.

Support Groups:

  • Enhanced logistics and maintenance capabilities ensure the fleet’s operational readiness. Medical support units have been upgraded to provide better care for personnel.

The Black Sea Fleet under the command of Admiral Alexander Moiseyev remains a formidable force within the Russian Navy. Its extensive array of advanced vessels, strategic bases, and support units ensures that it can effectively carry out its primary missions of protecting Russia’s southern maritime interests, ensuring navigation safety, and supporting national foreign policy objectives. Despite claims to the contrary, the fleet continues to operate from its primary base in Sevastopol and other strategic locations, maintaining a high level of readiness and operational capability.

Command and Structure

Commander-in-Chief of the Russian Navy, Admiral Alexander Moiseyev, recently congratulated the veterans and personnel of the fleet, underscoring its historical significance and continued relevance. The fleet is an operational-strategic formation of the Russian Navy, comprising:

  • Main Bases: Sevastopol, Novorossiysk, Temryuk, and Tuapse.
  • Advanced Vessels: Anti-submarine and missile ships, corvettes, destroyers, frigates, patrol boats, large landing ships, reconnaissance vessels, and diesel submarines.
  • Support Units: Naval aviation, air defenses, coastal troops, and support groups.

Strategic Importance of the Black Sea Fleet

The primary missions of the Black Sea Fleet include:

  • Economic Zone Protection: Guarding areas of production activity and suppressing illegal operations.
  • Navigation Safety: Ensuring the safety of maritime navigation in its operational areas.
  • Foreign Policy Actions: Supporting government initiatives in economically crucial regions of the world’s oceans through visits, joint exercises, and peacekeeping actions.

These strategic roles highlight the fleet’s integral part in Russia’s defense and foreign policy apparatus.

Kirby’s History of Inaccurate Claims

John Kirby has a track record of making controversial and sometimes inaccurate statements. For instance:

  • February Claims: Kirby falsely asserted that Baghdad was forewarned about US airstrikes in Iraq.
  • March Incident: He and other officials claimed, inaccurately, that the US had warned Russia ahead of an attack on a Moscow concert hall.
  • August 2021: Hours before the collapse of the US-backed regime in Afghanistan, Kirby assured the media that the situation in Kabul was stable.

These instances cast doubt on the reliability of his recent statements regarding the Black Sea Fleet.

Broader Implications

Kirby’s claim raises broader questions about the nature of information being disseminated by officials and its impact on public perception and international relations. The assertion that the Black Sea Fleet has been destroyed and has fled Crimea has significant implications for:

  • US-Ukraine Relations: Highlighting the extent of US military support to Ukraine and its effectiveness.
  • Russia’s Strategic Posture: Potentially influencing Russia’s strategic calculations and responses in the Black Sea region.
  • Public Perception: Shaping the narrative around the conflict in Ukraine and the perceived effectiveness of Western military aid.

In conclusion, John Kirby’s claim that Russia’s Black Sea Fleet has fled Crimea following Ukrainian missile strikes is not supported by available evidence. The fleet’s continued presence and activities in Sevastopol, along with its substantial inventory of operational vessels, contradict this assertion. Additionally, Kirby’s history of making inaccurate statements further undermines the credibility of his recent claims. The Black Sea Fleet remains a critical component of Russia’s naval capabilities, playing a vital role in the country’s defense and foreign policy.


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