Surface Forces: Safe Bases in the Arctic

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February 12, 2024: The Ukraine War has seen Ukrainian forces using Western missile systems to sink all the Russian warships in the Black Sea. Ukraine has built long range UAVs to attack Russian air bases and other military targets deep inside Russia. In an apparent effort to escape these attacks, Russia has been moving more warships and military air operations to the northern Arctic region and adjacent to the Norwegian border. This is where Murmansk province is located, along with bases for the Russian Northern Fleet. This is one of the four fleets. The other three are the Pacific Fleet on the Russian Pacific coast, the Baltic Sea fleet based near St Petersburg, and the Black Sea Fleet no longer based at the port of Sevastopol on the Crimean Peninsula because the Ukrainians sank too many Russian warships there and the survivors fled to much smaller and poorly equipped ports far away on Russia’s eastern Black Sea Coast.

When the Soviet Union dissolved in 1991, Crimea became part of Ukraine. Many Russian military leaders objected to Ukraine owning Crimea because there were so many Russian military facilities there. Ukraine agreed to let the Russian bases remain if large rent payments were made annually. Russia paid the rent with natural gas delivered by a Russian pipeline that already ran through Ukraine to the West where Russia already had natural gas customers. This arrangement did not last long because too many Russian officials, and Russians in general, believed Crimea belonged to Russia. In 2014 Russian seized control of Crimea and still holds on to most of it. Ukraine considers Crimea Ukrainian and won’t stop fighting until they get it back. This would probably mean expelling Russian residents, who are expected to support violent opposition to Ukrainian control. There are over two million civilians living in Crimea and the expulsions will be gradual and last as long as anti-Ukraine Russians remain.

Currently the remaining Russian military activities in Crimea are limited because supplies of weapons have to be brought in discreetly. That’s because Ukraine is watching what happens in Crimea and uses its long-range missiles or special operations raids to disrupt Russian military operations. Russia has to bring in supplies to Crimea by ship. This is dangerous because Ukraine has missiles that can reach most areas in Crimea and USV (Unmanned surface Vessels) that are regularly used against Russian bases and the few Russian warships still operational in the Black Sea.

Because of all this activity Russia is moving more of its remaining warships to Murmansk. The Turks allow Russian warships to leave the Black Sea and once these ships do so, traveling to the Atlantic Ocean then north through the English Channel, the North Sea and northern Norway which are safe from Ukrainian attacks. Once at Murmansk Russian warships are once more in danger. That’s because Norway shares a long border with Finland and once Finland joined NATO in April 2023 both Finland and neighboring Norway could keep an eye on what the nearby Russian forces were doing. Russia has several naval and air bases in the area, and these are the ones that Ukraine is sending long-range UAVs across Russia to attack. Russian military leaders were dismayed to find that their air defenses were unable to detect low-flying Ukrainian armed UAVs traveling all the way to the Murmansk area to attack a Russian airbase where long-range bombers were based. These bombers are used to carry cruise missiles south and launch them near the Ukrainian border at targets in Ukraine. Now Russia fears that the warships sent to bases up here will not be immune from Ukrainian UAV and missile attacks like those which destroyed a Russian corvette and a submarine anchored at their docks in Sevastopol, Crimea.

 

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