mil_crimeDuring two years of its occupation of Crimea Russia has explicitly revealed to both the Ukrainians and the world community that its true intentions behind the annexation of the Ukrainian peninsula were to make Crimea into a strong fortress on the Black Sea and into a base for militarily threatening the European Union countries. For the Kremlin, “protection of the Russians” or “Russian speakers” has never been a priority but, rather, a pretext to secure its self-interests and satisfy imperial ambitions.


Since the first days of its military aggression in Eastern Ukraine, the Kremlin has been deliberately “stuffing” the peninsula with military personnel and equipment.


While the Russian Black Sea Fleet (BSF) had a total strength of approximately 17,000, including 12,500 personnel deployed in Ukraine as of 1 January 2014, Russia currently has a 24,000-strong force grouping deployed in the peninsula.


There has also been a dramatic increase in the amount of arms and military equipment (AME) in Crimea.  According to estimated figures by the Center for Army, Conversion and Disarmament Studies (CACDS),  the Russian Federation had 24 warships, 92 armored fighting vehicles (AFVs), 24 heavy gun systems, 59 combat aircraft and helicopters and 2 submarines deployed in the peninsula prior to the annexation; those numbers have now increased 6.8 times for main battle tanks (MBTs) and AFVs, 7.2 times for heavy gun systems, 2.2 times for combat aircraft and helicopters and 2 times for submarines (see Table 1 below).  


Table 1

Numerical comparison between the sizes of Russian military deployments in Crimea in early 2014 and early 2016




Russian Black Sea Fleet Commander Admiral Alexander Vitko, in a statement released in July 2015, said Russia now has a self-sufficient joint force grouping deployed in Crimea, composed of the ground, air and naval components (see Figure 1 below).





This gives Russia the ability to stage integrated joint-service operations in the South Western Theater of Operation that encompasses the Black and Azov Sea region, including littoral territories and airspace, as well as in the rear Mediterranean theater of operations.


The ground component is composed of the Russian BSF Marine Infantry forces, Coastal Defense forces, Coastal Artillery Rocket forces, Air Assault units, and Air Defense personnel and equipment.  


The core of the Russian force grouping’s ground component in Crimea is made up of the 810th Independent Marine Infantry (IMI) Bde (Sevastopol), 126th Independent Coastal Defense (ICD) Bde (Simferopol), 15th Independent Coastal Missile (ICM) Bde (Sevastopol), 127th Independent Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (IISR) Bde (Simferopol), 1096th Surface-to-Air Missile (SAM) Regt (Sevastopol), 8th Artillery Regt (Simferopol), 68th Independent Naval Engineering (INE) Regt (Yevpatoria), and the 4th NBC Regt (Sevastopol). Air defense is provided by the 4th Air Force/Air Defense Army’s 31st Air Defense Division units stationed in Sevastopol, Feodosia and Yevpatoria (see Figure 2 below).





The key mission of the ground component is to defend the land bridges between the Crimean Peninsula and mainland Ukraine and to maintain readiness for a potential Russian invasion of mainland Ukraine from Crimea. Arms and military equipment (including most recent products of the Russian defense industry) for the ground component have been redeployed to Crimea from mainland Russia. In particular, Russia redeployed to Crimea a battery of Pantsir-S1 Air Defense Missile-Gun vehicles (the Pantsir-S1 has been officially fielded with Russian forces since a few years ago). Designed to engage aerial targets and light armored vehicles, the weapon could also be used to target military as well as industrial facilities. In addition to Pantsir-S1 vehicles, the Russians reinforced the Peninsula’s air defenses with batteries of S-300PMU SAM systems.


Alongside this, Russia has deployed to Crimea’s littoral areas its Bastion anti-ship missile systems that are capable of engaging different classes and types of surface ships, as well as ground-based targets (a single Bastion battery armed with Oniks anti-ship cruise missiles is able to provide cover protection to a 600-km long coastline).


Russia has also redeployed to the peninsula a number of BAL (SSC-6 Sennight) coastal defense missile systems that were deployed with its Caspian Flotilla previously. A BAL missile battalion was subsequently relocated to the city of Sevastopol and included into the complement of the newly organized 15th Independent Coastal Defense Missile Brigade. The BAL, designed for protecting territorial waters security, is a vehicle-based system carrying Kh-35/Kh-35E and Kh-35U/Kh-35UE anti-ship missiles (ASM) housed in storage/transport-launch canisters. Kh-35E and Kh-35U missiles have effective ranges of 120 km and 260 km respectively.


The Black Sea Fleet 810th IMI Bde has become the key component of the Russian joint force grouping deployed in Crimea, capable of a wide range of combat and special missions, including in expeditionary warfare scenarios (personnel of the 810th IMI Bde have been dispatched for operations in Syria).


The air component is composed of bomber aircraft, ground attack aircraft, fighter aircraft and Army aircraft units that are component elements of the BSF 4th Air Force/Air Defense Army, as well as Naval Aviation forces (see Figure 3 below).





In addition to the Naval Aircraft units organic to the BSF (43rd Independent Naval Ground Attack Aircraft (INGAA) Regiment  stationed in Saky and 318th Independent Mixed Aircraft (IMA) Regiment stationed in Kacha), the 27th Mixed Aircraft (MA) Division was newly organized, composed of three different service regiments – the 37th Mixed Aircraft Regiment stationed in Hvardiyske, the 38th Fighter Aircraft (FA) Regiment stationed in Belbek and the 39th Helicopter Regiment stationed in Dzhankoy. The air component has the potential to operate throughout the whole Black Sea region and to provide air-to-ground attack support for Russian forces operating in Crimea’s northern areas.


The air component was reinforced with new Su-30SM fighter aircraft, upgraded Su-27SM aircraft and SU-24M frontline bomber aircraft as well as Su-25SM ground attack aircraft. The 39th Helicopter Regiment has been equipped with Ka-52, Mi-28N and Mi-8AMTSh helicopters.


The naval component is made up of the BSF Surface and Submarine Forces. The Surface Forces are composed of Attack Forces (missile/gun ships), Amphibious Assault Forces (large and small landing craft), and Sea Area Defense Forces (anti-submarine and mine-warfare ships).


The naval component currently includes the 30th SS Div, 41st MB Bde, 68th SADS Bde, 11th SM Bde, 197th ALS Bde, and 4th SM Bde (see Figure 4 below).


With its current ship complement the BSF has the potential to operate both in the Black Sea Littoral Operation Zone (control of Crimea’s littoral areas and coastline; amphibious landing operations against Ukraine) and in remote theaters of operation (ensuring Russian presence in the Mediterranean, support for Russian forces operations in Syria).


The following military units in Crimea have been newly organized over the duration of Russian occupation of the Ukrainian peninsula:

     30th Surface Ship Division (Sevastopol), composed of the BSF ship squadrons that had been stationed in Crimea prior to its annexation by Russia:

     27th Mixed Aircraft Division (Belbek, Sevastopol);

     31st Air Defense Division (Sevastopol);

     BSF 126th Independent Coastal Defense Brigade (Perevalne), reorganized from the former Ukrainian Navy 136th ICD Bde;

     BSF 15th Independent Coastal Missile Brigade )Sevastopol)

     BSF 8th Artillery Regiment (Simferopol).


The BSF fleet was complemented by the addition of Project 21631 (Buyan-M-class) “Zeleniy Dol” and “Serpukhov” light missile ships (December 2015), equipped with Kalibr-NK missile launchers, as well as project 636.3 Novorossiysk (October 2015) and Rostov-on-Don (December 2015) diesel-electric submarines armed with Kalibr-PL SLCMs.




With those additions, the estimated total missile complement has been increased 1.5 times, from 142 to 264 missiles.


As a matter of fact, Russia has made Crimea into an “Iron Fortress” capable of not just defending itself but also of launching missile attacks on targets in Central and Southern Ukraine. If the rumors were true that Vladimir Putin, in August 2014, approved the deployment of short-range nuclear capable Iskander missile systems to Crimea, this would make insecure not only Ukraine, but also Eastern European countries (see Figure 5 below).


The Iskander-M has a range envelope that well extends into most of Moldova as well as littoral areas of Romania, Bulgaria and Turkey (the weapon can effectively engage weapon emplacements, missile defense/air defense infrastructures, airplanes and helicopters on ground, command posts and communications nodes, as well as high value civilian targets at ranges up to 500 km). One should not exclude the possibility that Moscow will deploy to the peninsula the Iskander-K version that fires R-500 cruise missiles. The R-500 has the ability to deliver its lethal payload to a 2,000 km range, which makes it a potential threat to countries in the Caucasus region as well as in Central and in whole Eastern Europe.





An increased threat to military and civilian installations comes from the Kalibr-NK missile launcher systems found on the recent additions to Russia’s BSF – the FBM ships Zelenyi Dol and Serpukhov and the submarine Novorossiysk. The 3M14 missile fired from Kalibr-NK launcher can engage ground targets at ranges up to 1,500 km, as claimed by Russia’s Ministry of Defense.


Finally and most importantly, the Kremlin is looking to deploy Tu-22M3 strategic bomber aircraft to Hvardiyske airfield 18 km north of Simferopol. The planned deployment of Tu-22M3 aircraft is perhaps most worrying given its operational radius of approximately 2,400 km and the ability to carry Kh-22 cruise missiles that can fly to 500 km at 4,000 km/h, as well as Kh-15 missiles that are capable of speeds of up to 6,000 km/h and operational ranges of up to 250 km. Both missiles can carry nuclear warheads. The combat range of the Tu-22M3 bomber combined with the range of cruise missiles carried by the aircraft effectively give it the ability to attack targets anywhere in Western Europe.


The deadly combination of Tu-22M3 missile carrying bombers and R-500 Iskander-K short-range ballistic missiles deployed to Crimea gives the unpredictable Kremlin a powerful strike force that threatens or is likely to put in jeopardy peace and safety of the Black Sea region and all of Europe.


Moscow is looking to build up even further its military capacities in Crimea. In the period through 2020-25, the number of Russian military personnel deployed in the peninsula is set to be increased to 43,000, MBTs to 100, AVFs to 1,150, artillery systems of various calibers to 400, combat aircraft to 150, helicopters to 95, coastal missile systems to 50, warships to 33 and submarines to 7.     


The Kremlin justifies its military buildup by NATO’s eastward expansion, the deployment of US missile defense batteries closer to Russian borders,  NATO’s redeployment of some of its military capabilities to direct vicinity of western fringes of Russia (particularly to the Baltic States), increased number of NATO military drills in Eastern Europe, and other excuses. But Moscow, however, is playing with facts when it doesn’t say anything about the military threat coming from itself, and it is reluctant to accept that Europe is doing this all in an attempt to defend itself from perceived Russian threat. The truth is that none of Eastern European countries has missile attack capabilities similar to those available to Russia. Regarding military drills held by Russia and NATO countries, a simple comparison shows they are incommensurate in extent or the level of forces involved.


In September 2015, the Russian military held large-scale drills that took place at 20 sites across the country’s Central Military District, involving overall 95,000 personnel, about 7,000 military vehicles, over 150 aircraft and 20 naval vessels. NATO, for its part, held Trident Juncture 2015 from 28 September to 6 November, its largest military exercise ever since the end of the Cold War. The drills involved as few as 36,000 personnel from over 30 NATO and partner nations, spanning Western and Northern Europe, the Mediterranean Sea, the Atlantic Ocean and Canada.


This all is taking place at the time when Russia has done virtually nothing to improve the lives of average civilians in Crimea and to turn the peninsula into a “Russian Las Vegas" dreamed of by so many Crimean residents who voted in the secession “referendum” in March 2014. Well-established, long standing supply chains from mainland Ukraine that used to supply the peninsula with 80 percent of its fresh water, food and electricity needs have been disrupted. Russian authorities are grumbling that Crimea has become one of the largest recipients of the federal budget resources, with 85 percent of its budget needs being provided by the Russian government, as Novaya Gazeta reported. This compares with Chechnya at 82 percent and 87 percent for Ingushetia, Russia’s most subsidized region.


All the projects aimed to make Crimea more self-sufficient in terms of budget remained unmaterialized desires with no probability of being materialized any time soon in the future. Yet military personnel are not among those neglected.  A new-project garrison town is now being built for members of the Black Sea Fleet’s personnel not far from Simferopol. The town project takes account of modern trends in terms of the military’s accommodation and housing conditions, social infrastructure, vehicles’ accommodations etc, and 2,109 apartments in a newly built 50-house neighborhood in Cossacks’ Bay, Sevastopol, are now ready for immediate occupation.


The facts therefore speak for themselves. Crimea has been made into a Black Sea fortress, and a base for westward expansion of the Kremlin’s imperial ambitions and for ensuring Russian presence in the Mediterranean. The population of the peninsula, stupefied by Russian propaganda, have now returned to a Soviet-style nation for which they are so nostalgic, but the one in a far worse state than they thought and with bleak prospects for the future.


It is crucial to note that Russia, who has compromised the decades-long system of global and regional security, is moving ahead on the path of confrontation with the whole civilized world. Given the current pace of militarization of Crimea and Moscow’s planned increase of its military presence in the peninsula, CACDS is expecting a rise in tensions in the Black Sea region, while Russia is expected to stage a series of risky provocations aimed to get the West accept it as a global superpower.  To prevent the destructive actions by Russia CACDS suggests proposals aimed to toughen sanctions, economic and technological, on Russia and to forge a powerful coalition against Putin, with effective internal control mechanisms needed to prevent countries from trading in critical technologies with Russia in defiance of international sanctions. There is growing relevance of a proposal to ban the export of high-precision machine tools and high-tech products that Russia could use for development of new fighter and bomber aircraft, a new-generation military airlifter and precision guided missiles and munitions. It must be appreciated that the annexation and the total militarization of Crimea by Moscow pose not so much threat to Ukraine, but a bigger threat to NATO countries in Europe. 






This research has been done in collaboration between

The Center for Army, Conversion and Disarmament Studies The Defense Express Media & Consulting Company




Special Thanks to 

Ukraine Ministry of Defense Ukraine Armed Forces General Staff Ukrainian Navy High Command



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