FORGET THE SEA OF AZOV – NATO Should Help Ukraine by Exploiting Strategic Leverage Elsewhere

Obviously the international community should do all it can to respond resolutely in the face of Russian aggression in the Sea of Azov, but the reality is that it is considered by Moscow to be mare nostrum. That may not be morally or legally correct, but it is now a cold, hard fact.

The request by Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko for NATO vessels to be sent into the Sea of Azov is understandable, but unlikely to happen. The Sea of Azov is not even considered international waters but is, rather, shared between Russia and Ukraine. Only vessels flying the flags of Russia and Ukraine may navigate freely in the Sea of Azov, though it now appears Moscow believes its vessels alone should have that right.

The Alliance would be well advised to forget about direct intervention in the Sea of Azov altogether, unless it wants to go toe-to-toe with the Russians and suffer heavy casualties in a conflict that could rapidly escalate with no good outcome for anyone.

Pressure can still be applied in the Black Sea – and NATO regularly deploys task groups and individual vessels close to Russian shores – but it should never be overlooked that it is an area where (like the South China Seas these days) ‘big boys rules’ apply.

Utmost vigilance, constant readiness for aggression from Russia and fine decision-making are needed during near-to-the-knuckle encounters.

The British destroyer HMS Duncan’s encounter with multiple Russian strike jets last May and the even more recent close call between a US Navy intelligence-gathering aircraft and a Russian fighter jet demonstrated this.

The British destroyer HMS Duncan exercises with the Bulgarian frigate BGS Drazki during the May 2018 deployment in which the Royal Navy vessel was harassed by Russian aircraft. Photo: Royal Navy.

In the risky game of countering Russia’s pursuit of anti-access, area denial – or A2/AD as it is called in modern military speak – there is no way that either Ukraine or NATO can win in an enclosed sea dominated by Russia geographically, such as the Sea of Azov.

There is past evidence of why that is the case.  While for the most part the Russian Navy recorded a less than impressive record during WW1 and WW2 – ceding the main offensive effort at sea to allies and showing little gratitude at the time (perhaps due to the heavy priced paid on land by the Soviet Union) – there was a notable exception.

That was the Russian Navy gaining the upper hand in the Black Sea during WW1 – giving the Turks a rough time and also making life miserable for German U-boat interlopers – achieving a good measure of success with mine warfare, something it also used to good effect in the Baltic during the same conflict.

In WW2 the Soviets in the end prevailed in the Black Sea primarily due to the efforts of their army and air force, the Axis fleets suffering the problem of weak surface forces and Germany only being able to send in smaller U-boats overland via rail shipments, due to neutral Turkey controlling access to the sea.

And today the Russians not only have an array of sophisticated mines at their disposal – ideal for use in the littoral waters of the Black Sea and Sea of Azov and sewing confusion in the Turkish Strait – they can achieve local air superiority and have formidable land-based missile systems. They aspire to the same thing in the Baltic, using their Kaliningrad enclave to dominate its southern end.

A Russian fighter jet comes dangerously close to a US Navy intelligence-gathering aircraft over the Black Sea. Image: US DoD.

In the Black Sea the naval base at Sevastopol is home to some of the better surface combatants and also cutting edge Improved Kilo Class submarines. Some have already been used in anger, to conduct cruise missile bombardments of targets in Syria.

So, unless NATO and the Ukraine want to push the all-out war button to overwhelm the Russian home team advantage, what else can be done? NATO and the rest of the international community can best help Ukraine and Alliance members states menaced by the Kremlin’s aggressive hybrid warfare by sending in units to hold the line in the Black Sea, while deploying Alliance naval forces elsewhere to decisive effect.

It is true that in the conventional sense, across the board, the Russian Navy would currently be no match for NATO in full-on conflict, but Moscow will do all it can to avoid that. It will seek to use its submarines – which now possess capabilities not far off the best NATO can offer – along with its new deep ocean spy vessels, corvettes and frigates in places and at times of its own choosing, careful not to over-reach itself and with limited objectives (within the doctrine of ‘war in peace’).

Today it is control of the Sea of Azov, probably as a preliminary to a drive by ‘rebel Ukrainian’ forces along its northern coast to link up Russian itself with the Crimea, ensuring access to the key naval base at Sevastopol and other military bases in the peninsula. Access to the Mediterranean and protecting Russia’s southern flank is an enduring strategic objective for Russia, hence the heavy involvement in Syria where there is a major Russian naval support facility.

Occasionally Russia cocks a snook at the West by sending submarines into the Irish Sea, or deploys them to poke about in the Baltic, or long-range maritime strike aircraft test NATO air defences. Its surface vessels and (surfaced) submarines quite legitimately pass close to NATO coastlines while heading south to Syria from the Baltic or the Northern Fleet bastions in the Arctic.

Arleigh Burke Class destroyer USS Farragut conducts a replenishment-at-sea alongside the aircraft carrier USS Harry S. Truman during the carrier’s most recent deployment into the North Atlantic. Photo: US Navy.

NATO can regain the initiative, put the Russians off balance and also keep them tied down by returning to the tried and test strategy that won the Cold War. NATO, which in this case means the US Navy, the Royal Navy and Marine Nationale, should deploy nuclear-powered attack submarines (SSNs) into the North Atlantic and Arctic to reinforce the message that those international waters will never be the exclusive preserve of the Russians. NATO surface vessels should also return to establishing freedom of navigation in those seas, including the Barents.

The French Navy (Marine Nationale) nuclear-powered attack submarine FNS Perle calls at a Canadian naval base during a 2016 ASW exercise in the North Atlantic. Photo: Canadian DND.

The recent Exercise Trident Juncture off Norway saw the first deployment into Arctic waters by a US Navy Carrier Strike Group (CSG) in decades, while a little publicised element of the same exercise was the presence of British and French SSNs during Anti-submarine Warfare (ASW) training alongside Norwegian conventional boats. In the near future the Royal Navy should take a leaf out of its own Cold War playbook, when it used to deploy its last big deck carrier, HMS Ark Royal, way up into the N. Atlantic, and resume such operations.

A Super Hornet strike jet launches from USS Harry S. Truman during her autumn 2018 deployment in the North Atlantic. Photo: US Navy.

Aside from giving the Russians something to think about in the High North – tying down their best naval assets and keeping them stretched and pushed very hard up there – any Russian surface warships and submarines venturing further south and into the Mediterranean should not be just playfully shadowed by harmless Offshore Patrol Vessels (OPVs). They should be relentlessly trailed, hailed and interrogated by destroyers, frigates and aircraft. NATO submarines should also trail them.

In other words Moscow’s naval units should be subjected to exactly the same treatment the Russians mete out to NATO and allied vessels, and all of course conducted legally within international waters and using (safe) norms of behaviour. NATO units will undoubtedly face severe provocation in return but must keep a cool head.

There will inevitably be risks, just as there were during the Cold War, but that is what navies are there for – laying down the red lines at sea that aggressors must not cross, in order to keep the rest of us safe.  To not respond in the fashion suggested will only encourage Moscow (especially in the Black Sea, Baltic and Arctic) and its strategic pal Beijing (in the South China Sea and further afield) to close off more of the open commons of the sea to use for their own ends and coerce other nations.

Iain Ballantyne is author of the recently published ‘THE DEADLY TRADE: The Complete History of Submarine Warfare from Archimedes to the Present’ (Weidenfeld & Nicolson, £25.00, hardback). and Editor of the global naval news magazine WARSHIPS International Fleet Review and its ‘Guide to the US Navy 2019

Crimean Steal of the Century

(Does Russia Want to Annex Ukraine’s Aircraft Carrier Construction Yard?)

by Iain Ballantyne with Usman Ansari

It was the last stand of the Ukrainian Navy. Try as they might, Russian forces for a long while failed to take the mine warfare vessel Cherkassy. Several times the Russians tried to storm aboard in a hail of stun grenades and gunfire while intimidating Mi35 helicopter gunships clattered overhead, but the defiant Ukrainians held out.

Every other Ukrainian vessel in the Crimean peninsula had been taken over with many sailors and marines defecting to the new Russian rulers. Yet the nearly 62 crew of the Cherkassy, a beefy 750 tons ship armed with 30mm cannons and machine guns in addition to rockets, begged to differ (and in the absence of any specific orders on what to do from their naval headquarters).

Cem Devrim-

Valiant mine warfare ship Cherkassy, the last Ukrainian naval vessel in the Crimea to yield control to the Russians. Photo: Cem Devrim Yaylali. © Cem Devrim Yaylali, 2013. For more by Cem Devrim Yaylali visit

Despite the bangs and flashes, lethal force was not unleashed by either side, with Cherkassy’s men using powerful water jets to hold potential boarders at bay, also dropping low power charges around their ship as a deterrent.

The Russians used a sunken ship – seemingly a Ukrainian mine-sweeper – to block the channel leading from the Donuzlav Lake into the open ocean on the western side of the Crimea. Having failed in her attempt to tow the block ship out the way, Cherkassy continued cruising around and around until, finally explosives wrecked her steering during one assault by the Russians. This left her ethnic Ukrainian commander, Captain Yuri Fedash, with three choices: Go out in a blaze of glory by using his weapons on the Russians; scuttle the Cherkassy; surrender. Some of the vessel’s complement had already wavered, with Capt Fedash allowing a dozen of those men to disembark peacefully.

Stormed successfully by Russian naval infantry, the end finally seemed near for the defiant Cherkassy. Capt Fedash ordered his men below decks and told them to seal all hatches while he tried to negotiate with the invaders. Admiring the clever tactics of the Ukrainians – and their efforts to avoid bloodshed – the Russians agreed to let Fedash and some of his officers have one last ward room dinner aboard before pulling down the Ukrainian ensign in the morning.

This was in marked contrast to the treatment handed out to other Ukrainian vessels. Twelve of the Ukrainian Navy’s 17 major surface combatants were seized peremptorily by Russian forces along with the bulk of naval aviation assets and sole submarine. Ukraine also lost its combat dolphins. The dolphin programme aimed at training the intelligent and fiesty mammals in countering combat frogmen and also detecting underwater objects such as mines. After a long period of stagnation, the programme was revived for the Ukrainian Navy in 2011 after years of being used for civilian purposes, but still suffered from a lack of funding. The Russians are likely to pump money in. Ukraine has also lost most of its significant naval and marine corps bases and other key defence facilities. Of the 15,450 naval personnel, 12,000 were stationed on the Crimean peninsula. The majority of these are believed to have defected to Russia or resigned from the service. Those that have chosen to continue under Kiev had to make their own way back to territory under Ukrainian control.

While warships were blockaded in port and seized, some of the Ukrainian Navy’s aviation assets managed to escape. These included a Kamov Ka-27PL and three Mil Mi-14PL maritime helicopters, a Beriev Be-12 amphibian, and two Antonov An-26 transport aircraft. Aircraft undergoing maintenance had to be left behind.  The tattered remains of the Ukrainian Navy are now based in the port of Odessa, including its most capable ship, the Krivak III Class frigate Hetman Sahaydachny. Ukrainian access to the Sea of Azov has been cut by Russian occupation of Kerch, leaving Kiev’s eastern ports marooned. Just how Kiev plans to reconstitute its maritime capabilities is uncertain, but given the prevailing East-West tensions it is possible surplus equipment from NATO states could be transferred.

Western action could also have a direct effect on the Russian Navy, with Paris contemplating blocking the transfer of two Mistral Class amphibious assault carriers being built under contract in France. The first of those vessels, Vladivostok, was due to reach Russia by the end of 2014. The second, the somewhat fatefully named Sevastopol, was due to arrive next year and join the Black Sea Fleet (BSF).

Though a series of sanctions have been announced against selected Russians and Russian interests, the Mistral deal was not at the time of writing cancelled. The French view the ships as commercial vessels due to them currently lacking weapon. systems. Should Russia move to take further parts of Ukraine or the Russian ethnic enclave of Trans Dniester in Moldova, the amphibious assault ships may be included in a new set of sanctions. Meanwhile, in Kaliningrad – the former East Prussia, annexed by Russia in 1945 and also host to a major naval base at Baltisk – the Yantar shipyard has just launched Russia’s first Project 11356 frigate. The Admiral Grigorovich is a 3,850 tons multi-role vessel capable of independent or combined Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW), Anti-Air Warfare (AAW), or Anti-Surface Warfare (ASuW) missions. The lead ship of a class of six slated, they will be assigned to the Black Sea Fleet (BSF) along with new generation submarines.

Some in the West may be puzzled by all the focus on the Black Sea for Russian naval forces and territorial expansion, but that is because the democratic leaders of Europe think in terms of exerting influence via aid packages and trade, keen to export liberal ideals of freedom. President Putin thinks in hardball terms. Last month (March) he gave a speech in the spectacular St. George’s Hall of the Kremlin.

Putin in Conference

President Vladimir Putin during his historic speech last month (March) in the Kremlin.

Photo: Office of the President of RussiaIt placed the issue of the strategic naval base of Sevastopol at the heart of his nation’s annexation of the Crimea. President Putin told his audience he feared that, without Russian intervention, the Ukraine would soon have become a fully paid up member of the West.

This would have placed a potentially hostile military organisation close to the heart of the Rodina, the Russian motherland. The former KGB officer told his audience: “What would this have meant for Crimea and Sevastopol in the future? It would have meant that NATO’s navy would be right there in this city of Russia’s military glory, and this would create not an illusory but a perfectly real threat to the whole of southern Russia.”

Putin followed this with a drily humorous statement: “But let me say too that we are not opposed to cooperation with NATO, for this is certainly not the case [but] we are against having a military alliance making itself at home right in our backyard or in our historic territory.” He went on: “I simply cannot imagine that we would travel to Sevastopol to visit NATO sailors. Of course, most of them are wonderful guys, but it would be better to have them come and visit us, be our guests, rather than the other way round.” Putin in his March speech described Sevastopol as “a legendary city with an outstanding history, a fortress that serves as the birthplace of Russia’s Black Sea Fleet.”

He also said: “Crimea is Balaklava and Kerch, Malakhov Kurgan and Sapun Ridge. Each one of these places is dear to our hearts, symbolising Russian military glory and outstanding valour.” There was, as ever, hard-nosed strategic interest at stake for Russia, which seeks to prevent the Assad regime from collapsing via arms shipments from the Black Sea.

The BSF is also a counter to NATO’s new Ballistic Missile Defence (BMD) ships patrolling the Mediterranean and elsewhere. This month (April) a Russian fighter jet repeatedly buzzed one of those BMD ships, USS Donald Cook, as the Arleigh Burke Class destroyer sailed in the Black Sea, bound for NATO exercises. See the forthcoming (June 2014) edition of WARSHIPS IFR (out on May 16) for more on that incident.

Russian Leader dolls

Putin’s predecessors in Russian doll form (from right to left): Brezhnev, Gorbachev, Lenin and Yeltsin (who presided over Russian post-Cold War decline). This set of dolls was purchased by Iain Ballantyne at Sevastopol in 1991. Image: Strathdee Collection.

In some ways the Cold War never ended – the past 23 years have been but a pause in the overt, muscular rivalry between Russia and the West.  And can President Putin tolerate even eastern Ukraine being still under the Kiev government’s control, despite what he says today about no further moves? The majority ethnic Russian population of eastern Ukraine may one day soon provide the Kremlin with an excuse to protect them, but under the skin it will again be about strategic necessity for Russia.

Not only would it ensure that NATO cannot get any closer on the northern shores of the Black Sea it would once more bring under Moscow’s control the industrial resources of the Donetsk region and also, crucially, the Black Sea Ship Yard at Nikolayev. If the Russian Navy is to progress with its regeneration, the addition of such a ship construction facility – which built all the Soviet Navy’s helicopter and aircraft carriers – would be a key addition.

The Kremlin has often stated it wants to build half a dozen new strike carriers but currently lacks the major surface ship construction capacity and skills to do so. The new carriers are unlikely to be built at Sevmash on the White Sea, which recently completed a very troubled and prolonged reconstruction of the former Soviet carrier Gorshkov for India, not least because its roster is packed with new submarine orders.


A port beam view of the Russian aircraft carrier Admiral Kuznetsov en route from her construction yard at Nikolayev on the Black Sea for duty with (what was then) the Soviet Northern Fleet. The same design of ship today serves in the Russian, Indian and Chinese fleets. Photo: US Navy.
An astern view of the Kuznetsov with a strike jet and helicopter on her large flight-deck.
Photo: US DoD.

The extant strike carrier of the Russian Navy, the Admiral Kuznetsov, was built at Nikolayev. Even the Chinese Navy’s new carrier was built there.

Launched in 1988 and originally to be called Riga, her name was changed to Varyag before the almost complete vessel was sold to a Chinese commercial company in 1998. At one point allegedly destined for use as a floating casino off Macau, ultimately the former Varyag was reconstructed in a Chinese naval shipyard.

Today she is China’s first aircraft carrier, named Liaoning. Ukraine’s sale of that vessel to China, now deploying her regularly as a symbol of growing maritime might (with more, home-grown, carriers rumoured) must have deeply angered many in the former Soviet Union and really dented their pride. They now find their former carrier construction yard tantalisingly not far from the newly reclaimed Crimea. All Putin needs is the excuse of safeguarding ethnic Russians to annex Nikolayev too.

For more on Russia versus the West in the Cold War, read ‘Hunter Killers’ (Orion Books) by Iain Ballantyne. The paperback edition is due to be published this summer. This blog is a slightly revised version of an article that appears in the  May 2014 edition of WARSHIPS International Fleet Review magazine.

The strange tale of the Balaclava Beluga

 (and a new Russian stealth submarine that will operate from the Crimea)

The current turmoil in the Crimea and television news reports from Balaclava reminded me of a trip I made to that part of the world in the dying days of the Soviet Union. Thereby hangs a tale and I thought it worth dusting off, especially as it was an episode that didn’t make it into my new book ‘Hunter Killers’ and deserves not to go ignored. It also appears my encounter with a secret Russian submarine was merely the prequel for a lethal new vessel that will soon be operating from the Crimea (providing another reason why Moscow will never give up Sevastopol).

Elderly men wearing flat caps and clad in frayed polyster zip up jackets queued patiently alongside babushkas swaddled against the cold, empty shopping bags dangling forlornly from their gnarled fingers. Quite what they were waiting to receive from the ramshackle shop was not clear: Potatoes? Tea? Shoes?  In the Soviet Union people waited in line for whatever they could get no matter how paltry it was.

Not far away, an enterprising set of fellows showed similarly heroic (and equally vain) patience, fishing rods poised over the black, gently rippling waters of Balaclava Harbour. They were not likely to hook decent-sized fish in there, more inclined to pull out an old boot.


Shot taken at Balaclava Harbour in the Crimea, late 1991, showing never before seen Russian submarine, called the Beluga. Photo: Iain Ballantyne.

The anglers stared miserably into the distance, not seeming to understand that the biggest intelligence catch for many years was actually moored next to a floating dock just a few yards away.

I raised my camera to capture the scene – in the foreground moribund, miserable fishermen and there, almost on the ends of their lines, a sleek, shark-shaped submarine of a kind never seen before by Western eyes.

Rather than being arrested by KGB shadowers, with my camera smashed into pieces, I got away with snapping off several dozen frames. I was part of an official group being shown around Balaclava as a guest of the Russian Navy, so I seemed to have immunity to strong-arm tactics. (As I would find out just under a year later, in another part of Russia, armed KGB agents in those days invariably followed Western VIPs around – to protect them from thugs – and were not afraid to loose off a few shots in the air to safeguard special visitors – but that’s a story for another day.)


View across Balaclava in late 1991, with a solitary elderly Juliett Class diesel-electric cruise missile submarine alongside the Soviet Navy submarine base. Photo: Iain Ballantyne.

In Balaclava, a jolly, rather rotund Russian admiral held forth with a booming voice about the harbour – which of course for Britons, as he acknowledged, held great significance. During the Crimean War of the 1850s it had been a major portal of invasion for Queen Victoria’s army. We had just been over to the Valley of Death – now covered in vineyards rather than the corpses of slain cavalrymen – and this was the latest stop on the British diplomatic group’s tour. As a journalist I was a hanger-on, listening and watching from the sidelines.

In late 1991, with the Soviet Union breaking up rapidly – and only a matter of weeks until it was dissolved – the issue dominating the headlines was: What will happen to the nuclear weapons currently residing in the various breakaway bits? The Ukraine in particular was home to many nukes and also a massive Russian Navy presence in the Crimean Peninsula. Yet it seemed amid all the fuss over the warheads somebody had forgotten to hide this submarine at Balaclava away from prying eyes. They could easily have slid it out of sight for, unknown to us at the time, the cliffs at Balaclava concealed cavernous submarine pens – like some Bond villain’s lair for real – but on the day of our visit an order to conceal the submarine failed to come down the chain of command.

Back in the UK, not really understanding quite how much of a scoop the pictures I had taken were, I did some investigating. It turned out the Balaclava submarine was a revolutionary kind of craft called a Beluga. It was an experimental prototype, created to see if the stealthy shape of a nuclear-powered attack submarine could be combined with a new type of propulsion more silent than reactor machinery, called closed-cycle diesel.

Suddenly we were in the realms of Tom Clancy’s ‘The Hunt for Red October’ and my humble regional evening newspaper had a world scoop – but I wasn’t the only one taking pictures. There were others there too. Could we beat them to the punch? My paper ran the story big and bold; a front-page lead ‘World Exclusive’ on the ‘Secret Red Sub’, with an inside page carrying more detail and a sidebar on the recent Hollywood blockbuster version of ‘Hunt for Red October’. It explained that the movie featured a fictional submarine with revolutionary propulsion, just like the Beluga (well, not quite, but similar enough).

As for the much-vaunted Beluga, it seemed to be a bit of a dead end, being decommissioned after several years of trials. The Russian Navy struggled to keep even its older, less cutting edge submarines at sea so there was no point back then in carrying on with trying to develop radical new types.

Today the closed-cycle Air Independent Propulsion (AIP) submarine proliferates across the world, thanks mainly to the Germans, who don’t mind supplying them to whoever has the cash (and a need for patrol submarines almost as deadly, in certain waters, as the nuclear-powered attack boats). The Germans have always been on the cutting edge of submarine technology. One of James Bond creator Ian Fleming’s prime objectives when working for Naval Intelligence at the close of the Second World War was to ensure the British seized German submarines before the Soviets got them, especially high-speed craft with closed-cycle AIP propulsion. The British succeeded but were later forced to share them with the Americans and the Russians, with all three nations basing their early Cold War submarines on the seized Nazi U-boats. Read ‘Hunter Killers’ for more on all that.

New Russian Submarine

An advanced Lada Class diesel-electric submarine constructed by the Admiralty Yard in St. Petersburg, which is also building similar (but even more capable) Varshavyanka Class boats. Photo: Admiralty Shipyards JSC.

In naval technology (and fiction) everything, so it seems, is cyclical. In Ian Fleming’s novel Moonraker (first published in 1955) the climactic sequence features a super-fast Russian submarine that can do 25 knots under the water. The former British naval intelligence officer was there before Clancy – merging fact with fiction.

As for the Balaclava, judging by the news broadcasts, it has changed somewhat in the 23 years since I was there, with what looks like swanky apartments on the cliffs. One thing I did gain an appreciation of during my visit to the Crimea was how deeply embedded Sevastopol and the rest of the peninsula is within the Russian psyche. The Russians shed blood to keep it not only during the Crimean War but also during bitter fighting in the Second World War. Allowing the Ukraine to even nominally keep the Crimea – which was Russian territory until 1954 – and especially after the break-up of the Soviet Union in the 1990s really aggravated the Russians. Well, now they have taken it back though it is hard luck on Ukrainians who live there. It is a story that will run and run, for they don’t want to yield the Crimea either.

With President Putin’s interest in building up the Russian Navy again and exerting his country’s hard power presence in world affairs there are said to be new submarines on their way to operate out of the Crimea.

New Russian Submarine

Another view of the Lada Class, precursor to the Novorossisk and her Varshavyanka Class sister vessels, which are destined to operate out of the Crimea. Photo: Admiralty Shipyards JSC.

Last November at the Admiralty Shipyard in St. Petersburg, a new kind of diesel-electric submarine called the Novorossisk was floated out, with sister vessels soon to follow. Up to ten of the new Varshavyanka Class boats (said to be super stealthy and with exceptional underwater endurance for a conventional type) are reportedly on their way. They may operate from Novorossisk itself, on the eastern shores of the Black Sea. It is today Russia’s primary oil exporting port and a burgeoning naval base. However, you can bet some of the new submarines will be based at Sevastopol. Their primary targets, as part of a new task force that will aim to also operate in the eastern Mediterranean, are four Med-based American guided-missile destroyers destined to provide Europe with a ballistic missile defence shield.

Novorossisk and her sisters – no doubt incorporating technological advances pioneered in the Balaclava Beluga all those years ago – will sally forth from their Crimean base to shadow those American vessels. And that’s a major reason the Russians will not give up the Crimea. It is not only part of their soul but also strategically of vital importance in Putin’s grand venture to establish a new world order (in which Russia again challenges Western hegemony).

*‘Hunter Killers’ (published by Orion) is currently available in hardback and ebook format. The paperback edition will be published this summer. More details on ‘Hunter Killers’ here
For a look at the Soviet submarine base inside the cliffs at Balaclava (where the Beluga Class submarine could have been hidden, but wasn’t) there is an excellent video here.

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