The Russian Navy is seen as being on a back foot in the war in Ukraine. From an initial position of dominance, it is now operating in a much more limited way following a series of setbacks. Not least the sinking of the cruiser Moskva in April, and subsequent deliveries of Harpoon missiles to Ukraine. But there are signs that Russia has been trying to expand and enhance its naval bases in Crimea.
Images indicate that the Russian Navy is re-establishing a naval base at Balaklava. The isolated inlet on the southern coast of Crimea is ideally suited and is the site of a historic Cold War base.
At the same time, there has been ongoing work in the main naval base at Sevastopol.
The New Base At Balaklava
Balaklava is a small inlet 5 miles south of Sevastopol. Steep hills provide natural protection against storms and, up to a point, reconnaissance. So, despite its narrow confines, it was the site of a major naval base during the Cold War. In the 1950s the Soviets dug a submarine tunnel into the mountain on the west side.
The submarine tunnels fell into disuse after the collapse of the USSR and the base was inherited by the newly formed Ukrainian Navy. Although some small warships were present from time to time, the base was largely forgotten. And, after years of abandonment, the submarine tunnels were turned into a museum. An old Romeo class submarine, S-49, was added in 2021.
In spite of the museum, in recent years there have been reports in Russian media that the base might be reactivated. These appeared to be highly speculative at the time. Only now, after the invasion, has work begun.
The medieval ruins overlooking Balaklava are a popular tourist attraction and the harbour itself is filled with yachts. So, the new infrastructure could conceivably be explained away as civilian. There have also been reports in local media of plans to expand the yacht facilities in the harbor. But the timing and context clearly point to this being a new naval facility.
The museum is still open to the public so tales that the tunnels themselves may be reactivated seem unlikely. However, the new quay will bring the base back into operation.
It is too early to say how many warships the new facilities will be able to accommodate. Or which classes. But it is expected to become a satellite base of Sevastopol if it is completed. Possibly the Kilo Class submarines, which are already using Sevastopol less frequently, will be prioritized.
New Construction At Sevastopol
The area in Sevastopol has previously been the home of the FSB’s (the modern KGB) patrol ships. These have been patrolling the north of Crimea and the area of the Kerch Bridge intensely since the invasion. It is unclear whether the FSB will still berth there after the upgrade.
The new quay in Sevastopol may have been planned for some time. But as late as February 10, two weeks before the invasion, FSB coast guard cutters were parked there as usual. After the invasion it was mostly cleared and ready for construction.
The war is not going to Russia’s plan. Although it may still be some time away, there is now talk of Ukraine retaking Crimea which was annexed by Russia in 2014. This seemed unthinkable just months ago.
Work started before the war began to go against Russia. Now the construction of these facilities is still progressing but they may not be ready for some months. In that time a lot could happen. So it is unclear whether they will ever serve their intended purpose.
These developments are significant however and are no doubt being followed closely by analysts.