Foreign Policy Research Institute

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Foreign Policy Research Institute

tel. +38 (044) 287 52 58

What is Ukraine doing to strengthen the Black Sea security and is NATO ready to support it?


The security of the Black Sea region, unlike the Baltic region, has for many years remained a secondary issue for the United States and the North Atlantic Alliance. As a result, after the occupation of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea, the capture of the exclusive maritime economic zone around the peninsula and Ukraine's assets, and the subsequent militarization of Crimea, the Russian Federation strengthened its position by expanding its influence in the Black and Azov Seas. Russia restricts the freedom of navigation and regularly blocks large sea areas under the guise of conducting military exercises. The security situation in the Black Sea is forcing countries of the region to strengthen their ties with powerful NATO members to counterbalance Russia's dominance.

Thus, Ukraine, which has suffered direct armed aggression, is currently in a difficult geopolitical environment. A number of NATO members oppose Ukraine's accession to NATO because of the threat of confrontation with the Russian Federation. In fact, 13 years after the 2008 Bucharest Summit, Ukraine's accession prospects have diminished. The main factor is the position of the Russian Federation, which, contrary to the assurances of the Secretary General of the Alliance Jens Stoltenberg, still has the right to veto, while not being a member of NATO. This forces the leadership of Ukraine, along with the development of its own military capabilities, to look for alternative ways to strengthen the security situation around the state. One of such options is the creation of a bilateral strategic partnerships with a number of states, as well as regional alliances involving countries that have common concerns with Ukraine about Russia's aggressive policy in the Baltic-Black Sea region.

The current Ukrainian administration has identified the development of a powerful fleet as one of its priorities. To this end, the development of domestic weapons and equipment, albeit at an unsatisfactory pace, as well as the purchase of foreign models. In particular, last year the 360MC Neptune Coastal Missile Complex was adopted by the Ukrainian Navy, and this summer the first Bayraktar TB2 reconnaissance and strike unmanned aerial vehicle was adopted. A decision was made to build an infrastructure for the construction and base of the fleet. According to the Commander of the Naval Forces of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, Rear Admiral Oleksiy Neizhpapa, the main base will be located near Ochakiv on the Black Sea coast. Another one will be constructed in Berdyansk. The Ukrainian Navy also received a dock in the Pivdenny seaport for its needs. Among the partner countries that assist Ukraine in implementing its fleet development strategy, three countries can be set apart: the United States, the United Kingdom and Turkey.

As part of military assistance from the United States, Ukraine must receive 5 Island-class boats. 2 of them are already at the disposal of the Ukrainian Navy, and 3 are currently being modernized in the United States. Next year it is planned to transfer high-speed combat boats Mark VI to Ukraine. In total, the gradual transfer to Ukraine of 16 Mark VI patrol boats and related equipment amounting to $ 600 million was agreed within the Foreign Military Sales (FMS) program. The supply is planned at the expense of Ukraine, but some of the boats will be covered by US military assistance programs.

Cooperation with the United Kingdom received a boost after the government of Boris Johnson adopted the British foreign policy strategy «Global Britain». The document defines the priority of protection of freedom of navigation throughout the world, protection of international security, including in the Black Sea, as well as the intention to strengthen Ukraine's military capabilities. These intentions were embodied in the signing on October 8, 2020 of an Agreement on Political Cooperation, Free Trade and Strategic Partnership between Ukraine and the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. Subsequently, on June 23, 2021, a memorandum of implementation (MOI) on the Ukrainian Naval Capabilities Enhancement Programme (UNCEP) was signed between the two countries onboard the destroyer of the Royal Navy HMS Defender, which arrived in Odesa. These documents provide for the joint design and construction of warships in Ukraine and the United Kingdom, the reconstruction of shipbuilding enterprises and the construction of two bases for the Ukrainian Navy.[1] In particular, a 10-year loan of up to 1.25 billion British pounds is expected to be provided to Ukraine. These are the money that Ukraine uses to construct the Ochakiv and Berdyansk bases, the construction of which is planned to be completed by 2024 with the help of British contractors. Also, the British ought to build eight modern missile boats for the Ukrainian Navy. Only the first two hulls of the new boats will be built at a shipyard in the UK, and the other six – in Ukraine. Thus, Ukraine will also be provided with technologies that will allow to localize production and intensify economic activity in the production, where construction will take place. In addition, two Sandown-class minesweepers will be handed over to Ukraine.

Cooperation with Turkey, in turn, involves the joint production of ships and, in addition, naval aviation. The first of four Ada-class corvettes is currently under construction for the Ukrainian Navy. Only the hull of the first ship will be built in Turkey with the participation of Ukrainian specialists. Then it will be transported to the Ukrainian shipyard and with the participation of Turkish specialists will be equipped and finally completed. Turkish experts have already inspected Ukraine's shipbuilding facilities and confirmed the technological side of such a scenario.[2] In the future, the corvettes will be able to carry the anti-ship version of the «Neptune» missile, if it is adapted in time. State tests of a ship that will be able to destroy other ships, warplanes and enemy submarines should begin in 2023. The implementation of the strategy of building a powerful mosquito fleet should be completed by 2035.

With regard to naval aviation, Ukraine intends to further increase the number of Bayraktar TB2 UAVs available to the Navy. Ukraine's military-technical cooperation with Turkey has a positive dynamics. On October 7-8, the Foreign Minister of Ukraine held talks in Lviv with the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Turkey Mevlut Cavusoglu. The establishment of testing, training and service centers for unmanned reconnaissance and strike systems Bayraktar TB2 on the territory of Ukraine was announced, as well as the information on the establishment of a plant for their production in Ukraine was confirmed. In addition, within the framework of Quadriga, Ukraine and Turkey will study the possibility of large-scale joint projects in aircraft construction using the capacity of the state enterprise «Antonov». Dmytro Kuleba announced a number of high-level events in the near future, and stressed the importance of developing Ukrainian-Turkish cooperation to strengthen security in the Black Sea region.

According to the plan of the Ukrainian leadership, Turkey may become part of the so-called. «Small NATO». «Cooperation between Ukraine and Turkey on the issue of security in the Black Sea is very close and frank. And you know that while Ukraine is not a member of the EU and NATO, we have started a policy of creating small alliances. There is a strategic initiative of the President of Ukraine that NATO member-states, plus Ukraine, Georgia and even Moldova, can unite their efforts on the issue of the Black Sea region. And this initiative is being discussed now in different capitals, including with NATO», Kuleba said.[3]

Due to the insufficient attention of the North Atlantic Alliance to the Black Sea, Russia spread its influence and took offensive positions in the region. Today, due to a lack of unity and a different vision regarding the optimal strategy towards Russia, NATO has not yet created the Black Sea Flotilla. A communiqué adopted at the Warsaw Summit in 2016 indicated an intention to increase the advanced presence on land, at sea and in the air in the Black Sea region. However, Bulgaria opposed the idea of ??forming a flotilla, believing that it would «disrupt stability in the region». At present, the prospects for such an initiative are exacerbated by the desire of the current leadership of the United States to achieve strategic stability with Russia and avert the Russian-Chinese alliance. Thus, the Black Sea states are becoming hostages of geopolitical changes that affect their ability to resist Russia's aggressive policy. Under such conditions, the development of its own fleet and the creation of small alliances is the optimal strategy for Ukraine.