Ukraine warships are trapped at Lake Donuzlav, a lake leading into the Crimea Sea. The Russian military has blocked the only exit out of Lake Donuzlav by scuttling the Ochakov, an anti-submarine ship. The move has trapped six Ukraine ships. As for the Ukrainian sailors, they lack the cutters and cranes to remove the debris.
Even if they could exit the lake, a Moskova class missile cruiser, a ship designed to sink aircraft carriers, patrols nearby. The blocked passage frees up seven ships of the Russian Black Sea fleet for other activities.
Brigade Commander Vitaly Zvyagintsev, a Ukraine officer was approached by Russian soldiers a week ago and asked to surrender his post. He and his men refused. The Russians withdrew, but remained nearby.
Zvyagintsev still cannot believe the Russian Black Sea Fleet, whose officers and sailors once trained together with Ukraine officers and sailors, could have turned hostile. He has two theories as to what happened. First, the Russians want to peacefully prevent the Ukraine warships from entering the Black Sea. Doing that eliminates them as a threat. The second theory is that once Russia secures the Crimea, the trapped ships can be used as negotiation leverage.
Zvyagintsev and his men will not renounce their loyalty to Ukraine and its people. He will not surrender his post without a fight. His family came from the Crimea region. His parents are buried in Sevastopol.
Ukraine’s navy has in service a single submarine, 25 warships, and 15 support vessels. Of the 15,000 men in the navy, 10,000 are based in the Crimean Peninsula. With six Ukraine warships trapped at Lake Donuzslav, Ukraine has effectively lost a third of its fleet without a shot being fired. Ukraine naval headquarters in Sevastopol, the same port where the Russian Black Sea Fleet is based, remains under control of Russian soldiers, sailors, and pro-Russian activists.
The Russian do appear interested in preserving the trapped Ukraine warships. Days earlier, former Ukraine Admiral Denis Berezovsky defected and pledged his allegiance to the Russian navy. He held a short meeting with a delegation of the trapped Ukraine ships in which he asked them to switch their allegiance. The Ukraine officers refused and concluded the meeting. Oleksandr Turchynov, Ukraine’s acting president, called the defection an act of high treason. The admiral is believed to be waiting to assume command of the trapped ships in order to create a new Crimean fleet loyal to Russian interests.
Russian media reported the defection of Ukraine’s flagship, Hetman Sahaidachny, a frigate that had just recently returned from anti-piracy duties in the Indian Ocean. The ship docked at Odessa, a Ukraine port and has remained there, its captain and crew still loyal.
With Ukraine’s acting president and military attempting passive resistance to ensure they are not the first ones fire against the Russians and world pressure against the Russians regarded as tepid. A waiting game has ensued. Ships require fuel and men food. Until the stalemate is broken, Ukraine warships trapped at Lake Donuzlav can only wait.
By Brian T. Yates