Did Russia Build A Trap For Its Black Sea Fleet?

The Crimea bridge – the bridge that links Russia proper to Crimea has been bombed, and part of the road has collapsed. As the photographs show, the part that has collapsed is away from the central span through which ships and submarines would pass from the Sea of Azov to the Black Sea.

In 2016, I wrote about Russia and its Black Sea Fleet and a reason why Russia was bombing ISIS in Syria. The motivation in part was, I wrote, because the northern part of the Black Sea freezes in winter. This affects Russia’s ability to get its Black Sea Fleet out into the Mediterranean and the Atlantic.

If the Black Sea freezes, then the Sea of Azov to its northwest definitely freezes. Now that the Crimea Bridge has been bombed, I ask myself a question. If part of the bridge is now in the sea, does the collapse imperil the passage of the Black Sea Fleet from the Sea of Azov? And if it doesn’t, then does the bridge, or rather the big blocks of material of which the bridge is built, become a weak point or trap in some future conflict that can so easily be bombed to block the route?

The Black Sea Fleet has its official primary headquarters and facilities in Sevastopol, which Russia annexed from Ukraine, along with the rest of Crimea, in 2014. The rest of the fleet’s facilities are based in locations on the Black Sea and the Sea of Azov.

So two things. With global warming, does the Sea of Azov and this part of the Black Sea still freeze? And how shallow is the passage and how easy it is to actually block the passage of ships by obstructing the bridge?

The Kerch Strait Incident

The Strait of Kerch at its narrowest is 4 kilometres (2.5 mi) wide with a maximum depth of 15 metres (49 ft).

The Crimea Bridge was opened to traffic in 2016. In November 2018, the Russian coast guard fired upon and captured three Ukrainian Navy vessels after they attempted to sail from the Black Sea into the Sea of Azov through the strait to the port of Mariupol.

To be clear, the Ukranian vessels were entitled to pass from the Black Sea to the Sea of Azov. The dispute was over seeking permissions, notifying whoever should be notified, etc. And of course, the reality of what happened depends on who you ask.

The point though is that during the incident, Russia placed a large a cargo ship under the bridge, blocking the route into the Sea of Azov.

If a large cargo ship can block the route, how much more could collapsed pillars of the bridge itself block the route? So it is a relevant question to ask whether the bridge that facilitates movement between Russia proper and Crimea could be a stone around the neck of the Black Sea fleet, that blocks its own entry to and from the Sea of Azov.

Winter Freezing

In a post from April of this year, researchers from Sofia University reported on winter freezing and stated

Black Sea freezing in winter is observed regularly in its northern parts and near the Kerch Strait. The reason for this is the relatively shallow northwestern shelf part and the river inflow of the three major European rivers Danube, Dnieper, and Dniester, as well as Don through the Azov Sea, carrying a large amount of fresh water to this part of the Black Sea. The global warming that has been observed in recent decades has made these episodes less intense; nevertheless, they exist and impact people who live n the area.

The aim of this study is to analyze the extent of sea-ice variability in the last 15 years, observed by satellite observations, and to describe the weather conditions favorable for freezing to occur. It is found that, in 2006, 2012 and 2017, sea ice extended unusually southward, which is related to the unusually cold winter and weather conditions in these years.

So winter freezing is a current problem for the Black Sea Fleet, And that ties in to a report by Reuters from September 20, 2022, that Russia had moved its Black Sea submarine fleet to Novorossiysk on the eastern coast of the Black Sea, a port that does not freeze in winter.

The more I think of it, the more I think that the bridge is a huge potential self-inflicted liability for Russia.