why control over the Sea of ​​Azov is a strategic issue for Russia

There is no truce in sight. The Russian army said on Friday, March 18, that it managed to enter Mariupol, the main port in southeastern Ukraine, bordering the Sea of ​​Azov. Before Mariupol, the cities of Melitopol and Berdyansk, also located on the shores of the Sea of ​​\u200b\u200bAzov, had already fallen from Russian troops. On Saturday, the Ukrainian government admitted that it had lost access to this sea.

>> War in Ukraine: follow the latest information in our live broadcast

For several years now, control of the Sea of ​​Azov has been crucial to Russia, which sees it as a means of putting pressure on Ukraine, gaining access to the Black Sea and expanding its influence. Where does this desire for control come from? What are the implications for Ukraine? Franceinfo sums up.

The Sea of ​​Azov is a shallow sea with an area of ​​39,000 km2, which is approximately the size of Switzerland. Sandwiched between Russia and Ukraine, it is connected to the Black Sea by the Kerch Strait, 5 km long and 4 to 15 km wide.. Since Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014, Moscow has controlled both the eastern side of the strait on the Taman Peninsula and its western side in Crimea.

“In fact, Russia dominates the Sea of ​​​​Azov, since it controls its only gate: the Kerch Strait,” reminiscent of Franceinfo by Igor Delanoe, Deputy Director of the Franco-Russian Observatory, specialist in the Russian fleet.

Screenshot of Google Maps Sea of ​​Azov.  (google maps)

To provide land access to Crimea, Russia built a bridge across the Kerch Strait in May 2018, thus encircling the Sea of ​​Azov and making it difficult for Ukrainian ships to pass. Tensions escalated in late 2018 when the Russian Navy opened fire on three Ukrainian warships attempting to cross the Kerch Strait to Mariupol and captured them.

“Moscow’s military superiority over the Sea of ​​Azov is undeniable.”

Igor Delanoe, Deputy Director of the Franco-Russian Observatory

on Franceinfo

“After this episode, the Ukrainians wanted to internationalize the status of the Sea of ​​Azov, which until now was jointly administered by Moscow and Kyiv under a 2003 treaty, by turning to the West, but this did not succeed,” adds Igor Delanoe.

If Russia is de facto in control of the Sea of ​​Azov, why would anyone want to control more of the Ukrainian strip of land that borders it? “These are symbols. Everything that is happening now has a symbolic meaning. Rational becomes less and less. The task is to show that Russia is a great power.”evaluates Agence France-Presse Alexei Malachenko, Research Director of the Institute “Dialogue of Civilizations”.

Russia, whose sea outlets to the west and south are limited, has always sought to reach the Sea of ​​Azov, which allows access to the Mediterranean through the Black Sea. Since the 18th century, “Under Peter the Great, Russia sought to extend its dominion to the South Seas, including the Black Sea. It has become an eternal geopolitical search,” explains Igor Delanoe. The first to formalize this strategy is Peter the Great’s adviser in a text dated 1725 explains Figaro historian Martin Motte, research director of the Ecole Pratique des Hautes Etudes. Its purpose was to: “Come as close as possible to Constantinople and India. Whoever reigns there will be the true ruler of the world. Therefore, gradually take possession of the Black Sea, penetrate to the Persian Gulf,” he quotes.

When the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, this desire to expand into the South Seas intensified with the independence of Romania, Bulgaria and Ukraine, which meant that Moscow lost miles of coastline overlooking the Black Sea. “The coast of the Sea of ​​Azov then became strategic territories subject to control”supported by Igor Delanoe.

Dominance in the Sea of ​​Azov also allows Moscow to strengthen its maritime integrity with the Caspian Sea. Located in Western Asia, this closed sea is connected to the Sea of ​​Azov through a system of canals. “Today, medium-sized Russian ships, including military ships, ply between these two seas along the Volga-Don Canal,” illustrated by Igor Delanoe. Thus, by declaring its ownership of the Sea of ​​Azov, Russia could more freely transfer its warships from one sea to another.

However, the Caspian Sea is a strategic military territory for Russia. In 2015, Moscow said it had fired missiles at targets in Syria from its warships stationed in the Caspian Sea.

This show of force is also aimed at Westerners who are building ships for the Ukrainian navy. Kyiv has already received American patrol boats for its coast guard and intends to build a naval base in Berdyansk, north of the Sea of ​​Azov. “The Russians are afraid of deploying a western flotilla in the Sea of ​​Azov, so they are doing everything to control this space as much as possible, even if it is not known whether this fear is more fantasy than reality,” completed by the researcher.

However, in the short term, the local and global economy is suffering from the situation in the Sea of ​​Azov. Many goods, wheat, metallurgical and metallurgical products produced in Donbass are exported from Ukraine through the Sea of ​​Azov. “The large Ukrainian ports of Mariupol and Berdyansk account for 20% of Ukrainian exports”recalled the culture of France Jean-Sylvester Montgrenier, researcher at the French Institute of Geopolitics, before the start of the war.

March 1, six days after the start of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, nearly 170 ships were stranded in the Sea of ​​Azov, some carrying grain, which immediately affected world wheat prices. Twenty days later, the situation has not improved, notes Igor Delanoe. “Navigation in the Sea of ​​Azov is very disturbed, as is the passage through the Kerch Strait. Under the conditions of hostilities, Ukrainian ports are inaccessible.”

Leave a Comment