Kiev and several western powers have taken symbolic steps in recent years to assert Ukraine’s territorial integrity, conducting military exercises near or innocent passage operations through Black Sea waters claimed by Russia. The Kremlin has responded with increasing firmness to these sporadic incursions, which it calls “provocations.” Late last month, the Coast Guard and Black Sea fleet fired warning shots and dropped bombs in the path of the British Type 45 Destroyer HMS Defender to chase the warship away from Russia’s claimed territorial waters off the Crimean coast. Russian President Vladimir Putin said in a subsequent TV appearance that Russia’s military could have sunk the Defender without triggering a large-scale war because, in his words, the west knows it cannot win such a conflict.
Putin’s confidence may not be entirely misplaced. In the years following Crimea’s annexation, Russia has steadily built up its Black Sea Fleet. The fleet has received three modernized Guided Missile Frigates from the Admiral Grigorovich class, as well as a slew of diesel attack submarines from the improved Kilo (Project 636.3) series. These new warships are but one part of the drastic growth of Russian anti-access/area-denial (A2/AD) capabilities in the Black Sea region, which also include a sprawling web of missile defenses operating out of Crimea. Yet another headache for NATO are Russia’s newest tactical weapons: the Tsirkon winged, hypersonic cruise missile curtails the ability of carrier strike groups (CSG’s) to project power deep into Russian territory, as does the Kh-47M2 Kinzhal air-launched ballistic missile. Läs artikel