Tracking Black Sea Security Issues

New Perspectives for the Development of Russian Maritime Infrastructures in the Black Sea

November 4, 2014

Russia’s March 2014 annexation of Crimea has overthrown the maritime context in the Black Sea region. The full sovereignty recovered by Moscow over the Crimean peninsula is likely to tremendously sustain Russia’s maritime power in the region and beyond, in the Mediterranean[1]. However, the lack of local maintenance infrastructures as well as limited shipbuilding capacities remain a structural challenge to the revival of Moscow’s maritime and naval might in the Black Sea region. Far from being limited to the Black Sea context, Russia’s lack of shipbuilding infrastructures and productivity of has been an issue not only for the modernization of the naval forces, but also, and perhaps more critically, for the development of the commercial fleet. Yet, Moscow has tried to deal with this question since the beginning of the 2010s and outlined in 2012 a Federal program aiming to develop and modernize Russian shipbuilding industry by 2030. Although the program’s objectives are mainly driven by natural resources’ exports concerns, the naval forces are likely to benefit from it. In the Black Sea, Russia’s developments plans have been given a critical impetus since the annexation of Crimea with the likely emergence of two shipbuilding and ship repair poles: Crimea and Novorossiysk.



Russia Returns to the Sea


It should be first emphasized that the quality and the availability of maritime infrastructures are definitely part of the qualitative factors which contribute to the maritime power of an actor. By contributing to the development of a merchant fleet, productive and modern shipyards sustain the maritime power of an actor, while the experience and knowledge of their personnel (engineers and workers) can also benefit to some extent to the military shipyards. Through the objectives of the State Armament Program 2001-2020 (2011) on the one hand, and the Shipbuilding Development Program to 2030 (2012) on the other hand, Russia has displayed its commitment to renew with the seas and the oceans in the decades to come. This pattern noticeably characterizes also India, China and Brazil which have all been shifting, although at different stages, to the ocean. But, coming back to Russia, Moscow has claimed the status of a maritime power, arguing that the Russian territory is crossed by huge rivers, that there are around 120 000 kilometers of internal waterways, and that the country has 40 000 kilometers of littoral. Acknowledging the fact that the 21st century will take place under the auspices of the oceans, Moscow outlined in December 2012 a comprehensive Federal strategy, the aforementioned Shipbuilding Development Program to 2030[2].


The fact that this program has been placed under the auspices of the Ministry of Trade and Industry reflects the commercial dimension of this project for which 605 billion rubles (around $14 billion) are slated to be spent. According to official releases, Russia still runs the 2nd war fleet of the world with a tonnage amounting 700 000 tons, i.e. 12% of the global war ships tonnage[3]. These are pure quantitative factors which do not take into account qualitative aspects related the sea platforms considered. OSK, or United Shipbuilding Corporation, which is Russia’s shipbuilding holding, ranks 7th for military shipbuilding in 2012. However, Russian shipyard industry suffers from a critical lack of productivity: in late 2000s, whereas South-Korean shipyards needed 35 workers to produce 1 ton in 1 hour, Russian shipyards required 105 workers to produce this ton[4]. According to the Ministry of Trade and Industry, Russian ship owners annually place $1billion of shipbuilding orders abroad, whereas domestic shipyards hold only 6% in overall volume of their orders[5]. Through the implementation of this Federal program, Russia aims at developing and improving the scientific and technical shipbuilding knowledge, at modernizing the infrastructures and at boosting shipyards productivity. By 2030, domestic shipbuilding industry must be able to meet the demands of Russian energy companies, and should be able to supply in a timely manner Russia’s naval forces as well as foreign customers with new generation high sea vessels displacing high tonnage (superior to 10 000 tons). However, according to the Ministry of Trade and Industry, by 2020, Russia already needs 26 icebreakers, including one nuclear, up to 230 tankers and nearly 40 liquefied natural gas carriers, while the demand for shelf-exploration assets is assessed at 130[6]. Put it briefly, this Federal program primarily aims at meeting the demand with regard to the export of natural resources which are critical to the Federal budget. Secondly, it should help Russia to build up its presence in the Arctic by renewing the icebreakers fleet and providing assets to explore and exploit natural resources lying in the Arctic ocean seabed. But where does the Black Sea lie in this program?



Before Crimea’s annexation: the critical lack of Russian maritime infrastructures in the Black Sea


The Black Sea is one of Russia’s most important commercial outlet for the maritime freight and for natural resources exports. The port of Novorossiysk plays especially a major role as Russia’s busiest port with 117 million tons of freight, i.e. nearly 20% of the Russian maritime freight in 2012, which transited there in 2012. It is far more than in Primorsk (75 million tons) or Saint Petersburg (58 million tons)[7]. Other noticeable maritime outlet in the Russian Azov-Black seas coasts are Azov, Anapa, Gelenjik, Yeisk, Kavkaz, Rostov-on-Don, Sochi, Taganrog, Taman, Temriuk and Tuapse. In 2013, nearly 174 million tons of maritime freights transited through the ports of the Azov-Black Sea basin, which represents nearly a third of Russia’s maritime freight for 2013. Yet, Russian maritime assets remain quite poor since there is no deep-water ports in the Azov Sea, and geophysical conditions offered by the ports located on the Caucasian shores of the Black Sea do not permit to turn them in major outlets, Novorossiysk being an exception.


Russia’s lack of maritime assets and maintenance infrastructures in the Black Sea is a direct legacy of the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991: most of the biggest ex-Soviet shipyards are today located in Ukraine, in Nikolaiev and Kherson. Since the Imperial era, these two river ports have been devoted to shipbuilding and ship repair, both military and civilian, and they enjoy large production capacities. In 1991, the Black Sea Shipbuilding Plant in Nikolaiev was the second largest Soviet shipyard after Severodvinsk and employed nearly 24 000 people[8]. The ports Russia kept after 1991 in the Sea of Azov and in the Black Sea were largely second and third importance ports with limited infrastructures and poor production capacities. Consequently, since 1991, Black Sea Fleet vessels’ maintenance has been performed by Baltic shipyards (either in Kaliningrad or in Saint Petersburg), and by Bulgarian shipyard (Varna), and, occasionally, by the Ship Repair Plant n° 13 in Sevastopol. This precarious maritime situation was one of the factors, with tensed relations with Kiev around the basing of the Black Sea fleet in Crimea, poor conditions for the personnel and unsufficient supply of new hardware to quote a few, that hampered Russian maritime power in the region. While Crimea’s annexation has solved the issue of basing, the question of Russian maritime infrastructures in the Black Sea basin remains to be answered. Moreover, with the coming induction of new units in the Black Sea fleet as a result of the implementation of the State Armaments Program 2011-2020, the need for local maintenance infrastructure has been more and more pressing, and Russia’s main shipbuilding operator, OSK, has been tasked by the Kremlin to solve the issue.


In early 2013, OSK created the Southern Center for shipbuilding and ship repair, which completed OSK’s strategic scheme with the already existing Western, Northern and Far-eastern centers. On the Black Sea coast, OSK’s Southern center for shipbuilding and ship repair includes Novorossiysk and Tuapse shipyards, as well as Temriuk ship repair plant on the Sea of Azov. Soon after the Kremlin launched the Shipbuilding Development Plan, OSK outlined in 2013 a strategy up until 2030, which echoed in its aims the Federal program. Put it briefly, this program should lead to improve the quality, the productivity and the capacities of OSK’s shipyards[9]. However, as the implementation of State Armament Program was moving forward, OSK had no concrete solutions to offer: the Temriuk Ship Repair Plant n° 5 can only handle the maintenance of 3rd and 4th rank vessels, and capacities in Tuapse are even smaller.  OSK finally announced in 2013 that Novorossiysk Ship Repair Plant would be extended and turned into a Shipbuilding and Ship Repair Plant, able to perform the maintenance of 1st and 2nd rank vessels[10] as well as standard maintenance for submarines. It must be recalled that some officials in the Navy have regularly criticized the deployment of the Black Sea Fleet in Novorossiysk, where a brand new naval base has been under construction since 2004. The main arguments opposed to the Novorossiysk naval base are that the site is busy with merchant and civilian traffic, and exposed to strong wind coming from the landside. Moreover, the extension of the activity of Novorossiysk Maritime and Trade Port to ship maintenance will require an in depth transformation of the company since ship repair only accounts for 7% of its activity in 2012[11].  The situation appears furthermore alarming that the first new units are set to be commissioned in the Black Sea Fleet by the year’s end: the classic submarine B-261 Novorossiysk (Project 0636.3) is completing sea trials in the North Sea, while the lead ship of the Project 11356 frigates, the Admiral Grigorovitch is also completing sea trials[12]. Both are slated for induction in the Black Sea Fleet by the end of 2014, and the submarines should be based in Novorossiysk. The maintenance of the new sea platforms is expected to be performed by Black Sea plants in order to not overload Saint Petersburg and Kaliningrad shipyards which have already to honor domestic and foreign orders. Yet, in March 2014, the annexation of Crimea has provided Russia with an unexpected answer to the challenge represented by the lack of maritime assets in the Black Sea.



Toward the emergence of two Russian shipbuilding and ship repair poles in the Black Sea


First, it must be recalled that, in spite of the annexation of Crimea and the subsequent possibility for Russia to deploy and renew whatever military hardware and sea platforms it wants, it has been regularly stated since March 2014 that the construction of the naval base in Novorossiysk would carried on. The commander in chief of the Black Sea Fleet, the Admiral Alexandre Vitko stated in September 2014 that Novorossiysk provides the fleet with another point of basing, particularly relevant for the submarines which activities would be more difficult to be monitored by NATO vessels than if they were based in Sevastopol[13]. Actually, Novorossiysk provides Russia with the ability to not put ‘all the eggs in the same basket’ (i.e. Sevastopol), while developing maintenance infrastructures in Crimea. Indeed, in May 2014, the Ministry of Trade and Industry announced that it would develop three Crimean shipyards: Zaliv (Kertch), More (Feodossia) and Sevastopol maritime plant (Sevastopol)[14]. Each of these three plants has its specialization: whereas Zaliv has been laying down natural resources carriers, More is specialized in military amphibious vessels. Sevastopol maritime plant has been maintaining and building ships since the Imperial period although it has not been the most active poles of the Black Sea shipyards. The Sevastopol Ship Repair Plant n° 13 already performed the maintenance of the large ASW ship Vice-Admiral Kulakov (Northern Fleet) in August-September 2014, and is currently performing the maintenance of the classic submarine B-871 Alrosa (Project 877V) with the assistance of Zvezdotchka shipyard’s specialists. As for Zaliv, the situation is a bit more complicated: the shipyard is mainly specialized in civilian shipbuilding. However, with the ongoing restrictions imposed by the international community, it is quite impossible to manufacture civilian vessels in Crimea because of assurance matters[15]. Yet, Zaliv has large shipbuilding capacity (400 meters long hangar), and during the Soviet period, some Project 1135 frigates (NATO Krivak class), with a nearly 3 000 tons displacement, were built by Zaliv.


Moreover, things are nor over for the other Russian Black Sea ports, although they are likely to remains assets of a secondary importance. Thus, Taman is still likely to receive a nearly 200 billion rubles ($4,6 billion) for the construction of a deep water port, although the Federal investments have been cut down by 10% in October 2014[16]. In Anapa, projects are far less ambitious with 2,5 billion rubles (nearly $58 million) slated to be invested for the development of the port[17]. Finally, the expansion of Gelendjik’s port should benefit from a 9,4 billion rubles ($215 million) investment, including 5 billion rubles allocated by the Federal budget[18]. However, these latest projects seem very limited in comparison with plans outlined for the modernization of Black Sea Fleet’s bases for which 86,7 billion rubles (nearly $2 billion) have been allocated, part of which have been directed to the construction of the new naval base in Novorossiysk[19].


The annexation of Crimea has therefore provided the answer to the maritime challenge Russia faced before March 2014 in term of infrastructures for maintenance and shipbuilding. If Novorossiysk should arise as a new shipbuilding and ship repair pole in the Black Sea, the induction of new sea platforms in the Black Sea Fleet should contribute to the revival of Crimea shipyards (Sevastopol, Feodossia and Kertch). Other Black Sea ports, let alone the ports in the Sea of Azov, are likely to benefit from smaller investments and to remain maritime assets of second or even third importance devoted to other maritime activities (like yachting for instance). Two maritime poles are about to emerge on Russian Black Sea coasts: Crimea and Novorossiysk, and their respective development should provide, by 2020, the Black Sea Fleet with the infrastructures it needs to support its activity. More broadly, should Moscow’s efforts continue, in the long term, the annexation of Crimea is likely to sustain Russia’s shift toward the oceans by providing to the navy a kind of strategic depth in term of infrastructures and support.



[1] See Igor Delanoe, “After the Crimean crisis: towards a greater Russian maritime power in the Black Sea”, Southeast European and Black Sea Studies, Volume 14, Issue 3, 2014, pp. 367-382:

[2] The program is available in Russian on the website of the Russian Ministry for Industry and Commerce:

[3] Ibid., p. 14.

[4] James Bosbotinis, « The Russian Federation Navy: an Assessment of its Strategic Setting, Doctrine and Prospects”, Defense Academy of the United Kingdom, October 2010, pp. 32-33.

[5] “Russia drafted Shipbuilding Development Program 2030”, Naval Today, October 17, 2012.

[6] Ibid.

[7] « Secteur naval russe » (« Russian Naval Sector »), Publications des services économiques, Direction général du Trésor, juin 2013.

[8] В.П. Кузин, В.И. Никольский, Военно-морской флот СССР. 1945-1991 (V. P. Kouzine, V. N. Nikolsky, The Naval Forces of the USSR), СПб, Морское общество, 1996, p. 461.

[9] «На сайте ОАО «ОСК» опубликована стратегия развития корпорации на период до 2030 года», ЦАМТО, November 22, 2013:

[10] « В НМТП введут Черноморский флот » (« Black Sea Fleet to Arrive in Novorossiysk Maritime and Trade Port”), Flotprom, December 4, 2013.

[11] Ibid.

[12] By 2020, the Black Sea Fleet must receive 6 submarines from Project 0636.3 type, and six Project 11356 frigates.

[13] « В Новороссийске разместят подлодки с крылатыми ракетами » (« Submarines Equipped with Cruise Missiles to be Based in Novorossiysk”), Black Sea News, September 23, 2014.

[14] « Минпромторг РФ считает перспективным развитие трех верфей Крыма » (« The Ministry of Trade and Industry to Develop Three Crimean Shipyards”), Flotprom, May 20, 2014.

[15] “Crimean shipyards can't be used for building large civilian vessels – OSK”, Interfax, September 24, 2014.

[16] « Государство сократило инвестиции в порт Тамань на 10% » (« State to Cut down Investments by 10% in Taman’s Port »), Vedomosti, October 8, 2014.

[17] « На реконструкцию российского порта Анапа планируется потратить 2,5 млрд рублей » (« 2.5 billion rubles to be invested to reconstruct Russian Port of Taman »), Black Sea News, September 17, 2014.

[18] «Опубликован проект распоряжения правительства РФ о расширении морского порта Геленджик » (« Project to Expand Gelenjik’s Port under the Auspices of the Russian Government Published”), Port News, September 12, 2014.

[19] « Шойгу: на развитие Черноморского флота РФ до 2020 года выделят более 86 млрд руб » (« Shoigu: more than 86 billion rubles provided for the development of the Black Sea Fleet by 2020”), Tass, May 6, 2014.


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