A $4 billion plan to upgrade Ukraine’s navy to stay one step ahead of Russian naval might is being accelerated amid fears Moscow could take advantage of Ukraine’s domestic insurgency to extend its maritime reach.
Mikhaylovych Rynoegi, head of the country’s Navy Commander’s Council, has sent letters to top defense and interior ministry officials calling for a “provisional national program” to reinforce Ukraine’s fleet with modern destroyers, frigates, and corvettes, reports the nation’s Interfax news agency.
It will take at least five years to complete the projects — the department’s members have already selected six top U.S. and Russian military suppliers for components for the projects — and Rynoegi has emphasized the need to get started quickly, arguing that “Russia is well aware of this possibility,” according to Interfax.
“We need a national program to become a world maritime power. The military situation is pretty serious,” he said.
Some estimates have the Russian navy’s total strength at over 100 ships, while Ukraine, despite having scrapped several ships and submarines in recent years, still has around 37 warships and 30 large corvettes and frigates.
Russia has recently moved its naval units beyond its coastal line to deploy close to the sea approaches of its Cold War foe, prompting fears that it will drag Kiev into an aggressive struggle for strategic access.
Russia seized three Ukrainian navy vessels and 30 sailors in mid-September in the Kerch Strait, which separates Russia from the Crimean Peninsula Russia seized in 2014. The incident prompted a barrage of accusations and counter-accusations between the two countries.
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Ukraine accuses Russia of violating an agreement calling for the demarcation of the Kerch Strait on the basis of the line of contact at the outset of the Second World War. The ships are still sitting in Russian waters.
Russian President Vladimir Putin said he agreed to meet with Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko to discuss the situation. Putin announced that he will visit the Ukrainian port of Mariupol on the Azov Sea.
The Russian navy’s Black Sea Fleet, based in Sevastopol, controls Ukrainian waters on the Sea of Azov.