Russia is turning Crimea into a forward operating base against NATO

Russian soldiers in Crimea
A Russian serviceman guards the Belbek airport in the Crimea region March 4, 2014. REUTERS/Vasily Fedosenko

Russia is heavily militarizing Crimea as a way to project power deep in to the Black Sea, USNI News reports citing supreme commander of NATO Gen. Philip Breedlove.

“What we have seen is that Crimea has been transformed in some fairly significant ways as far as weapon systems in the Crimea,” Breedlove said during a conference on February 25.

“These weapon systems — from air defence systems that reach nearly half of the Black Sea to surface attack systems that reach almost all of the Black Sea area — have made the platform of Crimea a great platform for power projection into this area.”

Breedlove said that Russia had moved anti-air and anti-surface missile systems into the peninsula. These weapons could be used to hit targets in the Black Sea. This would enable Crimea to function as a forward operating base against the front-line NATO states in the event of any hostilities between the alliance and Moscow.

The Kyiv Post reports that Russia has moved Iskander mobile ballistic missile systems into the peninsula. These missile systems can be redirected in flight to hit moving targets.

In addition, Russia is developing a “rocket-artillery regiment equipped with Khrizantema, Msta, and Tornado-G missile defence systems” in Crimea, according to the Polish Institute of International Affairs (PISM). These weapon systems allow Russia to further entrench themselves in the peninsula against any possible external attack.

PISM notes that Russia is also making use of the shipbuilding facilities in Crimea to reconstitute its ageing Black Sea Fleet into a more viable force through the introduction of new ships and equipment.

Russia elevated Crimea into one of its three main geopolitical priorities in a new military doctrine announced at the end of 2014. Alongside the Arctic and the Russian exclave of Kaliningrad, Moscow has designated the militarization of Crimea as a key national priority in order to exert influence beyond the country’s borders.

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