Vladimir Putin: Black Sea Fleet Contamination of Sevastopol

Sight gunner of a Russian Black Sea Fleet warship
Sight gunner of a Russian Black Sea Fleet warship
RIA Novosti, Sergey Petrosyan    en.rian.ru/photolents/20060629/50638768_7.html
"The weapons had been supplied to the Donetsk Nine Hundred by the Russian Black Sea Fleet." — Lubomyr Prytulak

             27 June 2007

Vladimir Putin, President
4 Staraya Square
Moscow 103132

Mr. President:

It is widely reported that the Russian Black Sea Fleet pollutes Sevastopol waters:

In the last few years the most ecologically dangerous zone of Ukraine in terms of seawater pollution with petroleum products has been the Sevastopol bays.  The petroleum product content by far exceed the permissible level of contamination in the bays, mostly as a result of sea water pollution by the Black Sea Fleet, which stems from improper handling of petroleum products in the bays and discharge of petroleum-containing sewage from ships and coast installations.  Samples taken during the last years in the bays of Pivdenna, Kamishova, Golandiya, Karantinna and Pivnichna display a content of polluting petroleum agents in the surface layers of the sea permanently exceeding the maximum permissible level by three to ten times.

UNEP/GRID Arendal, Ecological conditions of the Black Sea and Sea of Azov  enrin.grida.no/htmls/ukraina/soe98/region/5_2_1.htm.  Similar allegations can be found in other sources, as for example, those made by the Ukrainian Ministry of Environmental Protection at mail.menr.gov.ua/publ/nreport/nd96/nd/nd96/black_s.htm

Scientific measurements reported by official sources, such as those outlined above, are reinforced by the impressions of Sevastopol residents, as for example those of seventeen-year-old Halyna Alomova:

The sleepy navy base with tree lined avenues — where locals and tourists could once breathe clean air and bathe in the crystal clear waters of one of Sevastopol’s 40 bays — is no more.  The water in its bays, once so blue and clear, is no longer clean and — truth be told — often smells quite badly.

The deterioration of the marine environment which so affects this city has lead to a dramatic fall in the number of marine organisms at all levels — from bacteria to fish and dolphins.  Oil spills, and the not inconsiderable level of pollution from the city itself, have helped turn the water murky and driven down oxygen levels.  Things are so bad that even mussels, which are generally well adapted to living in dirty water, are suffering.  Not to mention sturgeon and caviar!

And what about tourism?  It is quite common for at least two public beaches to close for hygiene reasons at the height of the tourist season.  The water on these beaches can only support dangerous bacteria and viruses, no other life.

Of course I am too young to teach those big people in their ministries how to do their jobs.  To be completely honest, I’m not even sure how to tackle the problem.  Maybe the removal of the Black Sea Fleet which is based in Sevastopol might be a start.  This would also be a good thing from an aesthetic point of view: the view from Komsomol Square down to the South Bay would no longer be obscured by submarines and destroyers.

Halyna Alomova, Sevastopol, Ukraine.  Black sea, green city?  www.unep.org/OurPlanet/Siversn/161/almova.html

The Russian Black Sea Fleet contamination of Sevastopol waters indicated above calls to mind four issues.

  1. In addition to water contamination, which is accessible to measurement by concerned parties, there possibly also exists land contamination within Russian military bases which is inaccessible to measurement, and which because it has remained hidden from critical eyes, has grown more severe and difficult to treat than the corresponding water contamination.  If the Kremlin claims that no such land contamination exists, it should permit impartial observers to tour Russian facilities and take measurements in verification of that claim.

  2. The 1997 agreement which requires the Russian Black Sea Fleet to vacate Ukrainian territory by 2017 possibly does not grant Russia permission to contaminate Sevastopol.  If no provision permitting Russian contamination of Sevastopol exists in the 1997 agreement, then the Kremlin may have an obligation to stop contaminating, or if it is unable to do so, then to compensate Ukraine for the unauthorized and damaging use that it is making of Ukrainian territory.

  3. If the Russian Black Sea Fleet has created toxic sites in Sevastopol, the Kremlin may be under some responsibility to clean them up before departing.  If the Kremlin does take responsibility, then cleanup should begin immediately so as to have some chance of completion by 2017.  If the Kremlin disclaims responsibility, Ukraine might be within its rights to subtract cleanup costs from its energy payments to Russia.

  4. Against whom does the Kremlin anticipate deploying its Black Sea Fleet?  Surely no one imagines the fleet being called up against Georgia or Turkey or Bulgaria or Romania, each of which borders the Black Sea.  It would seem that the only plausible target of Russian Black Sea Fleet action is Ukraine, as began to happen during the Orange Revolution elections of 2004.  As is recounted in the Kyiv Post of 20 Dec 2004, the plan approved personally by you in collaboration with then Ukrainian president Leonid Kuchma, and which had been put into motion, was to ship 900 Donetsk men, "former convicts, sportsmen and other irregulars," to Kyiv on 27-28 Dec 2004 for the purpose of inciting violence.  The group was to be armed with 100 rifles, 90 hand grenades, and 25 kg of the explosive trotyl.  Relevant here is that the weapons had been supplied to the Donetsk Nine Hundred by the Russian Black Sea Fleet.

    The question that the Ukrainian people are waiting for you to answer, then, is whether your maintaining the Russian Black Sea Fleet in Sevastopol serves primarily to facilitate the use of force against Ukraine to restore it to the Russian Empire.

It might be worth emphasizing that the underlying question is less one of the exercise of illicit and harmful power by Russia against Ukraine than it is one of the exercise of illicit and harmful power by the Kremlin against everybody.  The health that Russian Black Sea Fleet toxins most impair, and the lives that they most shorten, are those of the Russian sailors who serve the fleet, and those of the predominantly-Russophone inhabitants of Sevastopol.

Lubomyr Prytulak