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13 May, 2007 09:24

Russia’s southern fleet celebrates anniversary

Russia’s southern fleet celebrates anniversary

May 13 marks 224 years since the foundation of Russia's Black Sea Fleet. Currently, the fleet consists of more than 46 vessels, and employs more than 15,000 Navy servicemen and 20,000 civilians.

Russian Empress Catherine the Great made the decision to found a fleet to guard Russia's southern borders in 1782, and only one year later it was brought to fruition. On May 13, 1783, thirteen ships and eleven other vessels entered the Akhtiarskaya Cove, and the Black Sea Fleet went into service. The city of Sevastopol on the Crimean Peninsula bacame its base. Rear-Admiral Thomas McKenzie, who began service in the Russian Navy in 1765, became the first Black Sea Fleet commander in 1783.

The political situation at the time, with a constant threat from the Ottoman Empire in the south, called for Russia to strengthen its position on the Black Sea in the Crimea. Over the next 200 years the Black Sea Fleet played immensely important roles in the Russian-Turkish wars, the Crimean War, and both World Wars.

After the break-up of the Soviet Union, Russia found itself in a compromising position, with a major fleet based in an another country, as Ukraine claimed the Crimean Peninsula as its own and also called for the Black Sea Fleet to be divided between the two countries. In 1997, Russia and Ukraine signed an intergovernmental agreement, which split the fleet between the two countries.

In January 2006 tensions reached a flash point, when three people attempted to unlawfully enter the territory of the Yalta Lighthouse, which is operated the Russian Navy. In response to Russia's accusations of foul play, Ukraine denied any involvement and followed up with a statement that the Russian Fleet is in illegal possession of Ukrainian territories in Crimea. The conflict has not yet been resolved.

The day's festivities, however, outshine any political manoeuvres. Celebrations are held on Sunday in Sevastopol – on land, sea and air.