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The re-militarisation of Artsyz airfield (Odessa)

June 24, 2017

1998 saw the military finally leave the former Soviet airbase of Artsyz, western Odessa.

The 840 hectare site, once known as the 206th Airbase was home to the 737 Fighter Wing, and in Soviet times was also the airbase for a military transport squadron.  It was also a reserve space shuttle site.   Popular folklore would also have it that it was a Soviet chemical weapons storage site.

Naturally since the military left the airbase it has been thorough pillaged and ransacked by “local recyclers” and otherwise thrown beyond disrepair and convincingly into ruin.

The last remotely military action at Artsyz was in 2014 when concrete blocks were laid across the runways to prevent the Russians landing if they had a mind to try.

The Artsyz 840 hectare site is now home to 6 AN-2 crop spraying aircraft operated by the company Albatross.

Ukrainian Defence Minister Stepan Poltorak when visiting Odessa has now announced that 380 hectares of the site will return to military service and be restored (hopefully beyond former “glory” and to something befitting a modern military site for the Air Force).

The designs are apparently almost complete and work will begin in 2018.

“Design will be complete and next year we will start practical measures for restoration.  Now we need this airport” – S Poltorak

So be it.

Artsyz is about as far from Russia as is possible within Ukrainian territory if discounting the ever increasingly militarised illegally annexed Crimea – except it is not possible to discount the ever increasingly militarised illegally annexed Crimea, which in contemporary military terms is but a catapult distance away when it comes to lobbing missiles at a target or flying in those very polite little green men and/or overt Russian military.

Quite what Ukrainian Air Force units and/or equipment will be based at Artsyz has not yet been disclosed, nor has the reason why this abandoned military ruin is now needed (rather than desired).

Thus without knowing what Air Force units will be stationed at the refurbished airbase, it is difficult to understand why it has become a priority for the Defence Ministry vis a vis those already used in the region.

Is it a case of being able to transfer military personnel and equipment to the Ukrainian southwest swiftly – primarily a matter of internal military logistics?

As such is it connected to the recent deployment of the National Guard to Belgorod (under the guise of “community policing”.) – or not?

Is it to provide a deterrent to any future adventurism from the expanding illegal Russian forces in Crimea?  If so, what form will that deterrent take?

Will it include a counterterrorism and/or organised crime capability monitoring the smuggling to and from Transnistria and/or along the Odessa coastline?

It is perhaps reasonable to expect complaints (that will rightfully be ignored) from Tiraspol and/or Moscow regarding Transneistra, as Artsyz is probably the closest (former military) airbase to Transneistra, Moldova and Romania that Ukraine possesses.  (Literally minutes from Moldavian and Romanian airspace.)

Is there a broader, even bilateral/multilateral dimension?  A preparatory act relating to future joint operational capacity with Romania (and/or others) perhaps?  Will it become part of a larger A2AD bubble?

Cynically, which will have a runway worthy of the name first?  Odessa International Airport or Artsyz?

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