Sea mines sown both by Russian and Ukrainian forces litter the Black Sea, meaning after the war ends, a minesweeping operation will begin there which can last years, Commander Ott Laanemets, who heads up the Estonian Navy's (Merevägi) mine warfare division, says.
The sea mines will continue to present a danger for decades to come, he adds. According to Laanemets, Ukraine is in the worse situation so far as the Black Sea goes, since the country does not have a full combat fleet as such.
Appearing on ETV show "Ukraina stuudio" Monday, Cdr Laanemets said that if it seems that the situation in the Black Sea has worsened recently, this may not be the case in actuality, since it is difficult to identify what is happening at sea. "We just don't know what has been happening there so far and what failed offensives, that no one has discovered yet, might have been."
At the same time, Laanemets acknowledged that Russia leaving the grain agreement has led to a new situation at sea in relation to freedom of navigation.
The balance of power in the Black Sea has not changed significantly, however, Laanemets added.
"If you compare it to boxing, one boxer is in the ring who has a long reach and is quick on his feet, whereas the other fighter, Ukraine, just has the long reach, but is immobile. Maybe Ukraine doesn't have a fighting surface fleet with which to project its weapons range. So we are already in a slightly worse situation in this respect. However, Ukraine is still searching all opportunities to carry out attacks against targets important to the Russian Federation, at sea, and from the sea," the naval officer went on.
Laanemets noted that the sea is not the theater in the ongoing war in Ukraine which has highest priority, but instead has a supporting effect.
Ukraine has been launching strikes on Russian military vessels in the Black Sea via maritime drones. Laanemets said that, according to the images that have reached the media, such devices are relatively freely available and easy to build. However, the question is how Ukraine will deliver these drones to the front line, he went on.
"If the Kerch bridge is attacked, then the [drones] that we have seen in the images shouldn't need to travel that far on their own. There is however plenty with the hidden aspect, which we just don't know about right now."
The maritime drones used by Ukraine are about two meters in length, usually equipped with satellite-based electronic controls and a substantial payload.
Both parties in the war also rely on mining the Black Sea, and according to Laanemets, this aspect of warfare plays a key role. "It is the way of sea mines that when you place a mine, you have to think very carefully about your movements thereafter, as the mine, once laid there, doesn't differentiate between friend and foe."
This makes it difficult to say whether the mines will also be of help against maritime drones. Theoretically, they can be, but, according to Laanemets, so far, there is no known specific case where a drone has hit a mine and been neutralized as a result.
"Since the drone is a relatively new phenomenon in maritime combat, I would venture to say that the mines have not yet been properly geared up for it yet."
Laanemets said that come what may, the vast amount of sea mines laid by both sides means that the Black Sea will remain a hazardous place for decades after the war.
"This means a years-long demining operation after the end of the war and a decades-long potential mine threat. If we recall the end of the Second World War in the Baltic Sea - well, the number of mines laid is different, but the mine clearance operation lasted until the mid-1950s - and even today there are areas continued on sea charts covering the Baltic Sea that still have a risk from mines and where states do not guarantee 100 percent security," he said.
"This will be exactly the same in the Black Sea. The very second this war ends, for whatever reason and in whatever way, a major mine clearance operation will have to begin to restore Ukrainian seaports and trade, the basis of Ukraine's economy," he went on.
"The impact will be long-lasting," Laanemets said, adding, that in addition to sea mines, smaller land-based explosives drifting from rivers will present a threat to people on Ukrainian beaches
Ukraine in fact relies on its own minefields to ensure safety for its Black Sea shipping, he added.
"Ukraine has a very basic ability to deal with mine action at least near the coast, but not further offshore. So as far as the mine threat is concerned, they can say that at least woth their own minefields, they left free corridors for themselves. They obviously also monitor Russian Federation minefields, but you can never be 100 percent certain, especially when it comes to submerged aspects, that that it is safe."
"This is what the parties to the conflict say, both Ukraine and Russia. Instead, you have to go to the shipping companies and insurance companies on this, those who actually determines whether you can insure your cargo ship when you want to travel to this or that place."
Editor: Andrew Whyte, Merili Nael
Source: 'Ukraina stuudio', interviewer Epp Ehand.