Ukrainian Navy crews recently completed training on two former U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) patrol boats in Baltimore, Maryland that will be delivered to Ukraine later this year. These are the third and fourth such vessels the USCG has provided to Ukraine under the Excess Defense Articles (EDA) program in recent years, partly in response to Russia’s unprovoked aggression against Ukraine. This initiative demonstrates the United States’ commitment to provide Ukraine with vessels that are urgently needed to replace those seized, held, or destroyed by the Russian military.
On March 24, 2014, as part of its attempted annexation of Crimea, Russia seized at least 12 of the 17 ships that Ukraine had based in the Crimean city of Sevastopol, which up until that time was its largest fleet headquarters. Several Ukrainian sailors who resisted were killed and thousands more were interned. In response to the crisis, Ukraine was forced to withdraw its flagship Hetman Sahaydachniy from the European Union’s counterpiracy Operation Atalanta off the coast of Somalia to defend itself at home. More than seven years into the conflict, Russia continues to hold multiple Ukrainian naval vessels, using unfounded allegations of cease-fire violations as a pretext. Russia continued its aggressive actions on November 25, 2018, when the Russian Coast Guard seized, in violation of international law, an additional three Ukrainian naval vessels that were attempting to transit the Kerch Strait.
With the loss of much of its surface fleet, as well as its major bases and installations located in Ukraine’s sovereign territory on the Crimean Peninsula, Ukraine is rebuilding its navy with U.S. assistance. Since 2014, the United States has committed more than $2.5 billion in training and equipment to help Ukraine preserve its territorial integrity, secure its borders, and improve interoperability with NATO. In addition to the Island Class patrol boats, Ukraine is also receiving an initial tranche of eight new armed Mark VI patrol boats under the Foreign Military Sales program that are being procured with a mixture of Foreign Military Financing (FMF) and DoD’s Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative. Our shared objective is for Ukraine to operate these fast patrol boats as part of a ‘mosquito fleet’ that is capable of countering potential Russian aggression in Ukrainian territorial waters. Since 2017, the State Department’s Bureau of International Security and Nonproliferation has provided over $17 million in non-security assistance (Nonproliferation, Anti-terrorism, Demining, and Related Programs (NADR)) support to the State Border Guard Service of Ukraine’s Maritime Border Guard Detachment. These efforts help Ukraine preserve its sovereignty and, territorial integrity, and to counter Russian aggression in the Sea of Azov and Black Sea through small-boat interdiction and Rapid Response Units.
A major component of this assistance is the several former Coast Guard patrol boats transferred under the EDA program. For decades, EDA has provided partners with the opportunity to purchase excess Department of Defense equipment and refit it at their own expense. The United States has recently adapted this model to better fit the needs of partners like Ukraine, Georgia, Vietnam, and Sri Lanka. These are several nations that have smaller military budgets but face urgent threats to their sovereignty from great powers like Russia and China. Providing them with vessels today will help them address challenges like piracy, illegal fishing, and narcotics and human trafficking.
In cases like these, the United States has used security assistance funding to pay for the cost of completely re-fitting former Coast Guard cutters in the Port of Baltimore. Funding has also been used to bring sailors from Ukraine, Georgia, and other countries to the United States for training on the vessels on which they will serve in home waters. This takes vessels that would otherwise be scrapped, refurbishes them to add additional capabilities, and gives them additional years of service as security and naval force multipliers for partners in the Black Sea, Caspian Sea, South China Sea, and the Indo-Pacific region.
In January 2021, multiple Ukrainian Navy crews came to Baltimore for 10 weeks of training on the Sumy (former Ocracoke) and Fastiv (former Washington) before the boats are delivered to Ukraine later this fall. The training consists of both intensive classroom work with Coast Guard instructors and a lot of hands-on time on the boats practicing core tasks like basic seamanship, maintenance, and firefighting.
With State Department assistance, Washington-based Ukrainian media have also made several trips to Baltimore to interview their sailors in training. Rear Admiral Oleksiy Neizhpapa, the Commander of the Ukrainian Navy, also commented at a recent graduation ceremony that, “We are grateful for the ample financial and equipment aid provided to ensure the revival of the Ukrainian Navy, including speedboats, thermal imagers, diving equipment, systems for communication and navigation, and command and control capabilities. Since 2014, with the assistance of American partners, there have been held more than two hundred joint training drills for our Navy; there have been provided systematic, effective consulting and educational assistance, training of crews, cadets, and marine infantrymen.”
Many of the sailors that participated in the training are either veterans of the 2014 conflict and 2018 Kerch Strait attack or have joined the military in response to these events. Their time in the United States not only provides them with professional development and urgently needed military skills, but also allows them to practice English, familiarize themselves with U.S. military culture and American values, and enjoy well-earned shore leave in Baltimore. Additionally, they will form friendships with their U.S. counterparts that will serve them well as they advance in rank and partner with U.S. and multinational forces in the future. This modest investment of taxpayer dollars pays great dividends over time, particularly when Ukraine and other foreign partners participate in regional and UN-led peacekeeping and counter-piracy operations that would otherwise require a more substantial U.S. commitment.
The United States looks forward to our continued partnership with the Ukrainian Navy both in Baltimore and around the world, and we hope to offer similar opportunities to other global partners as additional Coast Guard and U.S. Navy vessels become available under the EDA program.
About the Author: Andrew Strike serves as a Public Affairs Specialist in the Bureau of Political-Military Affairs, Office of Congressional and Public Affairs. For further information, please contact PM-CPA@state.gov, and follow us on Twitter @StateDeptPM.