ArticlesThe strategic importance of the port of Odessa

The strategic importance of the port of Odessa

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In the first hours following the invasion of Ukraine, the strategy of the Russian army was to quickly occupy Kiev and major cities in the east of the country and change the country’s leadership. Moscow was betting on a rapid surrender of Ukraine. At the same time, at the beginning of the operation, the Russian Federation carried out strategic bombings aimed to destroy Ukraine’s military infrastructure without killing civilians. The resistance of the Ukrainian army has forced the Russian Federation to rethink its military plans. Thus, residential areas in Kyiv, Kharkov, Mariupol and other Ukrainian cities began to be bombed in an attempt to destroy the morale of Ukrainians and persuade them to lay down their arms. Until March 21, the city of Odessa, the third largest city in Ukraine after Kyiv and Kharkov, was not bombed by the Russian army. On March 21 bombs struck several homes on the outskirts of Odessa but without producing any casualties.

Odessa authorities have prepared for bombing and a possible landing of the Russian navy on the city’s beaches. Since the beginning of March, Russian amphibious assault ships and warships have been stationed in Ukraine’s territorial waters and watching the city of Odessa. To prevent a landing, sea mines were placed in the territorial waters of Ukraine, the beaches around Odessa were filled with mines and the city was fortified in order to repeal a possible siege. Given the defensive measures taken by the Ukrainian army, a landing of the Russian army on the beaches of Odessa would mean high costs of human lives and resources. Therefore, the Russian Federation has opted for a sea blockade of the port of Odessa by placing its military ships off its shores. Thus, Russia has managed to block Ukraine’s access to international trade and its supply by sea, which is causing Kiev serious economic and logistical problems.

The port of Odessa is a strategic point of vital importance for Ukraine. It is the largest and only deep-water port in Ukraine. About 70% of its total imports and exports are carried out by sea, 65% being made through the port of Odessa. It links Ukraine’s economy to the global economy. The port is connected to the national rail network, which provides fast transfer of goods from sea to land and their further transport on the territory of Ukraine. This makes Odessa a point of attraction for large companies that want to export goods globally. An example is Iceblik and Cryoin, which produce the most of the world’s high-purity neon. This gas is needed by lasers that produce chips and semiconductors.

At the same time, the port of Odessa is one of the most important departure points for Ukrainian cereals to international markets, which provides Ukraine with substantial revenues. In 2021, Ukraine was the fourth largest grain exporter in the world. The port also has an oil and gas terminal with a storage capacity of 25 million tons.

Possible solution to the dependence on Russian gas

Following the annexation of Crimea by the Russian Federation and the outbreak of the Donbas war, the Ukrainian government has tried to speed up plans to build a liquefied gas (LNG) storage terminal in the port of Odessa. The project was an older one and was started in 2011 but was stopped. It would have been the first of its kind in the Black Sea and could have reduced Ukraine’s energy dependence on Russian gas. In 2013, Turkey announced its opposition to the idea of ​​importing liquefied gas through the straits, saying that this would increase traffic in the Bosphorus and the Dardanelles and would pose an ecological danger.

Turkey wanted to maintain and strengthen its strategic position as a transit area for energy resources, whether we are talking about gas pipelines or liquefied gas transportation. Turkey is currently crossed by two pipelines carrying gas from Russia and Azerbaijan to South-eastern Europe (Turk Stream and TANAP). At the same time, in 2020 Turkey was the largest importer of liquefied gas in the world, after China and India.

Moreover, Turkey’s strategy is to become an exporter of energy resources to Europe. Therefore, Turkey did not want Ukraine to be able to become an exporter of liquefied gas without Ankara negotiating certain benefits and its inclusion in this project. In an interview from 2015 offered to Anadolu, Turkish state news agency, Sergiy Oleksiyenko, an adviser to the then Naftogaz President (Ukraine’s national oil and gas company), said Ukraine was ready to cooperate with Turkey on liquefied gas.

“We hope to cooperate with the Turkish government on this matter. We are ready to construct the LNG terminal but need the cooperation of the Turkish government on the safe, transparent and fair market principles for passage of LNG tankers through Bosphorus”.

Finally, the two countries reached an agreement. In June 2021, Kyiv and Ankara announced that they would co-operate in the energy field, including the supply of liquefied gas to Ukraine and the construction of a storage and regasification terminal and the necessary infrastructure. The two countries also agreed to co-operate in using the Trans-Balkan pipeline to transport gas from Turkey to Ukraine and vice versa. In this way, Turkey will strengthen its position as an energy hub and as a gas exporter. Currently Turkey and Russia are the only riparian states that have storing and regasification terminals (that are converting liquid gas back into gas), but none of them are on the Black Sea. Turkey has two floating terminals that store and carry out the regasification process and two land terminals on the Mediterranean coast. As for Russia, it has such a terminal in the Arctic.

The historical value of the city

The city and port of Odessa were established in 1794 by a decree of Empress Catherine the Great. Gradually, the city became an architectural gem of the Black Sea coast. It is famous for the many historic buildings of the 19th century, which represent different architectural styles such as Art-Nouveau, Neo-Renaissance, Gothic, Baroque and Neo-Classic. An impressive combination of French and Italian architectural styles. Due to its historical value, and its beaches, it is one of the most visited cities in Ukraine, competing with other European cities. The occupation of Odessa by the Russian army would mean the loss of an economically, energetically and logistically strategic point that not only provides Ukraine access to the Rhine-Main-Danube Canal and the Black Sea but also to the world ocean. Although the city miraculously escaped, almost intact, the First and Second World Wars, it is in danger of being destroyed in this conflict. The intensification of the bombing of Odessa, in addition to the loss of human life, would also be a huge loss for European and world cultural heritage.

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