Continuation of Russian Militarization of Former Ukrainian Floating Oil Rigs and their Incursion into Ukraine’s EEZ

On March 26, the State Border Guard Service of Ukraine identified a patrol ship belonging to the Russian Black Sea Fleet operating in Ukraine’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) in the Black Sea.  The Russian warship was seemingly protecting the activity of two floating drilling rigs that were formerly Ukrainian, but renamed “Crimea‑1” and “Tavrida” by Russian occupying forces who are now operating the rigs.  When the Ukrainian Border Service questioned the Russian Navy ship about its encroachment into its territory, authorities aboard the vessel asserted that they were protecting Moscow’s economic activity in the area and warned Ukrainian authorities against approaching.  Russia’s illegal energy operations in Ukraine’s EEZ has been ongoing since after Russia’s takeover of Crimea in 2014.

As evidenced by this latest episode, this activity has been accompanied by Russian military support.  Moscow has gone so far as to militarize the rigs themselves, even shooting from them at Ukrainian vessels investigating their operations.  In 2017, the Ukrainian vessel, Pochaiv, was hit by sniper fire from the Tavrida oil platform.  Ukrainian media also reports that the drill rigs have become platforms for electronic intelligence collection for the Russian Black Sea Fleet, effectively offering the Russian Navy floating military bases that allow them control of the Black Sea shelf.  Surface monitoring and radar equipment have reportedly been installed at the rigs that transmit information to Russia’s Border Guard Department and its Federal Security Service outpost in Crimea.  These features allow Moscow to block Ukrainian (and perhaps other) maritime traffic using civilian infrastructure – a practice it intensified in the Sea of Azov following the May 2018 inauguration of the Kerch Strait Bridge, the Russian infrastructure mega-project that now physically connects Crimea to Russia.

Ukraine’s Ministry of Energy has reported that, since 2014, Ukraine has lost an estimated 80% of its Black Sea oil and gas deposits and associated infrastructure to Russia.  The Kremlin has justified its illegal seizure of drilling assets as reclamation of property belonging to energy operator, Chornomornaftogaz – a Ukrainian company that was seized by Moscow as part of the illicit annexation of Crimea.  The company was subsequently transformed into a Russian state entity.