The Kremlin Pushes for Development of a Fishing Fleet in Annexed Crimea, including Potential New State-Owned Enterprise

On May 11, reports emerged that the Kremlin, in cooperation with local officials in Sevastopol, is preparing proposals for the development of a fishing fleet that would be located in annexed Crimea.  It is speculated that a state-owned enterprise will be created for this purpose, which would produce and lease fishing vessels to local fishermen operating in the Black Sea.  Proposals are expected to be submitted to the Russian government by November 1.

It is noteworthy, in the backdrop of this Kremlin initiative, that Russian authorities continue to harass and detain Ukrainian fishing vessels also operating in the Black Sea, for their supposed encroachments into Russian-controlled waters.  Even prior to annexation, Ukraine frequently accused Russia of illegal exploitation of marine recourses in the Black Sea.

Since Moscow’s annexation of Crimea in 2014, the regional fishing industry in the region has reportedly stagnated significantly.  This has even prompted the Russian government to stop reporting growth figures entirely.  The downturn has been attributed both to the financial isolation wrought by Western sanctions against companies operating in annexed Crimea as well as to the local fishing industry’s loss of access to the Ukrainian market.

This Russian effort to expand Crimea’s fishing fleet could be a precursor to increased Russian intrusions into Ukrainian territorial waters and to increased military operations in the area in general.  Much of Russia’s effort to develop Crimea and the Black Sea region post-annexation has carried dual-use military potential (some of which has been actualized).  Inauguration of the Kremlin’s flagship Kerch bridge between Crimea and Russia, for example, facilitated a quasi-blockade by the Russian Navy of some ships moving back and forth from Ukraine and the Sea of Azov.  Since the annexation, the Russian Navy has also seized and militarized Ukrainian oil rigs in the Black Sea.