Will annexation of Crimea become new stage for Russian fleet?

Author : Vedran Obucina

The Kremlin sees the Russian Navy as a force that will claim Russian power at the world level. However, now this vision is no more than a dream

22:38, 7 August 2017

Read original article at Advance

112 Agency

After the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1990s, when it was difficult to service ships and there was not enough money, the Russian navy tried to adapt its naval forces of the Cold War times to new conditions. After 2000, when the Russian economy began to grow, there were first ideas about how to return the powerful Russian fleet to the world arena. In 2011, a large-scale rearmament program was developed. According to it, the Ministry of Defense of the Russian Federation should receive one hundred new warships by 2020, including 20 submarines, 35 corvettes and 15 frigates. Of course, the new stage in the development of the Russian fleet was the annexation of Crimea, thanks to which Moscow again began to strengthen its forces on the Black Sea. It plans to send 18 new ships and submarines there.

At the end of the Cold War in 1991, the Soviet fleet had almost a thousand military vessels, from small patrol boats to large aircraft carriers. At that time in history, the Soviet fleet played an extremely important strategic role in the issue of a potential war with the West. The fleet was an important deterrent, since the Soviet submarines were atomic or could use missiles with nuclear warheads. At the same time, the fleet was also responsible for the first line of defense of the Soviet territory and, when possible, damaged NATO communications.

After the collapse of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War, the Soviet fleet was disbanded, and a modern Russian fleet appeared. The hardest times began for this once glorified fleet, since the Navy did not have enough money to finance it. The combat efficiency of the fleet has fallen, and the upgrade programs have stopped. This continued until 2002, when the problem of the shortage of educated cadres also manifested itself. Finally, in 2009, the former commander of the Northern Fleet, Admiral Viacheslav Popov, said that by 2015 the combat capability of the Russian Navy would be extremely low unless the current shipbuilding plans were revised and new ships were built.

The unfavorable situation persisted even after Vladimir Putin came to power. He himself supported the financing of major programs for the modernization of military aviation and navy, but the big part of work remained only in words. The catastrophe that occurred with the Kursk submarine in 2000 was a turning point. In part, this tragedy was a symbol of the collapse of the fleet and a loud cry for help. Lack of discipline, outdated technology, negligence and bad command were called the causes that led to the death of the submarine and its crew. Then a large-scale modernization began, the end of which is expected around 2030. However, there are many obstacles to such modernization.

It is, in particular, that the Russian Navy has a much smaller number of ships than the fleet of the USSR, more precisely - they have less by 25%. At the same time, the specifics of Russian naval forces are that they are geographically divided. Therefore, today Russia has the Northern, Pacific, Black Sea, Baltic and Caspian fleets. However, Russia sees the mission of its fleet as it was under the USSR. The Navy should play a significant role in the intimidation (constant patrolling and control over the sea border), and submarines must support the country's nuclear backbone.

In addition to this mission, which involves access to neutral waters, the Russian Navy is tasked with protecting Russian shores from any external threat. It must ensure that no one will attack Russia from the sea. However, these tasks are difficult to fulfill, because today Russia simply does not have enough ships and submarines. Those ships that Russia has are obsolete. Shipyards are in dire need of modernization, which is impossible without imported components, primarily Western ones. The sanctions that were imposed against Russia during the Ukrainian crisis create additional pressure on the Russian fleet and shipbuilding.

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The Kremlin sees the Russian Navy as a force that will claim Russian power at the world level. However, such a vision is no more than a dream. The fleet can boast only by its nuclear submarines, but it does not have weapons that would turn it into a powerful naval force. Of course, the Russian leadership understands this, and several strategies have been proposed to correct the situation, including calls to build three to five aircraft carriers. However, due to financial difficulties, there was no order for one.

Therefore, Russia has moved to tactics "step by step" and first of all is going to be engaged in the preparation of a fleet that will be able to control Russian territorial and neighboring neutral waters. At the same time, Russia is especially interested in the presence in the Atlantic Ocean and in the Arctic region. The Atlantic is a region of potential intersection of the forces of the multipolar world interests. It's not just about NATO and the countries of the West, but also about China. The Arctic is a vital strategic region that promises huge economic benefits (thanks to new ways of communication between the Pacific and Atlantic Ocean) and fossil wealth.

In the medium term, the Russian fleet can be saved only due to modernization of existing shipyards and the creation of new ones. The apparent collapse of military shipbuilding in Russia is already a reality. Numerous vessels of the “Kirov” type, the pride of the Soviet nuclear fleet, are proof of this. Of the four such ships, two were abandoned, because they were so old that repairing them no longer made sense. One ship - "Peter the Great" - is in service, and the second one - "Admiral Nakhimov" - is to be returned to service in 2018, when its repair is supposed to end. "Kirov" is going to be replaced by project 23560E "Leader". The ship with a displacement of 18 thousand tons is equipped with a S-500 anti-aircraft missile system and supersonic anti-ship missiles P-800. The ship was planned to be put into service last summer, but so far no news of its completion has been received.

How realistic is the great program for replacing Soviet types of ships, especially “Sovremenniy” and “Krivak”, with new frigates such as “Admiral Gorshkov” and “Admiral Grigorovich”, we will learn in September this year, when the state defense program for 2018-2025 will be completed and presented to the public.

According to the first statements, Moscow is going to significantly limit its naval ambitions and pay more attention to land forces. The reasons are mostly financial, which is confirmed by the defense budget of this year, which the Kremlin reduced by five percent. This is the first reduction in the military budget since the 1990s, which means that Russia will not modernize 70% of its forces by 2020, as originally planned. In reality, the budget money can be enough only for half of the wishes of Ministry of Defense, declared in the new program for 2018-2025. So the fleet will suffer greatly, especially ships.

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The sector, which Russia is not exactly going to cut, is the nuclear submarine fleet. Traditionally, it was the main intimidating component of Russian nuclear forces, which include ground-based missiles, bombers equipped with nuclear warheads, and submarines with ballistic missiles. In this area, the legacy of the Soviet Union is most palpable, as during the Cold War surface ships were a continuation of all the praised and respected submarine fleet. In addition to submarines, Russia plans to invest in strategically important air forces and the modernization of military aircraft. In terms of geography, the main emphasis will be placed on the Baltic Sea, Ukraine and the Caucasus, as well as on the United Strategic Arctic Command, which by 2020 will receive the status of a special military district.

So everyone will have to wait for the modernization of the Russian Navy, because now Moscow is forced to choose between naval and land forces. On paper, the Russian fleet should strengthen Russian power at the international level and protect the Russian coast, but in reality this is hampered by an unfavorable financial situation.

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