The Russian Navy: Another Look*

By Sol W. Sanders
Tuesday, January 5th, 2016 @ 3:40PM

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Left: Russian President Vladimir Putin takes part in celebrations for Navy Day in Baltiysk, Kaliningrad region, Russia, July 26, 2015, when the new spy ship the Yuri Ivanov joined the Russian navy. The high-level Yuri Ivanov reconnaissance ship has been more than a decade in the making. Credit: IBT

Just when we thought we could stow away our concerns about Soviet military power as a nightmare of the disappeared Cold War, we are finding out differently. The recent Office of Naval Intelligence report on The Russian Navy – A Historic Transition, warns the American public and particularly policymakers that Russian naval strength is impressive enough to be of concern.

There is little doubt that Pres. Vladimir Putin is playing, if you will pardon the expression, Russian roulette with his aggression in Crimea, Ukraine and Syria. He does not have the power to sustain his current dramatic thrusts into these areas. That’s particularly true given the response, however, faint-hearted in some quarters [not the least the Obama Administration] to a new threat to European and world peace and stability.

But the sanctions placed on his cronies and more importantly, the collapsing price of oil on which the Russian economy has been almost wholly dependent in recent years, is creating an economic crisis. It’s a terrible comment on Russian history and its civilization that his bombastic maneuvers, even including some adolescent bare-chested sex appeals, have earned him at least temporarily broad support at home even in the face of a deteriorating economy.

It’s important to remember that past aggressions that ultimately led to major wars were often the antics of diabolical leadership gambling that their bullying would be met by peace-loving acquiescence from the democracies. We know now, for example, that at every move by Hitler – whether the initial reoccupation of the Rhineland contrary to the Versailles Treaty ending World War I – was a feint. Had the French countered, he was ready to pull back. And, one might argue, the world tripped into World War II in Poland because even then Hitler thought he could get away with one more blackmail.

The new study tells us that Putin’s Moscow is still reaping the benefits of the massive over-investment in science, mainly military science, of the Soviet era. We say, “overinvestment” for we greybeards remember the terrible suffering of the Russian peoples and their empire as the Soviets poured savings into military hardware. While Americans puzzled over their several dozen breakfast cereals in their overflowing supermarkets, Soviet groceries were bare.

Laying out the details, the report says that Russia’s navy, only smaller than those of the U.S. and China in size, soon could deny the US Navy access to the Black and Baltic seas. Moscow’s occupation of Crimea, again producing new economic strains on the economy, and its enclave in Kaliningrad could keep U.S. forces out of the Black or Baltic Seas. That might at some point deny assistance to other countries that border them under Russian threat.

The Russians have announced plans to revive and increase the size and scope of the country’s Black Sea conventionally powered submarine fleet, new specially designed craft to operate in shallow waters. And through a leak by Japanese sources a couple of decades ago, Moscow’s research has improved their engines to make them the quietest underwater craft in the world.

The report details Russia’s Kalibr new missiles, put on display in October when Russian boats in the Caspian Sea fired at ground targets in Syria [even if some did fall short in Iran] The report speculates that Russia’s fifth-generation aircraft, the PAK FA aka T-50, could be deployed as soon as 2016. That aircraft’s increased stealth capabilities, as well as its potential role aboard a new Russian aircraft carrier, could spell big problems for the U.S.

Granted that there is always a tendency among our military intelligence bodies to take the most pessimistic view of the enemy’s capabilities, that is that he may be considered stronger than he is. But the tenor of the report is such that it cannot but be seen as another warning if it were needed, against the Obama Administration’s determined efforts to reduce the size of our naval forces, and indeed, of all our military. This report shows just how dangerous that is in a time of worldwide instability and unpredictable events.

* This commentary has been posted on, on January 5, 2016


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