Admiral Vladimir Kuroyedov, Commander-in-Chief of the Russian Navy, has promised improvements to the Navy in response to the challenge of meeting emerging and future threats to the Russian state or its interests. These reforms, long overdue and vital if the collapse of the Navy is to be avoided, envisage the creation of strike forces in conjunction with other service branches. It also underscores Kuroyedov’s confidence that he will retain his post, despite the catalogue of Naval disasters that has plagued his tenure in recent years, and despite the apparent conviction that real reform can be achieved in the Russian Navy without massive overhauls or more systemic reform.
In essence, Kuroyedov is attempting to implement lessons learned by the Russian military from the experience of Western militaries in their campaigns in the Gulf War, Yugoslavia, and Iraq, witnessing the harnessing of such “strike group.” This would involve in practical terms the inclusion of submarine, aircraft, and coastal troop elements. Eliminating unnecessary duplication of commands and enhancing the efficiency of the command-and-control structure is his aim, justified on the basis of reluctantly admitting that the Soviet methods must be abandoned: “There are fewer ships and men now, and the control-and-command system has become hardly manageable and too cumbersome, and we should therefore go over to a two-tier or three-tier control-and-command system,” Kuroyedov confessed (Interfax, June 4). A test case for the realization of such reform plans will be the planned abolition of the command-and-control body of the 7th operational squadron of the Northern Fleet, in order to streamline the command system and eliminate needless duplication of orders.
Kuroyedov has a proven track record for identifying the high stakes involved in balancing his own survival and claiming to promote a rather grand vision of the Russian Navy, which flies in the face of its well-publicized structural and material problems. That his reform plans begin with the Northern Fleet is not unexpected, since its problems are widely known. On June 7 20 Western defense attaches, including representatives from the United States, Britain, Germany, and Italy, participated in a familiarization visit to the Northern Fleet at Murmansk (Itar-Tass, June 7). Their purpose was to learn the routines, recreation, and combat training of the Northern Fleet’s personnel and how it is organized. Western countries will await with interest the outcome of Kuroyedov’s reform plans.
Underlying these displays of the continued “strength” of the Russian Navy, there are real concerns about whether Western countries will financially assist Russia in the more expensive aspects of managing the crisis in its Navy. Sergei Antipov, deputy director of Russia’s Federal Atomic Energy Agency, has urged the G8 to increase its support for the allocation of aid to dismantle nuclear submarines decommissioned by the Navy (Itar-Tass, June 6). He said that 80 submarines decommissioned to date cost $4 billion, though donors had only pledged to allocate around $2.5 billion, with the bulk of the money earmarked for disassembling submarines in western Russia. “Our goal here is to draw the attention of all the signatory nations of Global Partnership to the fact that the problem of decommissioned submarines is no less acute in Russia’s Far East than in western regions, while financing for the Far East is far scantier,” Antipov asserted. Japan is the only G8 donor currently allocating money for disposal of submarines in the Far East. The Japanese government has promised to allocate $100 million, though only providing $6 million, enough to scrap just one submarine.
Promoting the plight of the Russian Far East was certainly an important priority during the historic visit of Vice-Admiral Enichi Nakashima, commander of Japan’s Maritime Self-Defense Force to the Pacific Fleet in Vladivostok, ostensibly to develop closer bilateral Naval relations. Accompanied by Admiral Viktor Fedorov, Pacific Fleet Commander, and Vladimir Nikolayev, mayor of Vladivostok, Nakashima inspected the Varshavyanka diesel submarine, a marine unit, and the Varyag missile cruiser. The visit will end on June 10 with a high-profile joint rescue exercise involving Russian warships, including the Admiral Vinogradov, as well as a missile boat, airplane, and a helicopter, far from Kuroyedov vision of strike-force groups. While the visit itself has triggered speculation concerning the purpose behind the development of bilateral Naval links between Russia and Japan, there can be little doubt that such closer relations are linked to Antipov’s concerns that contacts should be concluded with Japan to assist in the disposal of at least five more submarines (Itar-Tass, June 6; Interfax, June 7).
The main drawback to Kuroyedov’s “vision” for the reform of the Russian Navy, is that Russia still avoids considering exactly what sort of Navy it requires for the 21st century, while remaining vague about the precise nature of the threats envisaged that may demand the formation of appropriate strike forces. What is becoming obvious to Russian commanders is the need to improve the command-and-control system in the Navy and to replace existing Soviet models and thinking, which have become dated and no longer relevant to Russia’s security needs. Disposing of dangerous nuclear vessels will require greater Western aid; something Russia will continue to press at all levels.