Putin Promises To Restore Russian Naval Power

Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 8 Issue: 81

Russian Prime Minister, Vladimir Putin, during his marathon speech to the Duma on April 20, referred to ambitious plans to modernize the armed forces and specifically singled out the Navy as a key priority. Putin explained: “Speaking of defense-related issues once again, I would like to note that a large fund of about five trillion rubles ($178. 45 billion) is being allocated for restoring and expanding the Navy for the first time in contemporary Russian history. This is the amount set out in the state arms procurement program, which has now been adopted. In all, we plan to spend a staggering 20 trillion rubles ($713.8 billion) on its implementation.” According to the figures provided by the prime minister, the naval modernization will prove to be 150 percent more costly than modernizing the Ground Forces. Putin considers the overall spending plans for the state armaments program to 2020 as “staggering,” yet it is unclear if he really understands the scale of the task involved in “restoring” Russian naval power (https://premier.gov.ru/eng/events/news/14898/#oo, April 20).

Konstantin Sivkov, First Vice-President of the Academy of Geopolitical Problems, questions the emphasis placed on building frigates and corvettes. Sivkov summarizes the current concept for the future development of the Russian Navy as based on two oceangoing fleets (Northern and Pacific) and two inland fleets (Baltic, Black Sea plus the Caspian Flotilla). In the oceangoing fleets groups of forces will operate in near sea and far sea zones, as well as groupings of naval strategic nuclear forces. Corvettes, missile ships, ASW ships, and mine warfare ships are the foundation of near sea zone forces. The foundation of far sea zone forces is composed of one aircraft carrier, missile cruisers frigates, multipurpose nuclear submarines, as well as submarines forming part of the nuclear triad. “The state determined the structure of naval forces in the course of the last few years. While I was serving on the General Staff for 12 years, the look of the Navy was determined for each state armaments program, for each Armed Forces organizational development concept, and for each new military doctrine. It was determined anew each time,” Sivkov noted. In his view, according to reports on naval modernization, the defense ministry is restricting itself too far, in terms of procurement for a wide range of missions. On Mistral, he was particularly damning: “But the appearance of Mistral ships, which will do nothing at all (nikakim bokom ne lozhatsya) for the missions facing the Navy” (Vzglyad, April 19). Sivkov remains smitten by the dream of building aircraft carriers for the Navy, yet there seems plenty of scope for modifying current plans.

In Nezavisimoye Voyennoye Obozreniye, Oleg Vladykin profiled anti-submarine warfare (ASW) exercises by the Northern Fleet held in late March in the Barents Sea. He praised the “perseverance” of the fleet in difficult locations and discussed how manning changes as part of the “new look” are affecting the Navy. Rear-Admiral Andrey Volozhinskiy, acting Commander of the Northern Fleet said that there had been a 15 percent reduction in the fleet’s personnel in 2010. Vacillation and indecision evident in the reform was also obvious in the Northern Fleet (Nezavisimoye Voyennoye Obozreniye, April 8).

Colonel Alexey Maslov, the commander of the 61st Naval Infantry Regiment explained that his unit will soon be re-designated as a brigade. However, there was a naval infantry brigade in the Sputnik garrison in 2009, which was suddenly turned into a regiment. The author compared the organizational and manning measures being implemented in the reform of the armed forces to vivisection. As the defense ministry tests new methods of treatment, it carries out surgery without anesthetic, removing and transplanting organs “while identifying the pain threshold.” Within the 61st Naval Infantry Regiment, Senior Warrant Officer Vladimir Bagryantsev, who leads a company of an assault landing battalion, said the number of contract personnel is only 8 percent. In 2009, he recalled, most were serving on a contract. Admiral Volozhinskiy explained that the defense ministry has decided to raise the numbers of contract personnel serving on submarines to “100 percent,” and “70 percent” on surface ships. “As of today, if we take the crew in its entirety, only 45 percent of our sailors and petty officers are Kontraktniki, although I think the ratio should be no fewer than 60 percent on contract,” lamented Captain 1st Rank Aleksandr Mashinetskiy, commander of the large ASW ship Vitse-Admiral Kulakov (Nezavisimoye Voyennoye Obozreniye, April 8).

Indeed, officers reported problems in recruiting contract personnel for the Navy, compounded by similar issues regarding conscripts. For the Vitse-Admiral Kulakov to reach full complement, sailors have to be drawn from other crews in the fleet. The situation onboard submarines is far from ideal. Captain 1st Rank Andrey Khramov, commander of the nuclear-powered submarine cruiser Kareliya, explained that crew numbers have been reduced. Petty officer and sailor posts have been filled by officers, mostly those arriving in 2010 as graduates from higher military educational institutions. The changes in manning increased the workload on some personnel. Khramov could not offer any explanation for these initiatives (Nezavisimoye Voyennoye Obozreniye, April 8). In 2010, the Northern Fleet received a total of 509 new lieutenants.  Admiral Volozhinskiy explained that 441 were appointed to military posts, and the rest were discharged either at their own request or for refusing to accept officer posts. Among the 441 lieutenants, only one third were appointed as officers, and the remainder as petty officers or sailors. One anonymous officer said “There is no sense in these changes, it only adds confusion.”

Despite promises to provide officers’ accommodation, not one officer serving on the Vitse-Admiral Kulakov has received a service apartment. The defense ministry response to their complaints is simply “wait” but officers cannot understand the delay; meanwhile the Kulakov’s officers live in rented accommodations. Vladykin concluded by saying that the source of the tangle of problems in the Northern Fleet “can be seen exclusively in the ill-conceived, willful optimization of the Armed Forces’ organizational and manning structure” (Nezavisimoye Voyennoye Obozreniye, April 8).

The extent of naval manning problems, weaknesses in the entire reform and lack of conceptual clarity on precisely what the naval modernization should entail all suggests that Putin’s political statements concerning the Navy’s future must be regarded cautiously. Delays and continued wrangling with Paris over the details of Mistral procurement are a microcosm of much deeper problems (https://www.vedomosti.ru/newspaper/article/258358/nekomplekt_iz_francii).