Volume III, Number 9, 13 August 2015 Blazing a Trail

Volume III, No. 9         @eurasiaanalyst          August 13, 2015

Blazing a Trail: Thoughts on Russia’s New Naval Doctrine

By Susan J. Cavan

Sergei Naryshkin, Speaker of the Duma and former chief of both Kremlin and Russian Government staffs, as well as longtime associate of President Putin, warned the world earlier this week that the west was attempting to sow instability and foment intrigue, comments issued apparently in response to the impertinent idea that that an international tribunal should investigate the downing of Malaysian flight MH17. His attacks focused on the U.S., which “would continue to zombify people with their lying, present their wishes as facts and create new motives for anti-Russian sentiments in Europe.” (1)

Interestingly, Naryshkin also warned his readers to brace themselves for imminent deterioration in international relations and titled his article “August Provocations,” in which he claimed: “Now, at a time when there is so little calm in the world, we need to be on the lookout for any and all political provocations, hatched from the shores of the Atlantic….” (2)

While Naryshkin’s hyperbole might once have shocked, it is becoming nearly standard fare for Russia’s leading figures. Perhaps more significant than the rhetoric is the decision on recent doctrinal changes made to Russia’s maritime strategy.

Amendments to Russia’s Naval Doctrine were announced by President Putin on July 26 during a meeting onboard the frigate Admiral of the Soviet Navy Gorshkov. The full scope of the changes has been somewhat subsumed in the announcement of Russian international claims to the Arctic, but as Deputy Defense Minister Dmitri Rogozin pointed out, in Russia’s new maritime doctrine the “main focus is on two areas: the Arctic and the Atlantic.” (3) At the same meeting, Rogozin explained the attention given to the Atlantic in the new doctrine: “We emphasise the Atlantic because NATO has been developing actively of late and coming closer to our borders, and Russia is of course responding to these developments. The second reason is that Crimea and Sevastopol have been reunited with Russia and we need to take measures for their rapid integration into the national economy. Of course, we are also restoring Russia’s naval presence in the Mediterranean.” (4)

It might perhaps be churlish to note that by annexing Crimea and, in effect, occupying eastern Ukraine, it is Russia that has been encroaching upon NATO, not the other way around. Nonetheless, claims that any actions by NATO are encouraging Russia to respond by moving more forcefully into the Mediterranean and hence toward the Atlantic just don’t accord with the reality that Putin has been building toward just such a development for years.

While there is justifiable focus on the extent of Russia’s Arctic claims and, perhaps, the Lomonosov Ridge itself, the Atlantic and Mediterranean aspects of this amended doctrine also merit consideration. Reasserting Russian claims as a Mediterranean power has been a focus of Putin’s policy even before his return to the presidency in 2012. In an article published in Foreign Policy, February 21, 2012, Putin wrote: “Our navy has resumed its presence in strategic areas of the world’s oceans, including the Mediterranean.” (5) Of course, it had not yet shown itself with any deliberate force at that point; the renewed Russian presence was more powerfully displayed in June 2013, when then Chief of the Russian General Staff Valeri Gerasimov announced, “a naval task force began fulfilling the tasks in the Mediterranean Sea as of June 1. Currently, it comprises 16 surface combatants and three ship-based helicopters. In the future, the composition of the task force will vary depending on the situation. “ (6)

The Mediterranean task force, at the time under the Command of 1st Rank Captain Yuri Zemsky, reports to the Commander of the Black Sea fleet. Zemsky explained the purpose of the Mediterranean force: “The task force’s main efforts are focused on fulfilling the following tasks: foreign naval activity surveillance in the Mediterranean Sea, naval presence and showing the colours of the Russian Federation, ensuring safe navigation and maritime economic activity for Russia. Also, the task force is ready to fulfill impromptu tasks, taking into account the situation unfolding in the region.” (7)

At the same meeting of the announcement of the fleet’s activities, President Putin set out assurances that the newly re-established Russian presence in the Mediterranean was not meant to be perceived as aggressive: “The reinstatement of the Russian Navy’s permanent presence in the Mediterranean is not a sign of sabre-rattling. Together with our partners, including partners from NATO, we have achieved a lot in countering threats from criminal organizations, including in the fight against piracy.” (8)

There was one testy little issue with this great, Russian re-launch into the Mediterranean: The Black Sea Fleet was based not on Russian territory, but in Sevastopol, Crimea, Ukraine. By terms of agreements signed between Russia and Ukraine, resupply and refitting of the Black Sea Fleet fell under specific guidelines. As an October 2012 Russian commentary noted: “The Defense Ministry of Russia announced the broadest plans for reinforcement of the Black Sea Fleet several times but all of them tripped on the need to obtain a permit of Ukraine. In turn, Kiev drew the negotiations out, did not send a direct refusal to the Russian party but hinted at a need of response concessions, for example, lowering of the gas price.” (9)

Negotiating with Ukraine over the Black Sea Fleet might have been a nuisance when Viktor Yanukovich was president of Ukraine. In the wake of the Maidan Protests and absent Yanukovich, it became untenable. Keeping Ukraine out of Europe and within Russia’s orbit may have been a compelling factor in Putin’s decision-making towards its neighbor, but Crimea and the Black Sea Fleet were critically important. Enter the little green men.

It is fascinating to note that even earlier, when Putin was still settling back into the position of President of Russia, his United Russia dominated Duma revived an interesting award and day of remembrance. On July 2, 2012 the Russian Duma approved a law to make July 7th a day of commemoration for the Russian Navy’s victory in the 1770 Battle of Chesma. As was noted at the time by a Federation Council source: “The Battle of Chesma that took place on July 7, 1770 enabled the Russian state to establish its permanent naval presence in the Mediterranean, a factor that played a vital role in concluding the 1774 Kucuk – Kaynarca peace treaty.” (10)

The Battle of Chesma is notable for the destruction of the Turkish fleet by Russian fire ships. As a Russian historian notes: Russian ships dropped anchor at the entrance to Chesma bay and opened fire against the enemy ships. The Turks, deprived of maneuvering, could not deploy their forces. …. The fire spread from the burning vessel to the rest of Turkish ships. The fire lasted for 7 hours.” (11)

The resulting peace treaty, which ended the Russo-Turkish War allowed for, among other things, an end to Turkish control of the Black Sea, unfettered passage of Russian ships through the straits, commercial privileges throughout the Ottoman Empire, and provided “a diplomatic basis for future Russian intervention in internal affairs of the Ottoman Empire.” (12)

Surely, in all his discussions and negotiations with Putin over “Turkish Stream” and other projects, Turkey’s President Erdogan has mentioned the interesting resuscitation of the Order of the Battle of Chesma. He is aware of it, isn’t he?

Whatever the announced justifications for Russia’s resurgent interest in the Mediterranean, Atlantic, Arctic, and beyond, recent history has shown that Putin has little respect for the norms of international law nor has he respect for the international community. In such circumstances, circumspection is always warranted.

Source Notes:

1) “Duma chief blames US for instigating global instability through intrigue,” RT, 10 August 2015, via https://www.rt.com/politics/312041-duma-chief-blames-us-for/.

2) Putin Ally Naryshkin Predicts U.S. ‘Aggravation’ of Russia, by Damien Sharkov, International Business Times, via https://uk.news.yahoo.com/putin-ally-naryshkin-predicts-u-110143002.html#Pyw51sn.

3) Russian Federation Maritime Doctrine: Putin held meeting to discuss new draft of Russia’s Maritime Doctrine,” 26 July 2015, Kremlin Presidential Website, via http://en.kremlin.ru/events/president/news/50060.

4) Ibid. For text of the new doctrine in Russian, please see http://static.kremlin.ru/media/events/files/ru/uAFi5nvux2twaqjftS5yrIZUVTJan77L.pdf.

5) Being Strong: Why Russia Needs to Rebuild its Military, by Vladimir Putin, Foreign Policy, 21 February 2012, via http://foreignpolicy.com/2012/02/21/being-strong/.

6) Putin Visits Main Command Post of the General Staff—Kremlin Text, President of the Russian Federation website, Moscow, in English 0610 gmt 7 Jun 13; BBC Monitoring International Reports, via LexisNexis Academic.

7) Ibid.

8) Russian President Visits General Staff Central Command Post—TV Report, Rossiya 1 TV, Moscow, in Russian 1600 gmt 6 Jun 13; BBC Monitoring Former Soviet Union—Political, via LexisNexis Academic.

9) Black Sea Fleet is Suffocated with Gas, Russia is interested in rearming of the Balck Sea Fleet and it is impossible to do this without agreement of Kiev, Nezavisimaya gazeta, October 04, 2012, p. 1; Defense and Security (Russia), 8 October 2012, via Lexis Nexis Academic.

10) Russia gets new memorable date in its calendar, ITAR-TASS, July 2, 2012 Monday 10:30 PM GMT+4, via LexisNexis Academic.

11) Russian Navy Won the Battle of Chesma, Boris Yeltsin Library, via http://www.prlib.ru/en-us/History/Pages/Item.aspx?itemid=1143.

12) Treaty of Küçük Kaynarca, Entry in Encyclopedia Brittanica, via http://www.britannica.com/event/Treaty-of-Kucuk-Kaynarca.

By Susan J. Cavan

(sjcavan@bu.edu)

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