Russian Fleet To Focus On Keeping Sea Lanes Open For Oil Shipments


Russia’s new naval doctrine, as shown by its plans for shipbuilding over the next decade, is not directed against the United States and the West as was the Soviet Union’s but rather is intended in the first instance to protect its economic interests on the continental shelf and to ensure that the sea lanes for delivering oil and gas remain open.

More and more details are coming out about Russia’s new naval doctrine, one that will redirect that country’s efforts away from the geo-political challenges of the past to the geo-economic ones of the future but that sets the stage in particular places for serious naval competitions involving the rising naval power of China, Japan and India.

The editors of the military affairs site, “Voennoye obozreniye,” surveyed leading Russian military experts about how they see Russia’s naval policy developing over the next decade. The experts identified four “main directions” in a plan that calls for adding 36 submarines and 40 surface ships (

First, the experts said, the plan is intended to allow Moscow to protect its access to oil and gas reserves as well as other mineral deposits on the continental shelf off of Russia’s shores, something that many Russian commentators have already pointed to in their discussion of that country’s Arctic strategy.

Second, they added, the new plan is intended to provide support for the security of sea lanes by countering piracy. What they did not say but what clearly lies behind their conclusion is that the decline in the US naval presence that has guaranteed such security over the past 50 years makes such a national strategy essential from Moscow’s point of view.

Third, the experts continued, the new Russian naval plan is intended to help create a military balance in parts of the world where other means available to Moscow are not available – and in the first instance in areas near China, which constitutes the most important rising naval power in the world.

And fourth, they said, Russia’s new navy will be intended to have a “political demonstration” effect, to show the flag and demonstrate Russia’s ability to exert its influence in such regions as Latin America, Southeast Asia and the Middle East, all areas where Moscow wants to be taken seriously as a major power.

The new plan, the experts said, is based on the assumption that the United States will no longer play the role of “the most probable opponent.”

And because of that assumption, Moscow will stop building highly specialized ships such as “aircraft killers” and instead build more general purpose ships

(“Voyennoye obozreniye” does not report but other Russian outlets are saying, citing anonymous sources in the defense ministry, Russia does not plan to build any aircraft carriers before 2020, thus limiting its power projection capacity at least relative to those states that have them (

But if the US is now longer the chief challenge, it is very clear what country is. That is China, and Russia is preparing to deal with it as a naval power by building up its Pacific Ocean fleet to the point that it will pass the traditionally dominant Northern Fleet as the most powerful Russian naval force.

Russia’s two other fleets, the Black Sea and the Baltic, will also see their roles change, the editors of “Voyennoye obozreniye” say. The former will see “the most radical renewal” of its complement of ships, while the latter will see its role reduced to that of a coastal flotilla, with many of its ships transferred to the Black Sea fleet.

In the course of the ongoing discussion of Russia’s naval operations, one extremely curious detail emerged. Russian commanders are now using Tatars to communicate among naval operators to ensure that the Japanese and the Americans do not understand Russian intentions just as the US used Navaho speakers during World War II (

Paul Goble

Paul Goble is a longtime specialist on ethnic and religious questions in Eurasia. Most recently, he was director of research and publications at the Azerbaijan Diplomatic Academy. Earlier, he served as vice dean for the social sciences and humanities at Audentes University in Tallinn and a senior research associate at the EuroCollege of the University of Tartu in Estonia. He has served in various capacities in the U.S. State Department, the Central Intelligence Agency and the International Broadcasting Bureau as well as at the Voice of America and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Mr. Goble maintains the Window on Eurasia blog and can be contacted directly at [email protected] .

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