By Paul Goble
Putin’s war in Ukraine has highlighted problems not only in Russia’s ground and air forces but also in its navy and especially in its shipbuilding industry, Russian analysts say. The latter shortcomings are so serious that correcting them if it is possible at all will take enormous efforts and a great deal of time.
Vyacheslav Yepuryanu, a Russian journalist who has reported in the past on the problems of Russia’s land and air forces (windowoneurasia2.blogspot.com/2022/09/putin-has-two-obsessions-ukraine-and.html), now turns his attention to those in the naval sector and especially shipbuilding (theins.ru/politika/255015). What he finds must be disturbing to Moscow.
Perhaps the two worst problems, he suggests, is that Moscow seems more concerned about creating the image of a Russian navy equal to that of the Americans than having a navy capable of carrying out the real tasks it faces and that corruption continues to eat up much of the enormous sums Moscow is nominally spending on shipbuilding.
Vladimir Putin likes to quote an observation ascribed to Alexander III, that “Russia has only two allies – its army and its fleet.” As events in Ukraine have shown, he has not helped the former to develop; and as a deeper dive into the data reveal, Yepurayanu says, the Kremlin leader has done an even worse job with the fleet.
The pathetic history of both the Admiral Kuznetsov in the Syria campaign and the sinking of the Moskva in the Ukrainian one have called attention to just how pathetic the Russian navy now is and how unprepared it is now and will be in the future if the Kremlin’s current plans are implemented to achieve the goals the leadership has set for it.
Today, as various independent analysts have concluded, Russia’s “Black Sea fleet is no more than a coastal defense flotilla. Russian ships leave their base in Crimea unwillingly, and submarines keep as far away from disaster at their base in Novorossiisk. This is the result of massive and unforgiveable losses (globalaffairs.ru/articles/pervaya-bolshaya-vojna-xxi-veka/).
Indeed, the analyst continues, “the war with Ukraine has shown that the Russian fleet cannot solve its fundamental tasks such as the seizing and holding of dominance in the sea, the blockade of coastal areas, and the control of communications in the first instance because of the lack of multi-purpose ships capable of doing so.”
What is especially troubling is that the new naval doctrine shows that the Kremlin does not understand the problem and instead remains committed to chasing the unachievable goal of matching the US navy rather than developing the kinds of ships Russia actually needs for the tasks it has.
Yepuryanu cites the conclusion of independent Moscow naval analyst Ivan Karpov that “building a fleet capable of destroying the American is an unachievable task” and pursuing it ensures that Russia won’t have a fleet capable of performing the tasks that Moscow is far more likely to set for it.
Russia isn’t going to fight the American navy the way the Japanese did at the Battle of the Coral Sea. It is going to be defending against or contesting other kinds of challenges. Acting as if a battle with the Americans was the only thing that matters ensures that it won’t be able to fight that one or indeed any other.
This obsession with the Americans and gaining equality with them is best seen in talk about aircraft carriers. The Americans have a dozen and Russia doesn’t have a single effective one. But that is a question primarily of imagery, one that fails to address the larger issue of whether Russia in fact needs such a ship.
For what it will cost to build a carrier, Russia could build numerous other and more useful ships. After all, “the fleet must respond to our needs independently of what our relations are with the US.”