World Review | Russian navy shows Nato its strength

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Russian navy shows Nato its strength

Russian navy shows Nato its strength
The Yuri Dolgoruky is commissioned into the Russian Navy at the Sevmash shipyard at Severodvinsk, on Russia's White Sea (photo: dpa)

NINE days of Russian military exercises in the Mediterranean have been touted as the largest naval show of force since the collapse of the USSR in 1991.

The main part of the action took place off the coast of Syria, where Russia also has its only foreign naval base.

Some observers fear that the war games might be a prelude to a military intervention in Syria. But this is not credible. A more likely interpretation is that Russia may be preparing for an emergency evacuation of its nationals.

About 9,000 are said to be registered with its embassy in Damascus and the actual number may well exceed 30,000.

Yet there can be little doubt that the real purpose of the exercise, which concluded on January 29, 2013, was to send a signal to the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (Nato) that Russia is still a force to be reckoned with.

It is also significant that the drills coincided with the arrival of important new additions to the nation’s nuclear navy. On January 10, the first of the new Borei class of nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarines, the Yury Dolgoruky, officially entered service.

The much-delayed vessel is designed to carry 16 of the new Bulava missiles, each capable of carrying 10 warheads.

The submarines form part of the current massive Russian naval military build-up. As part of the State Armament Programme, which is expected to cost close to 20 trillion rubles (US$ 667 billion) over the period 2011-20, the navy will receive 100 surface ships and eight Borei class missile boats.

At the launching ceremony for the Yury Dolgoruky, Russian First Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin had a symbolic relapse into Cold War rhetoric. In a message posted on Twitter, he said: ‘Tremble, bourgeoisie! You’re done with!’

A closer look at the drills in the Mediterranean reveals that there is still a huge gap between rhetoric and capability.

The exercise comprised 20 surface ships and three submarines, one of which was nuclear powered. Of these, 10 were auxiliary vessels, greatly reducing the impression of projection of raw power.

According to Russian military analyst Aleksei Isaev, there is no need for anyone to fear the naval drills. ‘One of the American fleets could destroy all four of our fleets within seconds,’ he said.

The recent posturing is clearly designed for the psychological reassurance of the Russian leadership, including President Vladimir Putin.

If anything, it may actually be viewed as a sign of weakness, rather than of strength.

Professor Stefan Hedlund

STEFAN Hedlund is Professor and Research Director at the Centre for Russian and Eurasian Studies, at Uppsala University, Sweden. He trained as an economist and has specialised in Russian ...

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