Tag Archives: Russia

Lessons from Crimea: The Way Forward for NATO

This analysis was produced as part of the Naval Academy Foreign Affairs Conference, held in April of 2017. Since that time, Montenegro has officially joined NATO.

By Kirk Wolff

Introduction

There is no sugarcoating it: Russia’s continued aggression in Eastern Europe is not only reckless and a violation of international norms, but is illegal. In the invasion of Georgia and the annexation of Crimea, Russia showed complete disregard for the sovereignty of its neighbors and violated multiple treaties to which Russia is a party, including the 1994 Budapest Memorandum. Under the Budapest Memorandum, Russia agreed to never use force against or in any way threaten the territorial integrity of Ukraine.1 It is clear Russia is no longer following international laws, even those it helped establish. Vladimir Putin’s desire to reclaim the perceived glory of the Soviet Union has manifested itself in illegal invasions of weaker neighbors. These actions have been met with responses from much of Europe and the United States that were, at best, toothless. The Russian Federation’s aspiration to expand its borders and sphere of influence into former Soviet states and satellites poses a great threat to the stability of Europe and has already caused instability and military buildup in Eastern Europe. Putin has never hidden his desire to restore the USSR, the dissolution of which he referred to as “the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the 20th Century.”2

NATO and Russian Pressures

Consequently, the international system is now witnessing the single most important moment in NATO’s history since the collective response to the 9/11 attacks. It is clear that continued sanctions in the vein of visa bans and asset freezes are no longer adequate responses to Putin’s actions. In order to stave off further illegal expansion by an emboldened Russia, NATO must swiftly expand to include Finland and Sweden. Deciding not to expand NATO to include these Nordic States would represent a complete failure to learn the lessons of the last decade, which occurred as a result of the rejection of Ukraine and Georgia’s attempts to join NATO. This proposed 7th expansion of NATO would include Montenegró, which has recently earned acceptance from Alliance member states.3 There is no better way to contain Russia than through expanding the alliance, the most effective collective defense organization in history and the historical counterbalance to Russo-Soviet expansionism.

Russian troops ride atop armoured vehicles and trucks near the village of Khurcha in Georgia’s breakaway province of Abkhazia. (Associated Press)

Prior to and throughout the invasions of Georgia (2008) and Ukraine (2014), Russia telegraphed its intention to regain its former status as a great power. After the dissolution of the Soviet Union, the Russian military fell from around 5 million troops to roughly 1 million in 19944 and the capacity of those 1 million troops to exert Russian influence was questionable. Since that time, Russia’s military strength has experienced a revitalization, bringing the current number to over 3 million troops.5 The Russian military budget has increased by a factor of 5 since 1994, with a 91 percent boost in spending from 2006 to 2016.6 This boost in military spending and size transformed the Russian Armed Forces from a fledgling that could only muster around 60,000 troops to put down a Chechen rebellion in 19947 to its current status as a resurgent world superpower that successfully used covert military forces to annex an entire region of its sovereign neighbor Ukraine in 2014. Through his reforms following the 2008 invasion of Georgia, Vladimir Putin has orchestrated a spectacular comeback for Russia in a region where the nation lost almost all of its influence a quarter century ago.

The question of why Georgia and Ukraine were targeted specifically is answered by the failure of NATO to offer either nation a Membership Action Plan following the April 2008 Bucharest Summit despite the pursuit of admission to the Alliance by both states.8 It is likely that Putin was greatly relieved by this shortsighted decision by NATO, as his plans for Russian expansion were no longer threatened by NATO’s collective defense pledge. It only took four months for Russia to invade the former NATO-hopeful Georgia, in what is referred to as the first European war of the 21st Century.9 There is a reason the invocation of NATO’s collective defense measure, otherwise known as Article 5, has only occurred once in history, and that it was prompted by the actions of rogue non-state actors on 9/11. The full backing of NATO’s member states maintains peace at a level unseen in history by guaranteeing a costly counterattack to actions like the invasions of Georgia and Ukraine. It is critical for NATO to learn from the mistakes of the Bucharest Summit and prevent further destabilization of Europe by accepting both Finland and Sweden into the Alliance posthaste.

The Grand Strategy of Russian Resurgence

The United States and NATO have been operating without a grand strategy since the fall of the Soviet Union, and consequently, Russia has implemented its own grand strategy that takes advantage of this stunning lack of action by the West. Russia is clearly, though not officially, following the grand strategy laid out in the Foundations of Geopolitics by Alexandre Dugin. The book has had a considerable impact on Russian foreign policy and was adopted as an official textbook at the Russian equivalent of the U.S. Naval War College, where senior officers and government officials receive graduate degrees related to policy.10 Major points of the work include (among other goals) separating England from Europe, dismantling Georgia, and annexing Crimea,11 all of which have been at least partially accomplished through Russian pressure, overt or otherwise. Not only have the arguments laid out in Dugin’s work been mirrored by Russian policy, but Dugin has even been made a major foreign policy advisor to the Putin regime12 and enjoys considerable influence and contact with the parliament and military.13 One major goal listed in the plan that has yet to be accomplished is the annexation of Finland. This, along with continued aggressive actions against Finland, shows that there is an imminent threat to Finland from Russia. If Finland fails to act quickly to join NATO, it is likely to be next in line for Russian expansion, in partial fulfillment of Dugin’s grand strategy for resurgent Russia.

Russian T-26 light tanks and T-20 Komsomolets armored tractors advancing into Finland during the Winter War, 2 Dec 1939. 

In both Finland and Sweden, support for accession to NATO has been growing due to the aftermath of the annexation of Crimea. Russia has significantly ramped up operations and drills in the vicinity of Finland to such a degree that both Finland and Sweden are actively seeking new defensive agreements with western nations including the U.K. and U.S.14 Multiple Russian jets have violated Finnish airspace, further showing Russia’s disregard for the sovereignty of any of its neighbors.15 Additionally, Russia has been working to increase Finland’s dependency in order to further pull it into Russia’s economic and political sphere of influence. One such attempt involves energy, where Russia is attempting to undermine the Finnish energy sector and even create an artificial energy crisis which would drive Finland to rely heavily on Russian government and energy firms.16 Like Georgia and Ukraine, Finland was once part of Russia, and such historical ties were used as justification for both of Putin’s illegal invasions.17 18 In fact, the Winter War of 1939 was started by Russia in an attempt to reabsorb Finland; it resulted in Russian territorial gains from Eastern Finland.19 Based on the recent Russian actions in Georgia and Ukraine, it is not outside of the realm of possibility for Russia to make another attempt to regain Finland. Sweden has felt the increased pressure from Russia as well, as evidenced by the extreme step the Civil Contingency Agency of Sweden took in December 2016 of telling towns to reinitiate Cold War era counter-invasion measures, including bunker systems and military drills.20 All of this represents a return to the great power conflict of the Cold War. Additionally, this demonstrates the clear and present threat to both Finland and Sweden from Russia that NATO would best solve.

The Current State of Partnership

Convincing the people of Finland of the necessity of NATO membership appears to be reliant on Sweden agreeing to join simultaneously. Support for a military alliance with Sweden is high, with 54 percent of Finns supporting such an alliance in 2014 while only 36 percent oppose21, so the people of Finland could be persuaded to support NATO if their friend Sweden agrees to join as well. That same year, Gallup found that 53 percent of Finnish citizens would support joining NATO if the government of Finland recommended the move.22 Since Finland already recognizes the importance of a military alliance with Sweden, it clearly can be convinced of the necessity of NATO as well. In Sweden, support of NATO membership has been on the rise. For instance, in 2015 the Centre Right Party joined two other major Swedish political parties to support NATO membership after having previously opposed the measure,23 which further indicates the political tides of the nation are turning in support of NATO. Not only is the move towards membership a necessity for these two nations, but it is also entirely within the realm of possibility in the near future.

Both Finland and Sweden have been longtime members of the Partnership for Peace (PfP)24, a NATO program which aims to build stronger relationships with non-Alliance members.25 Participation in the PfP is often seen as a pathway to membership since so many current NATO members were originally part of the PfP. This is crucial, because under Article 10 of the treaty all members must be unanimously confirmed; the fact that Finland and Sweden are already contributing to the collective defense of NATO shows that they would be valuable assets to the Alliance. Both Finland and Sweden sent troops to support NATO actions in Afghanistan, and Sweden was part of NATO’s 2011 mission in Libya.26 Due to their willingness to participate in operations, Finland and Sweden are clearly military assets to NATO, thus clearing the collective defense hurdle of NATO.

Despite this, neither nation could take on Russia alone. Swedish military experts found that if attacked by Russia, the nation could only hold out for one week27, further highlighting the need for NATO to step in and prevent another Crimean crisis. Opponents of NATO enlargement may argue that Sweden and Finland fail to meet the requisite military spending requirement of the Alliance, which is 2 percent of GDP. This is irrelevant for two reasons. First, it is far more important to keep Russia in check and have nations remain in America/NATO’s sphere of influence than to worry about the arbitrary 2 percent requirement. Demanding Sweden and Finland to increase their spending before joining will not create any measurable increase in NATO’s military effectiveness, as the U.S. spends around $650 billion dollars on defense.28 The next closest Alliance member spends a mere 60 billion dollars.29 It could be reasonable to require that both nations set a goal of reaching the 2 percent threshold within a decade, but the situation in Europe is too precarious to hesitate on such a minor issue. The true goal of NATO is maintaining the post-Soviet world order through the maintenance of the current spheres of influence.

The second reason the 2 percent requirement is irrelevant is the fact that only 5 of the 28 members currently meet the requirement. Based on publicly available military budget information, of the 28 NATO members, Finland outspends 14 before even joining and Sweden outspends Finland as well. Allowing Russia to continue to destabilize all of Europe because Finland and Sweden fail to meet a standard that over 80 percent of current NATO members also fail to meet is shortsighted.

Conclusion

For Finland, Russia’s western neighbor, the stakes are quite high. Putin has made multiple threatening statements in opposition to NATO enlarging to include Finland. These statements should be disregarded, as an identical scenario played out almost a decade ago in Georgia and recently in Ukraine. As mentioned earlier, Putin publicly opposed Georgia and Ukraine joining NATO, and shortly after NATO decided not to include the two nations, both were invaded by Russia’s military. The only way to secure the stability of Northern Europe is through the accession of Finland and Sweden into NATO, since this provides the closest thing to a guarantee against Russian intrusion, as admitted by Russia’s foreign minister Sergei Lavrov who said in 2016 that Russia “will never attack a member state of NATO.”30

There is a choice for NATO currently: either allow Russia to expand its sphere of influence even beyond the bounds of the former USSR into the Nordic States, or learn from the examples of Georgia and Ukraine by blocking expansionism through a 7th enlargement of the Alliance. We are clearly in a new era of great power conflict, and for their own safety Sweden and Finland must join their Nordic neighbors under the collective defense shield of NATO. NATO must recognize the dawn of this new era and learn the lessons of Crimea. The move to add Finland and Sweden to NATO is not only plausible, but entirely necessary to safeguard the stability and peace that Europe has enjoyed since the fall of the USSR.

Midshipman Kirk Wolff is from Morristown, Tennessee and is studying political science as a member of the U.S. Naval Academy Class of 2018. He can be contacted at wkirkwolff@gmail.com.

The author would like to thank Dr. Gale Mattox at USNA for her help.

References

[1] Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE). Budapest Memorandums on Security Assurances. 1994.

[2] Ellen Barry and Steven Myers. “Putin Reclaims Crimea for Russia and Bitterly Denounces the West.” New York Times, March 18, 2014.

[3] Edward Joseph and Siniša Vuković. “Montenegro’s NATO Bid.” Foreign Affairs, December 22, 2016.

[4] Dmtri Trenin,. “The Revival of the Russian Bear.” Foreign Affairs, May & June 2016.

[5] “Russian Military Strength.” Global Firepower. 2016.

[6] Sam Perlo-Freeman, Aude Fleurant, Pieter Wezeman, and Siemon Wezeman. “Trends in World Military Expenditure, 2015.” SIPRI Fact Sheet- Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, 2016, 4.

[7] Trenin, The Revival of the Russian Bear

[8] Adam Taylor. “That time Ukraine tried to join NATO — and NATO said no.” Washington Post, September 4, 2014.

[9] “Post-Mortem on Europe’s First War of the 21st Century.” Centre for European Policy Studies Policy Brief, no. 167

[10] John Dunlop. “Aleksandr Dugin’s Foundations of Geopolitics.” Demokratizatsiya: The Journal of       Post-Soviet Democratization, no. 41 (January 31, 2004): 1.

[11] Ibid., 2-8.

[12] Henry Meyer and Onur Ant. “The One Russian Linking Putin, Erdogan and Trump.” Bloomberg,        February 2, 2017.

[13] Dunlop. Aleksandr Dugin’s Foundations of Geopolitics. 12.

[14] Julian Borger. “Finland says it is nearing security deal with US amid concerns over Russia.” The         Guardian, August 22, 2016.

[15] Tuomas Forsell and Jussi Rosendahl. “Estonia, Finland say Russia entered airspace before U.S. defense pact.” Reuters. October 7, 2016.

[16] Rebecca Flood. “Finland warns Russia is becoming ‘more aggressive’ with nuclear power threat.” The Express UK, September 1, 2016.

[17] “Russia moves toward open annexation of Abkhazi, South Ossetia.” Eurasia Daily Monitor 5, no. 74. April 18, 2008.

[18] Barry. “Putin Reclaims Crimea for Russia and Bitterly Denounces the West.”

[19]“The Soviet-Finnish War, 1939-1940.” Military Review, July 1941, 1-16.

[20] “Swedish towns told to ‘make preparations regarding the threat of war and conflict’ with Russia.” The Telegraph, December 15, 2016.

[21] “Majority of Finns back Swedish military union.” The Local. March 24, 2014.

[22] Verkkouutiset explained: The people willing to join NATO, if the state leadership so wishes.” Verkkouutiset. March 25, 2014.

[23] “Swedish centre right in favour of NATO membership.” Reuters. October 9, 2015.

[24] “Signatures of Partnership for Peace Framework Document.” NATO. January 10, 2012.

[25] “Partnership for Peace programme.” NATO. April 7, 2016.

[26] Gabriela Baczynska. “Wary of Russia, Sweden and Finland sit at NATO top table.” Reuters. July 8, 2016.

[27] Suvi Turtiainen. “Sweden and Finland Face Their Russian Fears.” Die Welt (The World, German). April 9, 2014.

[28] Ivanna Kottasova. “These NATO countries are not spending their fair share on defense.” CNN.com. July 8, 2016.

[29] Ibid.

[30] “Just Visiting: Russian aggression is pushing Finland and Sweden towards NATO.” The Economist, July 7, 2016.

Featured Image: Soldiers from Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, the U.K. and the U.S. conduct a convoy June 10 into the field-training portion of Exercise Saber Strike. (Latvian MoD/Gatis Diezins)

Sea Control 138: CAPT Klaus Mommsen (ret.) on Russia’s Navy: Potemkin or Power Projection?

By Matthew Merighi

Join the latest episode of Sea Control for a conversation with Captain Klaus Mommsen (ret.) of the German Navy to talk about the Russian Navy and its latest developments.

Download Sea Control 138 – Russia’s Navy: Potemkin or Power Projection?

The transcript of the conversation between Captain Mommsen (KM) and guest host from the University of Kiel, Roger Hilton (RH), begins below. This transcript has been edited for length and clarity. Special thanks to Associate Producer Ryan Uljua for helping produce this episode and Assistant Producer Valtteri Tamminen for creating the transcript.

RH– Hello CIMSEC listeners and readers, my name is Roger Hilton, a nonresident academic fellow for the Institute for Security Policy at the University of Kiel, welcoming you all back for another Sea Control episode. Before diving into our material today, it is my pleasure to introduce our listeners to the Kiel Seapower Series, with a wealth of information and resources, be sure to visit their website at kielseapowerseries.com for all your information on maritime security.

If you are an enthusiastic follower of international relations, or even a fair weather observer, it is hard to ignore the success being heaved on Russia’s current foreign policy, and of course it’s grandmaster, President Vladimir Putin. From their cyber prowess, to their acute intervention in the middle east theater, it seems the Kremlin is unbeatable at the moment. Amidst the blitz of publicity, any survey of Russia’s power projection would be incomplete without a survey of their naval forces.

Here with us today is retired German Navy Captain Klaus Mommsen, who will help us establish if Russia’s navy is a force to advance their great power aspirations, or merely a Potemkin projection. His contribution in the Routledge Handbook of Naval Strategy and Security provides a succinct description of Russia’s naval history, as well as an analysis of its strengths and weaknesses.  

Captain Mommsen is a graduate of the Military Academy of the German Armed Forces as well as the Canadian Command and Staff College, after which he spent most of his career in naval intelligence, both as an analyst and in leading staff functions. He has also contributed to Marine Forum, the monthly magazine of the German Maritime Institute for 25 now. Finally, he’s also the author of a book on the history of Israeli Navy. Klaus, it’s a pleasure for you to be with us today.

KM– Good morning Roger, thanks for having me on your podcast.

RH–  Based on their impact and growing geopolitical influence abroad, your piece in the Routledge Handbook contrasts this with a sobering perception of their naval capabilities, both in piece and war time, and frankly provides a bleak outlook for the future. History confirms that Russia’s stage prop is a mixture of a siege mentality perception toward foreigners and the need to dominate their near abroad to guarantee their security. Which is manifested with the use of hard power tactics as we’ve seen recently in Georgia and Ukraine? And before diving into more detail, could you briefly describe how the current military maritime order is divided?

KM-Well the Russians can certainly navigate beyond the green water which means inland waterways or brown water which means coastal waters, to the blue oceans, so they have a blue water capability that makes them a blue water navy. They can send task groups or forces all around the world, even come back to combined exercises with friendly navies such as India. So they have a global reach but they do not have the capabilities for power projection. Russia in my opinion, and to my definition, is not a sea power, not using the navy to protect its global trade routes, its sea line of communications outside its regional borders, and with the exception of Syria, has never used the sea beyond mere presence and to actively intervene in conflicts abroad.

RH– When you talk about pure power projection, obviously the only country that has true global reach is the United States. But within this different category you have multi-regional power projectors, like Russia, India, Italy, Spain, and Brazil. Could you go into a little bit more detail about multi-region power projection?

KM– The Russians are forced to be a multi-region power projector because Russia spans several regions, but the are not connected regions. Some people would argue that the recent deployment of the carrier Kuznetsov, was a power projection from the sea. It was not. It was totally redundant. Ground based aircraft did the work. They flew much over 10,000 sorties over Syria, but the Kuznetsov only a couple of hundred during the whole three months.

Just take the sortie rates of other navies, aircraft carriers, the new U.S. Navy carrier Ford will allow for a sortie rate of up to 207 sorties a day. The Nimitz in one exercise managed 197, the French carrier Charles de Gaulle is capable of 100. The Kuznetov, some analyst say that they might generate up to 30 sorties a day and not on a sustained level.

Other navies are operating globally and are also during power projection, the French do it, the British Royal Navy does it, the Indian Navy is just a regional navy, they are not really operating out of region. The same goes for some navies in South America which have blue water capabilities just because they have to deal with large areas of the Southern Atlantic or the pacific. That is not for the region, and not for the Russians.

RH- Klaus, thank you so much for actually distinguishing that a lot of their power projection in Syria was as a result of their Air force sorties and not their naval capabilities. It is often lost in the discussion. Can you quickly get into the organization of the Russian Navy? Specifically what are its priorities and areas of interest, and its current capabilities?

KM– It is currently organized into four fleets. The Northern Fleet in the Kola Peninsula, the Baltic Fleet based in the Gulf of Finland and in the Kaliningrad oblast. The Black Sea Fleet focused on Sevastopol, in now Russian Crimea and Novosibirsk and the Pacific Fleet in Vladivostok and Petropadstok. And then they have a fifth fleet which basically is a flotilla, they call it the Caspian Sea Flotilla, which is locked in the caspian sea. There are some inner water ways where they can transfer ships back and forth, but it is basically not out of region. The current focus is on the Arctic, with its vast resources, and on Western Europe and NATO. And in the southwest with the Black Sea being a jumpboard to the Mediterranean and the Middle East. That is also the only area where Russia sees wide possibilities to strengthen it political or military influence.

RH- With that goal in mind of strengthening its influence, what kind of hardware and capabilities do the four fleets and the Caspian flotilla utilize right now to pursue their objectives?

KM– They have very old warships and weapons systems, and very modern ones. Most of their arsenal is more or less outdated with many ships 30 or more years old. Modernization efforts are underway with emphasis on blue water capable vessels, such as frigates and submarines, which also are useful in regional waters.

The future sees new destroyers, cruiser refurbishment and even a new aircraft carrier, but we are talking decades to come. Progress is slow. The weapons systems are being modernized, currently they have new missiles in their arsenal. We all noticed the test firing and demonstration of their Kalibr cruise missiles from the Caspian sea or the Mediterranean to Syrian targets.

Generally the progress of modernization is very slow, and you mentioned Potemkin. The government announces huge progress with more than 80 warships commissioned in 2016. That was meant for the Russian people, with more than 70 of those warships being auxiliaries such as harbor tugs or diver support vessels, small boats. And some tend to just mention numbers in comparing navies, say they have 11 aircraft carriers vs just one. They have 60 destroyers, the Russians have just eight, yet these numbers do not count, it is the capabilities that count.

RH– Again Klaus, an excellent observation that it is not the numbers that are important as much as the modernization and capabilities at the disposal of the Russian navy. Moving on to their naval history, anyone who’s ever visited Russia knows that it’s known for its harsh winters and frozen waterway paths which proves to be a strategic disadvantage. Could you go into detail a little bit about how the geography has vexed the composition of the Russian Navy?

KM- The whole geography makes Russia landlocked. It is only a few months where sea passage is viable. Under St. Peter, the only viable seaport was Arkhangelsk at the White Seas, accessible only a few months a year. With inland trades, very little developed, you can imagine that no one is going by horse from Moscow to the far east. Czar Peter naturally focused on sea trade. He founded St Petersburg, he saw the Baltic as an access route to sea trade. He had a large commercial fleet, and a new Baltic sea port built at St Petersburg to and to protect these new assets he established a Russian Navy. By the way that is exactly what Mahan had in mind, he said to be a sea power you have to have a commercial fleet and a navy to support it, protect it. So Czar Peter followed Mahan’s aspect.

And going further down in history, 50 years later, Catherine looked south. She secured Crimea, founded Sevastopol, and got an access to the Mediterranean. Ice free all year, though she never managed to get hold of the Turkish Strait, we will come to that later. In 1860, Vladivostok in the far east was added and became a major Asia hub for trade. And only in 1916, Murmansk, mostly ice free due to the gulf stream, was available to the Russian commercial fleet and naval fleet. All these naval fleets created at these directions, to the west, to the north, to the southwest to the east, fulfilled merely regional missions. It’s huge distances forbade any combined operations, they tried it once during the Russo-Japanese war but failed, they deployed the Baltic Fleet all the way to Japan.

RH– I mean there is no doubt that it was a cataclysmic failure for the Russian Navy in the early 20th century when they embarked on that mission. We’ve established the principal reason for the expansion of the Russian Navy was primarily financial gain under Peter. On the Treaty of Montreux which regulated the Turkish straits, could you go into detail a little bit about why this is so important and how it impacts Russian Navy posture?

KM- Some people said that the Treaty of Montreux gives the Turkish control of the Turkish straits. It controls whoever is going in or out of the Black Sea, and regulates the passage of warships. It also restricts the numbers and times that goes for non-Black Sea residents as well as those inside the Black Sea. So Russia also has limitations in deploying its fleet. For example, no submarines may pass submerged, and no aircraft carriers are allowed to pass, even Russian ones. Which by the way lead to the designation of the Admiral Kuznetsov, which was built in the Black Sea in Ukraine, as a flight deck cruiser, not an aircraft carrier. Right now, the Russians stick to the Treaty of Montreux, even though it is restricting their own moves. They see it as a tool to protect their own territory. It is more important to them to keep others out of the Black Sea than to use it for themselves for out-of-area deployments, into the Mediterranean or elsewhere.

RH– Undoubtedly Klaus, everything you mentioned is valid but it is important to also assess the redistribution of maritime power with new NATO states including Romania and Bulgaria, and obviously Georgia aggressively looking to join NATO. So it puts a lot of pressure on the Russian Navy in Sevastopol due to these geopolitical factors. One last analogy that would be interesting to listeners, is the comparison between as Rome as a land power and Carthage as a sea power. Is this an accurate comparison at all of Russia?

KM– Not really, Rome acted as a land power, but geographically it was not forced to do so. Rome had an outspoken maritime geostrategic location with the Italian peninsula dominating the Mediterranean, they could have dominated the Mediterranean but they focused on land power. Russia on the contrary is landlocked with very few access points to the open sea.

RH– It’s beneficial for you to clarify as it is an analogy that is often promoted inside of Russian media sources. Moving on to the USSR, the emergence of the Soviet Navy and its red fleet, apparently from your text did not change or waiver that much from Imperial Russia. Again what was its existential purpose moving forward?

KM– Primarily to support land forces and for securing sea supply routes and protecting the seaside flank.

RH- So like you said, even during the Soviet times, at its nascent beginning, it didn’t possess the capability to assume a more defensive posture?

KM- An offensive posture, yes, but for the navy just posture. Except for the developments of the nuclear ballistic missile submarines, the so called bastion concept, defense of the homeland was dominating and has been dominating today. Increased naval presence abroad is part of that but just that presence is not combat presence. Once in awhile they use it for political bullying.

RH- Its great you were able to bring up the bastion concept because it really reinforces Russia’s siege mentality perception of foreigners as well as their need to dominate in the near abroad. An interesting focus comes with the major changes that took place under Admiral Sergei Gorshkov who was in charge of the Soviet Navy from 1956 to 1985. Its referred to as the golden age, could you provide details or elaborate on what major reforms took place under his tenure?

KM- Some people tend to see this as the Soviet Navy, the red fleet moving from the home waters to the oceans as an offensive posture. Basically, the thought behind it was still defensive in nature, with increasing range of weapons developed, nuclear missiles, submarine launched nuclear missiles, aircraft carriers, they could not wait in home waters for the enemy to arrive there. They had to leave home waters to challenge the enemy already embarked, the enemy meaning the U.S. and NATO. This could be understood as the strengthening of offensive capabilities.

They created a deeply layered line of defense. Starting in the open Atlantic with submarines and aircraft, antisubmarine warfare aircraft and cruisers with long-range missiles. All these assets were to counter U.S. carrier strike groups and the ballistic missile submarines to keep them away, out of reach of the Russian homeland, to protect the motherland’s coasts, ports, and naval bases. The first layer out in the Atlantic, the second layer just north of the North Cape, then came the Barents Sea, and then came protection of their own ballistic missile submarines as a second strike capability, which were basically holed up in the Kara Sea in the arctic waters, out of reach for the U.S. forces.

RH– I think we would both agree that Peter the Great would be  envious of Russia’s ability at this time to create such strategic depth while encountering a much more advanced western adversary. Against this backdrop, what would you suggest is the main takeaway from the USSR’s experience at sea?

KM- Their main mission was to protect the core of Russia. They had no real responsibility for maritime offensive operations. The flank protection of land operations was dominating. Offensive concepts of operations were part of the game. Submarines had to cut off NATO’s supply lines, again with the aim to favor their own land forces in Europe. In previous operations to gain the Baltic approaches, they were meant to open up lanes to the North Sea and North Atlantic and use Baltic rear facilities for logistics and repairs for ships of the northern fleet operating there. Ships like Kiev-class aircraft carriers were to facilitate quick shifts of focus in amphibious operations, just operations off the coast.

They were not meant for power projection in other reaches of the world. The overall aim was not to expand their operations to the world oceans, they were just integrating the oceans into their own homeland defense.

RH- Klaus, the last thing as we dive back into history, as they routinely say we’re entering a new Cold War. Would you say that the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962 was arguable was arguably the greatest success of the Soviet Navy?

KM- It was definitely the greatest achievement in logistics operations. 86 navy civilian ships made 183 trips, transported 42,000 soldiers, and 230 tons of cargo to Cuba. That was a logistic operation. Again, they avoided military confrontation, the navy was insufficient to challenge the U.S. at sea. Especially when far away from home. So with only the nuclear option left, tThey eventually withdrew and backed down.

RH- Moving on now to the post- Soviet Navy, obviously a lot changed with its collapse and the Russian Navy was left in a dilapidated state. With the emergence of the new independent republics came the loss of basing rights, for example. What were some of the major operational consequences that the Russian Federation had to deal with as a result of the loss of basing rights and territory?

KM- They have to just look at the map to see that they lost major parts of the Baltic and Black Sea coast. In the Baltic they were driven back to the Gulf of Finland which is the most eastern part and the Kaliningrad enclave, that is all that was left. All of the Baltic state coast was gone. The same happened in the Black Sea, the Crimea went to the Ukraine and Georgia became independent. That left Russia a small portion of the Black Sea coast focused around the Novorossiysk. For two decades they made a deal with Sevastopol leasing agreements with Ukraine so they could stay and use Sevastopol in the Black Sea. What was gone also was all the shipyards in Ukraine. That was where large combat ships, including aircraft carrier,s were built. They were gone, and Russia was financially broke. The shipyard industry had completely refocused, they had no more subcontractors in former Warsaw pact states, except Ukraine which remained the sole manufacturer for gas turbines. A serious mistake to be felt after 2014.

What augmented it was the access to western technology and lack of funds, along with neglected indigenous development. More than half of their submarines were decommissioned, and large surface ships had to be laid up. They had no money to keep them afloat, no personnel to man them. Most ship engineers came from the Baltic soviet republics. They were gone out of country. They were forced to make due with a small combat corps. Just a few ships which they put all effort into keeping them combat ready. But basically they remained merely for coastal defense.

RH- There is no doubt after reading your text that after the collapse of the USSR, their competency to build ships vanished completely. But what is more exposed today I think you’ll agree is the indigenous development program and their overt reliance reliance on foreigners for both equipment and experience. Before we get into the strategic considerations and their objectives, there was a brief moment of rapprochement of former enemies joined in multilateral naval exercises. Today this is something that seems so far fetched, but maybe you can go into detail about this initiative that was taken immediately after the collapse of the USSR.

KM- The Yeltsin Russia was wise enough to see that it had no chance to survive in continuing confrontation with the west. Confrontation with the west had ruined it financially. Reagan had said that the Star Wars program had brought them to their limits and over their limits. So Yeltsin sought to engage with the west. The navies also did some programs, combined annual exercises with France, the U.K. and the U.S., where they rotated posting these exercises through the four countries. They had polar exercises with Norway, and they even joined the BALTOPS exercise, which before had been a U.S. hosted exercise for only NATO partners. They even joined NATO counter-terror operation Active Endeavor in the Mediterranean until approximately 2008.

RH- The third section of your piece talks about the strategic reconsiderations of Russia, the Russian Navy, and their motivation to get back to the oceans. You single out two seminal moments for this reformation of doctrine. One is the March 2000 assumption of the Russian presidency by Vladimir Putin and the subsequent introduction of the 2010 Military Doctrine of the Russian Federation, which put an emphasis on transport routes for energy resources. What should be known about these two elements?

KM-When Putin came to power in 2000, he first continued the friendly relationship with the west, including all the naval programs. The 2010 military doctrine was after Georgia, which was in 2008. The doctrine puts an emphasis on the arctic. Other sea lines of communication are out of reach for the Russian Navy, at least for sustained operations under real threat. They did do anti-piracy operations off the Horn of Africa, but with the emerging Mediterranean squadron, they had to skip that due to a lack of ships. Controlling sea lines of communication until today is not a mission for the Russian navy. They do not have the capabilities to do it globally. The arctic yes, because that is off their own coastline, some chokepoints possibly, but with limits to resources.

RH-  What then was the overarching objective of the Putin regime’s strategic reconsideration?

KM- To paraphrase, to make Russia great again. He does not like Russia to be called a regional power with just nukes. He does not want to be junior partner in multinational U.S.-led operations or world politic. He wants Russia accepted as a superpower, also at sea on the oceans. By the way, that was the main reason for the Kuznetsov deployment to Syria. To demonstrate they have the capabilities in a conflict, Syria, that has no maritime dimension at all. Together with the Admiral Kuznetsov, the missile cruiser Pyotr Velikiy was deployed to Syria. But it was not mentioned a single time in any general staff briefings. Even the Kuznezov after flying some initial sorties, combat sorties, was totally out of reporting from general staff briefings for two months.

RH- Klaus, everything you said is very valid, anybody who was following Russia’s naval intervention must take the deployment of their aircraft carrier with a bit of salt, as photos of it around England with a tug for in the event that it would break down really demonstrated that maybe it wasn’t such a power projection tool as we thought, and how outdated it was to shoot off its planes for its sorties. Do you have any commentary about the flotillas and their less-than permanent presence far from home bases?

KM- The new flotilla concept for out-of-area presence was announced in 2012 and said it would create permanent squadrons in several places around the world. The first one was the Mediterranean squadron to be set up and commanded and controlled from the Black Sea Fleet. They had in mind that the Mediterranean squadron would be comprised of new frigates and submarines that were under construction then and were thought to be delivered and commissioned around 2014 or even earlier. They were centered around the Syrian base of Tartus for logistics. At that time they did not see the detrimental effects of the Ukraine crisis, which only developed in 2014.

And the embargoes, which combined with homemade deficiencies in naval shipbuilding, wrecked all of their ambitions for out of area deployment. Officially they even had to use other fleets to back up for the lack of the Black Sea Fleet. Northern Fleet and Baltic Fleet units had to deploy to the Mediterranean just to act with the Mediterranean squadron which did not do any operations. They just sat there with naval presence. Even the Pacific Fleet had deployed its missile cruiser Varyag for some time to be part of the Mediterranean squadron. In official statements I do not see a limited Black Sea Fleet. For them, the required use of Northern Fleet, Black Sea, Baltic Fleet, and even Pacific ships was just another demonstration of the growing capabilities for interfleet operations.

RH- Despite all of these official statements you would assume it’s very misleading to describe them as having high operational interfleet operations though right?

KM- Yes.

RH-  It’s still another example of Potemkin projection. As you said in principle, the potential creation of the standing task force for out-o- area operations has great merit. But unsurprisingly it appears that Russia is far removed from this capability. What has contributed to this impotent initiative?

KM- The permanent out-of-area squadrons are great for political purposes including propaganda meant for the Russian people, not the whole world. Naval presence as they had exercised it in the 1960s and 1970s in the Mediterranean was again to become a tool for strengthening political influence, especially in an unstable region as the Middle East after the Arab Spring. That’s why they chose the first permanent squadron to be set up in the Mediterranean. In theory the combat capabilities don’t matter there. It does not matter if three or four or five destroyers are there or just one. The problem for the whole permanent squadron concept is that they have no sea basing concept. They need access to shore facilities and they lack, of course, the required number of ships.

RH- As you said earlier, correct me if I’m wrong, but the only permanent base that Russia has access to is in Tartus, Syria, which is essentially a vassal state now of the Kremlin. In principle Vietnam has agreed, but there are other states who are hesitant about providing permanent presence for the Russian Navy. Do you have any commentary to add to this?

KM- Vietnam is the strongest candidate and they have no problems with the Russians replenishing in Cam Ranh Bay. Only they are not interested in the sharing of sovereignty, which the Russians want. They want their own part of the port where they have full control. All permanent squadrons would need some logistical support in the region where they are to operate, so they have been courting Vietnam. They talked to Cuba, they talked to equatorial Guinea, they talked to Mozambique, they talked to Yemen, even contemplated setting out on a port on the island of Socotra. They are even looking now, in my opinion, at a possible Syrian post asset option. They even courted Cyprus which said “no, no we don’t like it.” Currently in recent weeks they focused on Libya, in Benghazi or Tobruk, and are courting the east Libyan renegade government of Field Marshal Haftar. 

RH- Obviously their mediation with the potential government in Haftar reinforces their delinquent activity in the political process about assuming peace. As you said I think it’s most likely that that might be the second best option after Tartus if Assad is able to hold on.

KM- When the Kuznetsov had ended its deployment to Syria, it even made a short stop off Tobruk to welcome Haftar on board.

RH- If I remember correctly I think he had a video link with Defense Minister Shoigu. Getting back to the countries they have been courting, it’s not exactly the most attractive list of modernized and well-funded countries.

Back in the post Georgia conflict in 2008, obviously with their intervention they now occupy 20 percent of the territory, especially in Abkhazia and the port of Sokhumi, do you have any commentary to add to that rapprochement that was officially terminated?

KM- Yes it was officially terminated, but the problem was there were not real sanctions. We said we will not exercise with you anymore and military cooperation programs were terminated. But after two or three years relations were slowly returning to normal, when Putin came to power again. After that lack of Western response to the Georgian crisis, Putin probably thought that he could get away with Crimea. He just had to overcome a 2-3 year lean period and everything would slowly return to normal. He would have Crimea and would have won.

RH- It was definitely a dangerous precedent set by the international community not responding more forcefully to the centrally annexed territory of Georgia. As we established now, financial resources are scarce in Russia, they lack competency to manage shipbuilding, and there is rampant misuse of the budget. What would you say is the current state of affairs and progress of the 2020 state-sponsored shipbuilding program?

KM- The current state is in dire straits. They lack money, they have sanctions in place, the shipbuilding industry is down, subcontractors are not working anymore. While everyone is focused on non delivery of Ukrainian gas turbines, there are many other items lacking. It goes from air conditioning, convenience items, diesel engines, they got German engines from German MTU, now they are looking for China which has been building MTU engines under a license agreement. But those engines are 1980s technological standard so nobody cares whether they get them or not.

RH- Hardly a powerhouse on the sea if they are searching for 1980s engines…

KM- Yeah. Subcontractors cannot deliver systems, but that is not sanctioned necessarily. Just recently there was a report that the commissioning of two modern frigates has been delayed because a subcontractor cannot deliver the Russian-made air defense systems for them. They lack skilled workers. The shipyard infrastructure is degrading. There is confused planning. They use overly confident data brought in to save money or to get contracts, and then afterwards have to say “we calculated all wrong” which leads to more delays. They have corrupt and incompetent bosses, managers. And the Russian Ministry is very reluctant or not at all paying for military contracts. They have no quality controls. Just today there was news that Vympel shipyard has to pay fines for delivering faulty diesel engines for interceptor craft. Once in St. Petersburg one of the most renowned shipyards had to fire its director for inability to complete 3 arctic support ships. And completing them in the other shipyard, Kaliningrad, where the situation is not much better by the way. On the other hand. The Admiralty shipyard in St Petersburg delivered all six Kilo Submarines to Vietnam on time. One reason was most probably they had been paid on time.

RH- One sliver of hope most likely in the native shipyard industry, as we said the shipyards are incapable of producing indigenous replacements that substitute for sanctions post Crimea. Despite the apparent amicability between President Trump and President Putin, it looks as if the honeymoon is over. What could they take away in terms of the shipyard industry with this relationship?

KM- They used to announce great achievements, saying that in 2017 we will have new gas turbines to build into our new frigates, but only very few indigenous systems have made it to serious production. There are year-long delays, the gas turbines announced for this year are more likely to be available in 2019. And the problem is not only to replace sanctioned goods, but lack of quality with their very own weapons systems.

RH- Klaus, the sum total of your analysis paints an ugly picture moving forward for the Russian Navy. Despite this, you stated in the book that the Navy can expect greater autonomy, flexibility with higher sea endurance, and better sustainability with out -of-area operations. Based on the given strengths, financial resources, and less-than capable industrial complex, what is the likelihood that this will be achieved?

KM- I do not see them out of the doldrums anytime soon. To the contrary, in my opinion, economic shortfalls will continue to limit defense spending and delay nearly all shipbuilding projects. Just have a look at the oil prices. They are much too dependent on oil exports and natural resource exports and energy exports. The prices are much below what they need to sustain their economy. Just recently they announced slashing the fiscal year defense budget by 25 percent compared with 2016. Certainly this is not driven by a goodwill signal for arms reduction, but by economic shortfalls. We will continue to see several year delays to nearly all shipbuilding programs, at least complex major combat ships. They will roll out small port/harbor tugs and small boats. Publicly, meaning to their own people, they will claim huge successes. In reality they will basically stay where they are.

For the Russian Navy that means that they will stay in the marginal seas, they will be defending the motherland, and that will remain the main mission. There will be out-of-area operations, but merely in the form of cruises, no power projection from the sea. Programs do not perceive a major seabasing capability, which is required for projecting power from the sea.

RH- Well Klaus, based on our working hypothesis about if the Russian Navy was either a Potemkin or power projection, it seems quite evident that it is more Potemkin than anything. If you were advising Russian President Putin, what priorities would you set, and the final operational takeaway for assessing the Russian Navy with great power aspirations?

KM- If I were Putin, I would for the Navy focus on homeland defense and marginal seas. I would stop bullying neighbors, which can only lead to an arms race that Russia has no chance to win. I would try to mend broken ties. The instruments for dialogue with NATO are still in place, and in some fields, far from public view, Russia is even talking to NATO nations. Just yesterday, in Boston in the U.S., the Arctic Coast Guard Forum which includes Canada, Finland, Greenland, Denmark, Iceland, Norway, Russia, Sweden and the U.S. signed a doctrine of tactics and information sharing for operations in arctic waters. So Russia is signing a document, a protocol for combined operations with NATO nations. That is worthwhile remembering. Putin, and we all should realize that Russia is a political superpower with its role in the the UN Security Council, militarily is a regional power, spanning several regions from the Pacific to the Atlantic and to the south. It is made a global power only by nukes. Except for maybe shows of force with global deployments, you will not see any power projection from the sea by Russia.

RH- Just to clarify for readers and listeners regarding the recent contract signed with arctic powers, both Finland or Sweden aren’t NATO members. Klaus, again, undoubtedly the current Russian statecraft shows no sign of being diminished. it is critical to never overlook their Potemkin posture on the high seas. There’s a litany of facts mentioned that range from a lack of competencies, insufficient funds, and incompetent management just to name a few. Captain Mommsen, thanks again for providing such a timely description on the Russian Navy. If you want to follow up on this podcast or other pressing maritime issues, you can find the Routledge Handbook of Naval Strategy and Security online, and most importantly don’t forget to check out the official Kiel Seapower website for all the latest updates on marine security issues. As usual, listeners, I will be back shortly to discuss more maritime issues. From the Institute for Security Policy at the University of Kiel, I’m Roger Hilton saying moin moin and farewell. Thanks everybody.

Klaus Mommsen was born in 1948. In 1968, he joined the German Navy where after graduating he became a naval aviator. In 1982, he attended the Canadian Forces Command and Staff College. His subsequent career saw him mostly employed with military (both naval and joint) intelligence. In 2002, he retired as Captain (Navy) from his last posting as Deputy Chief of Staff (Intelligence) of the German Fleet. As early as 1992, Mommsen started writing for the German naval magazine MarineForum (which until today lists him as editor foreign navies) and since has become a renowned German columnist for international naval affairs. He is married and lives in Germany, near Bonn.

Roger Hilton is a nonresident academic fellow for the Institute for Security Policy at the University of Kiel.

The NATO of the New North

From author Ian Birdwell comes The Changing Arctic, a column focusing on the unique security challenges presented by the increasingly permissive environment in the High North. The Changing Arctic examines legal precedents, rival claimants, and possible resolutions for disputes among the Arctic nations, as well as the economic implications of accessing the region’s plentiful resources.

By Ian Birdwell

Introduction

NATO is justifiably focused on dissuading Russian aggression, especially given the Federation’s aggressive actions over the past two years in the region. However, there is growing concern for NATO’s northern flank: the Arctic Ocean and far northern Atlantic. The warming of global temperatures presents new challenges related to rising sea levels to navies like the United States,’1 but the retreat of ice in the Arctic Ocean poses a new risk as an avenue to exploit NATO’s flank in Europe. Though some budding conversation determining NATO’s role in defending Arctic nations like Norway from new security challenges is occurring,2 NATO’s gaze remains focused on ground threats throughout Eastern Europe. Despite the persistence of NATO’s strategic goals of deterrence and cooperation, a warmer Arctic demands the attention of NATO powers to preserve regional stability. Looking toward the role NATO could play in maintaining an Arctic balance of power into the future, it is important to acknowledge NATO’s regional hurdles and the strategies the alliance could employ to overcome them.
NATO’s goal has always been deterrence through mutual defense and cooperation between member state militaries, but this has never rung quite as clear among its member states as it has since the onset of the ongoing Ukrainian crisis. The crisis, if not instigated by the Russian Federation, certainly advances, exacerbated by the comments of Russian officials and state actions. Since then, Eastern European NATO states have clamored for NATO support in counteracting Russian aggression. Vladimir Putin’s regime regularly draws international ire for their actions moving to exploit Arctic oil resources, the effects those operations may have on surrounding communities, and the measures against those protesting oil exploration.3 For the Russian Federation, the Arctic Ocean represents more than just a birthplace of new oil revenues and potential superpower status, it is one of the only areas of the world were its navy may be able to operate more effectively than NATO.

Russia’s Oil and Gas Activities in the Arctic (Malte Humpert/The Arctic Institute)

The Russian Northern Fleet possesses a slight advantage over NATO forces in several crucial areas, including a slight and recent increase in submarine warfare capabilities,4 a focus on constructing Arctic naval installations,5 and a plethora of icebreakers compared to NATO.6 Russian forces certainly retain a regional upper hand at the moment yet the aged nature of their equipment belays an opportunity for NATO to deter Russian regional aggression if action is swiftly taken. Finally, to accommodate necessary actions to dissuade aggression, the alliance must gather the funding to make readiness plans a reality, which could become a difficult prospect. Most NATO members overlook the requirement to contribute two percent of national GDP towards military operations, leaving other NATO states like the United States to fit the bill.7 With a new American administration critical of NATO’s funding woes, member states may grow concerned NATO capital will go toward the defense of Eastern European states or other areas with higher visibility.8

Arctic Adaptation

NATO possesses the capability to address and overcome the challenges laid before it. A promising step to move NATO toward readiness for Arctic operations would be to expand the frequency of training activities in the High North. While the norm for nations with Arctic waters like Canada,9 Norway, and the United States,10 the inclusion of non-Arctic NATO powers in a variety of training exercises could prove pivotal in deterring aggression within the Arctic. This past summer, NATO held an anti-submarine warfare exercise called Dynamic Mongoose in the Norwegian Sea that included vessels from eight alliance members.11 With other operations planned for later this year,12 increasing the frequency of such operations, the variety of weather conditions faced, and diversifying into other types of exercises such as amphibious assault drills will allow NATO to become acclimated to regional obstacles and gain the flexibility to respond to threats.

The costlier long-term readiness goal involves the expansion of ports close to or within the Arctic Circle to house larger vessels and the construction of new facilities. Accomplishing this task would help close Russia’s geographic and logistical advantages while assisting troops in becoming acclimated to the region’s weather conditions. Moreover, those expanded ports hold the potential to facilitate an increase in commercial traffic, provide a base for scientific research vessels, and contribute to the logistical support of search and rescue operations – all valuable assets for nations wishing to study a changing global climate. For these reasons, the Army Corps of Engineers in the U.S. investigated deepening the Port of Nome.13 Dredging and enlarging ports in the region offer a boon to NATO’s defense goals while boosting Arctic infrastructure for other non-military functions.

The last and largest task for NATO powers concerned about Russian Arctic capabilities is providing the funding necessary to meet their NATO obligations. Each NATO nation with Arctic borders proffers in various declarations their preferred method to move forward with Arctic defense is to cooperate with close allies to fill gaps in their defenses.14 If Canada, Denmark, and Norway,15 NATO Arctic powers currently shy of their NATO percentage pledges, increase their military funding closer to the required two percent of national GDP, then it becomes easier for NATO to achieve its overarching security goals within and outside of the Arctic region.

Conclusion

NATO transformed from a tool bolstering European Defense in the early days of the Cold War into an alliance pulled in several directions in the name of collective security. Today NATO faces a familiar sight, a Europe pressured by an aggressive Russia. Yet as NATO reinforces its easternmost borders, the Russian Federation focuses on a new, warming frontier that could provide a new threat axis where Russia enjoys preeminence.

Ian Birdwell holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Government and International Politics from George Mason University.

References

1. Myers, Meghann “Rising oceans threaten to submerge 128 military bases:report” Navy Times. July 29, 2016 https://www.navytimes.com/story/military/2016/07/29/rising-oceans-threaten-submerge-18-military-bases-report/87657780/

2. Dearden, Lizzie “Norway urges Donald Trump to announce clear policy on Russia amid fears of military activity in Arctic” Independent December 3, 2016 http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/europe/donald-trump-russia-vladimir-putin-norway-nato-clear-policy-arctic-bases-submarines-military-a7453581.html

3. Luhn, Alec “Arctic oil rush: Nenet’s livelihood and habitat at risk from oil spills” The Guardian December 23, 2016 https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2016/dec/23/arctic-oil-rush-nenets-livelihood-and-habitat-at-risk-from-oil-spills

4. Sonne, Paul “Russia’s Military sophistication in the Arctic sends echoes of the Cold War” The Wall Street Journal October 4, 2016 http://www.wsj.com/articles/russia-upgrades-military-prowess-in-arctic-1475624748

5. Einhorn, Catrin, Hannah Fairfield, and Tim Wallace “Russia rearms for a new era” New York Times December 24, 2015 http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2015/12/24/world/asia/russia-arming.html

6. Snow, Shawn “Retired 4-Star: US Military ill-prepared for Arctic confrontation” Military Times December 27, 2016 http://www.militarytimes.com/articles/retired-4-star-us-military-ill-prepared-for-arctic-confrontation

7. Thomassen, Daniel “Norway faces a new era of Russian realpolitik in the Arctic” Center for International Maritime Security July 5, 2016 http://cimsec.org/norway-faces-new-era-russian-realpolitik-arctic/25984

8. Frum, David “Trump will inherit the biggest NATO buildup in Europe Since the Cold War” The Atlantic January 10, 2017

9. Pugliese, David “Canadian Forces to expand Nunavut training centre as Russia plans more bases in the Arctic” National Post February 23, 2016 http://news.nationalpost.com/news/canada/canadian-forces-to-expand-nunavut-training-centre-as-russias-plans-more-bases-in-the-arctic

10. Schehl, Matthew L. “Marines hit the arctic for largest winter exercise since the Cold War” Marine Corps Times March 2, 2016 https://www.marinecorpstimes.com/story/military/2016/03/02/marine-hit-arctic-largest-winter-exercise-since-cold-war/81161832/

11. North Atlantic Treaty Organization “NATO Launches anti-submarine warfare exercise in Norwegian Sea” June 20, 2016 NATO Press Release http://www.nato.int/cps/en/natohq/news_132596.htm?IselectedLocale=en

12. Thomassen, Daniel “Norway faces a new era of Russian realpolitik in the Arctic” Center for International Maritime Security July 5, 2016 http://cimsec.org/norway-faces-new-era-russian-realpolitik-arctic/25984

13. Zak, Annie “Port of Nome sees big growth as traversing the Arctic gets easier” Alaska Dispatch News November 24, 2016 https://www.adn.com/business-economy/2016/11/24/port-of-nome-sees-big-growth-as-traversing-the-arctic-gets-easier/

14. Wezeman, Siemon T. “Military Capabilties in the Arctic: A new cold war in the high north?” Stockholm International Peace Research Institute October 2016 https://www.sipri.org/sites/default/files/Military-capabilities-in-the-Arctic.pdf

15. North Atlantic Treaty Organization Public Diplomacy Division “Defense Expenditures of NATO Countries” North Atlantic Treaty Organization July 4, 2016 http://www.nato.int/nato_static_fl2014/assets/pdf/pdf_2016_07/20160704_160704-pr2016-116.pdf

Featured Image: U.S. Coast Guard (Patrick Kelley)

Russian Warships in Latvian Exclusive Economic Zone: Confrontational, not Unlawful

By Sean Fahey

The past months have seen a significant increase in Russian military activity across Europe, including the Baltic Sea. Last month, Admiral Michelle Howard, commander of U.S. Naval Forces Europe and Africa, and commander of NATO’s Allied Joint Force Command Naples, described the scope of Russian military activity in Europe as “precedential,” exceeding even Cold War era levels.1 The Baltic Sea, in particular, has become increasingly congested with Russian military forces operating in the region, leading to tense encounters in the air and on the water. Most notably, last April, two Russian Sukhoi SU-24 attack aircraft made repeated low-altitude passes over the USS Donald Cook, a guided missile destroyer operating in international waters in the Baltic, with several of the passes resembling “simulated attack” runs.2 Russia also recently deployed Iskander missiles, a “nuclear-capable” system with a range of over 400 miles, to Kaliningrad, the Russian enclave situated between Poland and Lithuania,3 and, last month, conducted cruise missile drills in the Baltic Sea.4 This summer, Russia is expected to conduct its “Zapad” (or “West”) Exercise in Kaliningrad and Belarus, with estimated Russian participation numbering between 70,000 and 100,000 troops.5 Some of these incidents are alarming in and of themselves; others, though seemingly routine, may be cause for concern when viewed in light of other regional Russian military activity. Context matters.

The most recent Russian military activity to draw attention in the region was the transit of three Russian warships through the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) of Latvia, a NATO member state.6 The three warships—the  corvettes Liven 551, Serpukhov 603 and Morshansk 824—were sighted four miles outside Latvia’s territorial sea, or sixteen miles from the Latvian coast. The warships were scheduled to participate in a naval parade to commemorate “Victory Day,” celebrating the end of World War II, but were redeployed prior to the parade, quite possibly in response to the destroyer USS Carney’s arrival into the Baltic Sea.7 

In isolation, the transit of the Russian vessels through the Latvian exclusive economic zone is relatively benign. In the context of Russia’s military activity in the Baltic over the past year, however, the transit can appropriately be described as “aggressive,” even “confrontational.” That said, the transit was not unlawful under international law, and this point cannot be lost in the discussion. The United States and its allies rely on the navigational freedoms protected under international law as much as the Russians, arguably more so. Promoting these freedoms is essential to ensure U.S. maritime mobility.

Under international law, coastal state sovereignty ends at the outer limit of the territorial sea and the airspace above it,8 and even this sovereignty is subject to certain navigational rights, such as the rights of “innocent passage” and “transit passage.”9 Vessels and aircraft, to include military vessels and aircraft, operating seaward of a state’s territorial sea enjoy the freedoms of navigation and overflight and other internationally lawful uses of the sea related to those freedoms.10 The U.S. position is that for military vessels, this freedom of navigation includes being able to conduct certain military activities in a state’s EEZ, such as military maneuvers, flight operations, military exercises, surveillance and intelligence gathering, and weapons testing and firing.11 

Not all nations share the U.S. view on the scope of permissible military activities in the EEZ, and instead advocate a legally and practicably untenable interpretation. This interpretation is based, in part, on an incorrect reading of Article 88 of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), which applies in the EEZ through Article 58(2).  This Article states that the high seas shall be reserved “for peaceful purposes.”12 The “peaceful purposes” language in UNCLOS, however, does not prohibit military activities in the EEZ, only those activities inconsistent with Article 2(4) of the UN Charter.13 Nevertheless, even under a restrictive interpretation, warships transiting through a coastal state’s EEZ—even with the intent to locate and surveil a foreign warship on the high seas—would still be permissible under international law. In fact, had the three Russian warships been transiting through the Latvian territorial sea (within twelve nautical miles of the coast), and even done so unannounced, this too would have been permissible under international law, so long as the vessels were properly exercising their navigational right of “innocent passage.”14

Military activities, both planned and unplanned, will continue to be conducted in the Baltic, by both Russia and NATO and its allies, for the foreseeable future. That is not a criticism; it is a statement of fact. While it is certainly appropriate—strategically critical even—to criticize and protest unwelcome, aggressive and confrontational military acts, care must be taken not to mischaracterize the lawfulness of the acts under international law, either directly or by implication. To be optimally effective in the Baltic region, NATO forces, to include those of the United States, will rely on the freedoms of navigation and overflight preserved under the law of the sea. The lawful exercise of those freedoms, particularly as it relates to military activities, must be preserved, even when their application is unpopular.

Commander Sean Fahey, United States Coast Guard, is currently assigned as the Associate Director for the Law of Maritime Operations at the Stockton Center for the Study of International Law at the U.S Naval War College in Newport, Rhode Island. He is also the Editor-in-Chief of International Law Studies. He can be reached at Sean.Fahey@usnwc.edu

The views and opinions expressed here are presented in a personal and unofficial capacity. They are not to be construed as official policy or reflecting the views of the United States Coast Guard or any other U.S. government agency. 

Footnotes

1. Andrea Shalal, Russian Naval Activity in Europe Exceeds Cold War Levels: U.S. Admiral, Reuters (Apr. 9, 2017, 11:09 AM), http://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-russia-military-idUSKBN17B0O8.

2. U.S. Department of Defense, Navy Ship Encounters Aggressive Russian Aircraft in Baltic Sea, Apr. 13, 2016, https://www.defense.gov/News/Article/Article/720536/navy-ship-encounters-aggressive-russian-aircraft-in-baltic-sea/

3. Russia Deploys Nuclear-Capable missiles in Kaliningrad, BBC News (Oct. 9, 2016), http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-37597075.

4. Damien Sharkov, Russia Begins Submarine Cruise Missile Drills in Baltic Sea, Newsweek (Apr. 10, 2017, 10:30 AM), http://www.newsweek.com/russian-baltic-sea-fleet-practices-submarine-cruise-missile-fire-581524

5. Thomas Gibbons-Neff, U.S. Shifting Forces to Monitor Large Russian Military Exercises, Officials Say, Washington Post (May 10, 2017), https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/checkpoint/wp/2017/05/10/u-s-shifting-forces-to-monitor-large-russian-military-exercises-officials-say/?utm_term=.580e19108096.

6. Caroline Mortimer, Russian Warships Spotted Just Outside Latvia’s Territorial Waters in Latest Show of Strength, Independent (May 9, 2017), http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/europe/russia-baltic-agression-navy-latvia-warships-victory-day-a7725261.html;Damien Sharkov, Latvia Spots Three Russian Warships off Sea Border, Newsweek (May 8, 2017, 12:18 PM), http://www.newsweek.com/latvia-spots-three-russian-ships-sea-border-596219; Will Stewart, Putin Sends Three Warships to Latvian Waters in the Baltic Sea in Latest challenge to NATO, Daily Mail (May 8, 2017), http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-4485604/Putin-sends-ships-Latvian-waters-challenge-NATO.html; Doug G. Ware, Russian Warships Spotted in Baltic NATO Waters, Latvia Says, UPI (May 8, 2017, 7:53 PM), http://www.upi.com/Top_News/World-News/2017/05/08/Russian-warships-spotted-in-Baltic-NATO-waters-Latvia-says/9341494285894/

7. Damien Sharkov, Latvia Spots Three Russian Warships off Sea Border, Newsweek (May 8, 2017, 12:18 PM).

8. United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, Dec. 10, 1982, 1833 U.N.T.S. 397, arts. 2-5. (Article 2(1) reads: “The sovereignty of a coastal State extends, beyond its land territory and internal waters…to an adjacent belt of sea, described as the territorial sea.” Article 2(1) reads: “This sovereignty extends to the air space above the territorial sea as well as to its bed and subsoil.”) Every State has the right to establish the breadth of its territorial sea up to twelve nautical miles from its baseline, normally the low-water line along its coast. (arts. 3-5).

9. Id., arts. 17-19, 37, 38 and 45.

10. United Nations Convention of the Law of the Sea, supra note 8, arts. 58 and 87. Though the United States has not ratified the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, the United States considers those provisions relating to the freedoms of navigation and overflight as memorializing long-standing customary international law. United States Oceans Policy, Statement by the President, March 10, 1983 (“…the United States is prepared to accept and act in accordance with the balance of interests relating to traditional uses of the oceans—such as navigation and overflight. In this respect, the United States will recognize the rights of other states in the waters off their coasts, as reflected in the Convention, so long as the rights and freedoms of the United States and others under international law are recognized by such coastal states.”) https://www.state.gov/documents/organization/143224.pdf.

11. U.S. Navy, U.S. Marine Corps & U.S. Coast Guard, NWP 1-14M/MCWP 5-12/COMDTPUB P5800.7A, The Commander’s Handbook on the Law of Naval Operations ¶ 2.6.3 (2007).

12. United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, supra note 8, Articles 58 and 88; See James Kraska, Military Operations, in The Oxford handbook of the Law of the Sea884-85 (Donald R. Rothwell, Alex G. Oude Elferink, Karen N. Scott and Tim Stephens, eds., 2015).

13. Kraska, supra note 12, at 884-85. Article 2(4) of the UN Charter reads: “All Members shall refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state, or in any other manner inconsistent with the Purposes of the United Nations.” http://www.un.org/en/sections/un-charter/chapter-i/ .

14. United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, supra note 8, arts. 17-19.

Featured Image: Russian Navy corvettes (East2West news)