Refocusing Russian Naval Doctrine: More Bluewater Operations?

Russian Navy Frigate Admiral Gorshkov
Russian Navy Frigate Admiral Gorshkov

On board the Russian Frigate Admiral of the Soviet Navy Gorshkov, President Vladimir Putin along Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin, Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu, Commander of the Navy Viktor Chirkov, and Commander of the Western Military District Anatoly Sidorov discussed the new Russian Naval Doctrine.

Russia is aiming at increasing its blue-water operations, enabling them to conduct long-range naval deployment all around the world.

According to the Kremlin, Vladimir Putin said that the new doctrine is mainly aimed at protecting Russia’s interests: “We have been updating the Russian Federation’s Marine Doctrine. This very complex document’s main aim is to provide our country with an integral, consistent and effective naval policy that will protect Russia’s interests.”

Russian President and its staff discuss the new Russian Naval Doctrine onboard the Russian Navy Frigate Admiral Gorshkov
Russian President and its staff discuss the new Russian Naval Doctrine onboard the Russian Navy Frigate Admiral Gorshkov

The two main regional areas affected by the new Russian Naval Doctrine is the Arctic and the Atlantic. Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin added during the meeting that NATO has been conducting a westward march towards Russia’s borders: “The main focus is on two areas: the Arctic and the Atlantic. The reasons for this are the following. 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.”

Admiral Kuznetsov, flagship of the Russian Navy
Admiral Kuznetsov, flagship of the Russian Navy

NATO has conducted many naval drills in the Barents Sea and in the Northern Atlantic, two regions who have a strategic importance to Russia. The powerful Northern Fleet is sailing in these waters and have done so for a while. In fact, the Northern Fleet’s only access to the Atlantic is through the Barents and the Norwegian Seas.

The Northern Fleet has been upgrading its ships to conduct more blue-water operations, making Russia able to, once again, sail anywhere in the world. Since it has more than the two-thirds of nuclear-powered ships, it puts them in first position to gain the “blue-water approved seal.”

The Arctic Joint Strategic Command, created to enhance Russia’s militarization of the Arctic, has the Northern Fleet as its main striking force. By militarizing Russia’s Arctic region, the Northern Fleet would gain easy access to both the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. Doing so would mean the Northern Fleet would be able to deploy in both oceans for a longer period.

As for the Baltic Sea Fleet, its port in Kaliningrad is one of two Russian year-round ice-free port. In fact, during the winter, the Baltic Sea Fleet is mostly docked in Baltiysk and offer the Russian Navy a naval presence in the Baltic Sea. Since the Baltic States joined NATO in the mid-2000s, the Fleet have gained importance in protecting Russian interests against NATO in the region. That said, the Baltic Sea Fleet will most likely never receive the “blue-water approved seal” but will upgrade its ageing ships.

Russian Guided Missile Cruiser Moskva, flagship of the Black Sea Fleet
Russian Guided Missile Cruiser Moskva, flagship of the Black Sea Fleet

Crimea and Sevastopol, under the Black Sea Fleet protection, is another reason that motivated the Kremlin to establish a new Naval Doctrine. Crimea’s economy is rapidly being integrated into the national economy thus making the Black Sea Fleet a stronger presence in the Mediterranean.

Although the Black Sea Fleet is not a blue-water fleet, its strategic positioning is enough to make it one of the main reason for the doctrine change.

To make the Russian Navy once again a blue-water navy, you need more than a new doctrine. You need bigger ships and logistical support vessels. Approximately 100 new ships should be commissioned by 2020 but most of them are designed to conduct littoral coastal defence duties.

Even if Russia wants to conducts more long-range naval deployments, it has to form a fleet capable of being self-sufficient for a certain period of time. As of today, only a quarter of the Russian Navy’s 215 ships are capable of blue-water operations.

Ships capable of withstanding blue-water operations such as destroyers are not yet under construction and no plans have been made to build them before mid- to late-2020s. This clearly demonstrate that the Russian Navy will have to wait a few more years before having a strong enough fleet that will draw NATO’s attention.

Until then, the Russian Naval Doctrine will pave the way to a modern and efficient Russian Navy capable of sailing anywhere.

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Copyright 2015 The Sentinel

Jonathan Wade, CD

Jonathan Wade is the director of the ‘The Sentinel Analytical Group’ and a decorated veteran of the Canadian Forces. Specialized in tactical, strategic, intelligence and geopolitics analysis, Jonathan has a fondness for technical details. His military experience brought him valuable insight on the realities of conflicts and war. A combat veteran of Afghanistan, Jonathan brings in in-theatre experience. Jonathan writes about Russia, Canada and Arctic.