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Russian President Vladimir Putin announced Sunday, amid fighting in Ukraine, an ambitious naval doctrine that sees the United States as the biggest threat to the Kremlin. He proposes Russia as a great maritime power with red lines in the Arctic and the Black and Baltic Seas.
“Russia’s national interests as a great maritime power extend to all oceans and the Caspian Sea,” says the document signed by Putin at the Peter and Paul Fortress in St. Petersburg on the occasion of Navy Day.
As happened in 2015 —following the deterioration of relations with the West caused by the annexation a year earlier of the Ukrainian peninsula of Crimea — Putin approved by decree a new naval doctrine that takes into account the dramatic geopolitical changes caused by the Russian military campaign in Ukraine.
Russia does not accept interference in its affairs in the Arctic, the Caspian or the Sea of Okhotsk (Peaceful); the Black and Azov Seas, seized from the Ukraine; the Baltic; the Kuril Islands (whose sovereignty is claimed by Japan); the eastern Mediterranean and the straits leading to Asia and Africa.
“We have openly marked the borders and areas of Russia’s national interests, both economic and strategic ones that are vital. We will ensure their defense firmly and by all means,” he said.
From the Mediterranean to the Pacific
With the equestrian statue of Peter the Great at his back— not in vain was he the Tsar who, 300 years ago, turned Russia into an empire with a powerful navy with an outlet to the Baltic— Putin laid out his ambitions for greatness just when the West had condemned him to isolation.
To avoid this ostracism, Moscow today announced plans to create naval bases and supply centers from the Eastern Mediterranean to the Asia-Pacific region, the Indian Ocean, and the Persian Gulf, an endeavor that the construction of aircraft carriers will support.
As for the Mediterranean, in addition to ensuring its permanent presence in the Syrian port of Tartus, Moscow wants to open naval maintenance centers “in the territory of other countries in the region,” including Africa and the Middle East.
In particular, the doctrine highlights the interest in increasing naval-military cooperation with India, Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Iraq. Russia has tried for years to find strategic alternatives to its traditional European partners.
The Russian Navy —which abandoned 2001 its base in Cuba (Lourdes) and 2004 its base in Vietnam (Cam Ranh)— resumed patrols all over the world in 2008, including NATO’s areas of responsibility.
The United States: its greatest threat
Both on land and at sea, the United States is the main “threat” to Russian national security because of its aspiration to “dominate” the oceans, including achieving “undisputed hegemony” of its Navy and restricting access to ocean resources and communications, according to the document.
Also challenging are the approach of NATO infrastructure to Russia’s borders, increased Western naval maneuvers, and territorial claims to Russian islands and coastal areas.
In particular, the Kremlin accuses the West of trying to “weaken” its control of the Arctic Route, which Putin proposes as an alternative to the Suez Canal, through the militarization of the region, of which other countries also accuse Moscow.
For all these reasons, Russia also intends to accelerate and diversify its activities in Arctic waters from the archipelagos of New Zembla, Franz Josef, and Svalbard (under Norwegian sovereignty) to the island of Wrangel.
One of Russia’s priorities is to become one of the leaders in the exploration and exploitation of Arctic resources, especially on the Russian continental shelf, to which other countries such as the United States, Canada, Norway, and Denmark aspire.
Putin, who announced in 2018 an unprecedented rearmament program with hypersonic weapons, advanced today that “in the coming months,” the Navy will receive the new hypersonic cruise missiles “Tsirkon,” which he stressed “have no analogues in the world” since their capacity is practically unlimited.
The frigate “Admiral Gorshkov” has been chosen to carry such weapons, and its sea of destination will be determined depending on Russia’s security, he explained.
The doctrine alludes to the fact that Russia relies on diplomatic and economic instruments to settle disputes, but may resort to force “in case of necessity,” although always respecting Russian legislation and international law.
Another priority is to reinforce the potential of the Black Sea Fleet and strengthen the military infrastructure of the annexed Ukrainian peninsula of Crimea, where on Sunday, the naval parade was canceled due to the alleged attack against the Navy barracks in Sevastopol with a Ukrainian drone.
In the future, the Russian Navy also wants to ensure uninterrupted access to the Baltic enclave of Kaliningrad, now heavily dependent on land transit of goods through the Baltic countries.
“The key is the capability of the Russian Navy (…). It is capable of responding like lightning to all those who decide to threaten our sovereignty and freedom,” Putin proclaimed.