After Moscow’s surprising show of force in Ukraine and Crimea, Russians have now taken their northern and Baltic fleets into the Mediterranean in order to defend their interests in Syria. Russia’s aircraft carrier Admiral Kuznetsov, which they had already said would remain in Murmansk for overhauls until 2017, along with Peter the Great battlecruiser, Severomorsk destroyer, Vice-Admiral Kulakov destroyer, and five other logistical vessels have started a move, which has stirred excessive sensitivity of NATO.
If the United States’ estimate that there are 39 battleships in Russia’s Northern Fleet is accepted, it must be said that by transferring all its Northern Fleet, that is, 39 ships, and part of the Balkan Fleet, which is the oldest marine fleet of Russia, to the Mediterranean, Moscow has been trying to lay emphasis on the extraordinary importance that its attaches to Syria. Of course, it is not logical for Russia to deplete all its northern parts of warships and risk a major void in its defense shield, which would provide the United States with a good opportunity to infiltrate those parts. So, we assume that Moscow has dispatched the aforementioned eight vessels to the Mediterranean.
Here, I must emphasize that according to NATO’s estimate, Russia’s Northern Fleet consists of 45 atomic submarines, some of which may have been dispatched to Syria along with the above fleet. In addition, it must be noted that it is not only the situation in Syria that has made Moscow embark on such remarkable marine shift, but the need to defend comprehensive national security interests of Russia in the most sensitive region of the world should be considered as the most important strategic reason for Kremlin to do so, because it indirectly affects Russians’ interests across the globe.
At present, Russia is in a special situation. By focusing its fleet in this region, Russia not only increases the number of warships and the quality and quantity of operational weapons, but increases its military personnel to more than 3,000. At the same time, the number of Russian airplanes and helicopters will increase to more than 80 and Russia’s missile power will be also able to operate from a close range in this region. In doing so, Russians are, in fact, conducting a marine drill and it is possible for them to test speed and capabilities of their forces and weapons. Russians need this situation. The main strategic goal pursued by Russians is to announce their victory in this region. Except from Crimea, they have never been so serious in enforcing their foreign policy following the collapse of the former Soviet Union and have never used military force on this scale. I believe that the factor that increases Russia’s courage is the approaching presidential election in the United States, which practically slows down US administrations in their foreign policy moves.
Since at least the 1950s, there have been tensions between Moscow and the West, especially the United States, in the Arab Middle East, specifically with regard to deployment of 5,000 US forces to Lebanon, and at times, those tensions have spread to the Caribbean region and Cuba. Russia only resorts to military forces in its foreign policy when its normal diplomacy is in a defensive position and there is a need to change power equations. Even in Eastern Europe, Russians have been always willing to settle challenges through political negotiations and when their efforts proved futile, they resorted to military force. The same was true about Cuba. However, today, unlike the measure taken by then Russian leader, Nikita Khrushchev, who had to react to the United States’ threat from a distance of 11,000 kilometers and finally send missiles to Cuba, Moscow is berthing right on the side of the gravitational center of the crisis.
The method used by Russians is to make efforts to control and resolve crises in a matter of less than a year and they have continued using this method in their foreign diplomacy. The question is will Russians be able to shift their problems to a political phase and solve them within the next five months after deployment of forces and bolstering their military presence? Perhaps, some Cold War terms must be revived from now on to have a more objective understanding of developments. The aircraft carrier Admiral Kuznetsov will turn into a regional airport and base for Russia in the Middle East, which will greatly increase Russia’s mobility in the region. Through their measures, Russians put the United States in a position where they will have to regularly change their plan and this issue will inflict heavy costs on the United States. It seems that Russia is repairing power voids created as a result of the absence of the Soviet Union.
This article was written by Saeed Davar for Iran Review on Oct 27, 2016. Saeed Davar is International Analyst.