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The Russian Navy Is Back
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Russia’s dispatch of a ten-ship flotilla to the Syrian Coast has raised some outrage and sneers aplenty in the West. Particularly when one of its embarked MiG-29K fighters crashed on takeoff from Russia’s sole carrier, the obsolescent Admiral Kuznetsov which lacks catapults.

Joining Kuznetsov are believed to be two ‘Akula’ class nuclear-powered attack submarines that are much feared by Western navies. On the surface will be the powerful, missile-armed battle-cruiser, ‘Peter the Great.’ Unlike Western warships, which are essentially fragile tin cans packed with electronics, `Peter the Great’ is armored and built to withstand punishment.
Other Russian missile frigates and supply ships are also off Syria.

Washington just hates it when the Russians dare do what the US has been doing since World War II: conduct gunboat diplomacy, however limited.

As a student of Russian naval affairs, I’m watching the current deployment of warships from the Red Banner Northern Fleet with much interest.

Russia has wanted to be a major naval power since the days of Peter the Great in the early 1700’s, but it has always faced the curse of Russian geography. In spite of limited access to the world’s seas, Russia is largely a landlocked nation spread over vast distances. Russia faces geographic barriers every way that it turns.

Most important, Russia’s major fleets – Northern, Baltic, Black Sea, and Pacific – are unable to concentrate to support one another due to geographical constraints. Compare this to the mighty US Navy that can move all but the largest warships from the Pacific to Atlantic or vice versa. All major US naval bases give easy access to the high seas. The only Russian ports that do are remote Vladivostok and even remoter Petropavlovsk on Kamchatka – that has no land link to the rest of Russia.

No Russian can forget the calamity of the 1904-1905 Russo-Japanese War. Russia’s Pacific Squadron was largely bottled up in the naval fortress at Port Arthur by a surprise Japanese attack, 38 years before the Pearl Harbor attack.

As a result, Russia has to send its Baltic Fleet more than half way around the globe to the North Pacific on a 33,000km (18,000 miles) journey of the damned that took nearly half a year. An accidental encounter in the fog with the British herring fleet nearly provoked war with Great Britain – which reacted with similar alarm as Vladimir Putin’s fleet sailed by Britain on the way to Syria.

On 27 May, 1905, the combined Russian fleet was ambushed off Korea at Tsushima by Japan’s brilliant admiral, Hideki Togo. After a fierce battle (I’ve sailed over the exact spot) the Russian fleet was sunk or captured, the first time a Western power had been defeated. Tsushima lit the fuse of the 1917 Russian revolution.

Russia’s inability to unite its fleets threatened their defeat in detail in a major war. World War II saw the Russian fleets more engaged in naval infantry land battles than maritime operations.


During the Cold War, the US and its allies were able to bottle up Russia’s fleets by sealing off the Greenland-Iceland-UK gap, then Baltic exits at the Skaggerak Strait, and the Black Sea exit at the Turkish Straits. The US Navy planned to directly attack Russia’s Pacific Ports and cut the Tran Siberian railroad that supplied them. As a final impediment, the US SOSUS underwater hydrophone system was able to spot Soviet submarines from the time they left their home ports.

After the fall of the Soviet Union, Russia’s neglected navy atrophied and rusted. The current mission to Syrian waters is an important sign that the Kremlin intends to restore some of its former naval power and assert Russian interests in Syria, where it had maintained a modest supply and repair depot at Tartus since 1971.

Moscow’s use of naval forces to fire missiles and launch air strikes at jihadist rebels in Syria is its biggest naval venture since 1990. Interestingly, Moscow used its almost forgotten Caspian Sea squadron to launch missiles at the same jihadists. Such strikes could have been done solely from land. The Kremlin was signaling that its strategic reach had lengthened.

America’s legions of pro-war neocons are now screaming that the Red Navy’s deployment to Syrian waters is somehow a grave threat to the West. It is not.
The US Navy and land-based NATO airpower could easily deal with the Russians. What really worries the neocons is that the Russian flotilla might deter or impede an Israeli attack on Syria and Lebanon.

And besides, is Russia not allowed to have a navy? Syria’s coast is as close to Russia as Mazatlan, Mexico is to Texas.

(Republished from by permission of author or representative)
• Category: Foreign Policy • Tags: Russia, Syria 
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  1. I think the slight Russian buildup of sea power is about as half-hearted as China’s. Everyone knows, except perhaps the USN, that the new ss missiles can sink any surface fleet in an hour. More or less. Subs take a bit longer.

  2. “one of its embarked MiG-29K fighters crashed on takeoff from Russia’s sole carrier, the obsolescent Admiral Kuznetsov which lacks catapults.”

    Heh, aboard Nimitz in the 70s and 80s when I was attached via VA-35, we lost plenty of aircraft every cruise, several after underpowered or “cold” catapult shots launched departing aircraft off the bow or waist cats too slow to fly, but at more than sufficient speed to swim. And then there are the landings:

  3. Anonymous [AKA "mirgolas huffpuff"] says:

    There is much one can say about Margolis lying and deceitful articles, specially when it comes to Russia but here you can almost smell the anger and fear of both Margolis and his tribal mates in occupied Palestine. THEY are indeed the ones being “bottled up” and incapacitated should they try their old genocidal cowardly tactics.

    You see, “israel” is living in a bubble, well not their own chosenite one this time but one they didnt choose, they are “bottled up” by Russian sea based S-300´s and land based S-400´s. From north to south- that means a real No Fly Zone if there ever was one. They can lobb a grenade or two over the fence, you know, for their domestic audience just to show and brag that they still can kill non-jews of Arabic decent in the area but in reality they are helplessly incapacitated and back-tied no matter what “Uncle Schmuel” or they themselves does, hence Margolis article, ooozing of hate.

    One thing about the Admiral Kuznetsov. Nimitz and other US carriers are indeed “obsolescent” older than Kuznetsov but they are also mere landing strips in the ocean. Kuznetsov, unike in it´s class, is by definition a aircraft carrying cruiser or battleship even.

    Why? because unlike the US strips it can defend itself, alone, if necessary: its 12 Granit anti-ship cruise missiles, six AK-630 automatic weapon systems, two Udav rocket launchers with 60 depth charges, a Kinzhal surface-to-air missile system and a Kortik gun-missile system, prevent the enemy from getting too close, whether from the air or from underwater.

    One more thing about those Granite missiles from wiki:

    “The missile, when fired in a swarm (group of 4–8) has a unique guidance mode. One of the weapons climbs to a higher altitude and designates targets while the others attack. The missile responsible for target designation climbs in short pop-ups, so as to be harder to intercept. The missiles are linked by data connections, forming a network. If the designating missile is destroyed the next missile will rise to assume its purpose. Missiles are able to differentiate targets, detect groups and prioritize targets automatically using information gathered during flight and types of ships and battle formations pre-programmed in an onboard computer. They will attack targets in order of priority, highest to lowest: after destroying the first target, any remaining missiles will attack the next prioritized target. The missile has a means of countering the attacking anti-missiles. Also, onboard computer has data to counter the enemy’s electronic warfare and tactics of evasion from the fire of air defense.”

  4. ” Russia’s sole carrier, the obsolescent Admiral Kuznetsov, which lacks catapults.”
    The Kuznetsov is a Heavy Aircraft-Carrying Cruiser. Neither the Soviet nor the Russian Navy ever had an Aircraft Carrier.
    Old man, leave this sort of thing to the Saker. He truly is informed about these matters. I don’t know why Mr Unz is paying you to write about these things when he truly has an expert on the “staff” as it were.

    • Replies: @Quartermaster
  5. @Anonymous

    Stick to the facts, you dimwit.
    Margolis was largely brought up by his Albanian Muslim mother Nexhmie. As a result, he has rather rose-tinted views about the “Religion of Peace”. He writes or has written for lots of Arabic journals and is no friend of the State of Israel. Even a cursory look at his Wikipedia entry would inform you of these matters.
    However, he is a staunch anti-Communist ( his mother was a strong opponent of Enver Hozha ) and from reading him over the years, I strongly suspect that after the collapse of Communism, he would have liked to have had a mass show trial of Soviet “war criminals.” Also, that the State be purged of Communism. Rather like Germany after World War II.
    Of Course this never happened, but it feeds his grudge against present-day Russia. Putin, in Margolis’ mind, is a Neo-Soviet leader always looking to expand again. Margolis’ writing is routinely anti-Russian. Indeed, he can properly be classed as a Russophobe.

    • Replies: @Anonymous
  6. @Anonymous

    Hey, I’m not defending American carrier decks. Actually, their crews (and that of their escorts and squadrons) are so heavily weighted toward single mothers, they really aren’t terribly mission-capable anymore anyway. I never see more than two deployed, maybe three out of the 10 or 11 we have. We don’t have crew for them anymore, and yet, they keep building them.

    • Replies: @Anonymous
  7. Admiral Togo’s first name is Heihachirō , not “Hideki.” It appears, Mr. Margolis, that you confused Admiral Togo with Japan’s Second World War premier Hideki Tojo.

    Russia’s navy lacks depth, and even its first string is anything but invulnerable. Combine those two factors with the dispersion which Russia’s geography imposes upon its naval power, and in an all-out shooting war, its navy would quickly become hors de combat.

  8. Anonymous • Disclaimer says:
    @Jim Christian

    Hey, I’m not defending American carrier decks. Actually, their crews (and that of their escorts and squadrons) are so heavily weighted toward single mothers, they really aren’t terribly mission-capable anymore anyway. I never see more than two deployed, maybe three out of the 10 or 11 we have. We don’t have crew for them anymore, and yet, they keep building them.

    I know a little something (firsthand) about the types of recruits the military is getting. The U.S. military needs to start adapting itself to its diverse new members, many of them recent arrivals from the third world (Haiti, Africa, Central America, SE Asia, etc.). It’s the world’s biggest jobs program. And now most federal jobs go to veterans, who, for the most part, are vastly inferior to non-veteran civilians with years of education and experience.

  9. Blacktail says:

    I actually pointed some of this out back on October 28th in the commentary for The Saker’s article, but as of November 19th, it seems that the other commenters are too busy yelling at each other to notice;

  10. Realist says:

    American aircraft carriers are not for defense they are a tool for hegemony.

  11. Anonymous [AKA "whattie"] says:

    Nice piece of trash there Schlomo. Enjoy your time at the Trolling For Shekels call centre, but you aint fooling anyone.

    • Replies: @Verymuchalive
  12. Andrei Martyanov [AKA "SmoothieX12"] says: • Website

    Particularly when one of its embarked MiG-29K fighters crashed on takeoff from Russia’s sole carrier

    It crashed on approach and it could have been pilot’s mistake.

    • Replies: @The Alarmist
  13. Andrei Martyanov [AKA "SmoothieX12"] says: • Website

    The US Navy planned to directly attack Russia’s Pacific Ports and cut the Tran Siberian railroad that supplied them

    Sure, that would work like a dream–forget those stupid Russkies having couple of Air Armies and Air Defense aviation (Yelisovo anyone?) which outnumbered and, by mid 1980s, out-quality (with MiG-31 and SU-27 coming on-line in large numbers) just about anything US Navy could muster for this objective. In fact, 1987 saw a little demonstration of that, in the Sea of Okhotsk. I will omit here the issues of 2nd and 4th Flotillas of submarines, which could, unlike it was in 1990s, when Russian Navy was de facto obliterated, deploy. But what do I know.

    What really worries the neocons is that the Russian flotilla might deter or impede an Israeli attack on Syria and Lebanon.

    Lebanon is one, and not the most important, among many considerations which worry neocon mafia. As per deter in re: Syria, considering a steady improvement of Russian AD systems in Syria (new S-300, some Buks also arrived) it is already deterred. But even that is just the part of the reasons for neocons going apoplectic.

  14. @Anonymous

    It is clear you never read let alone understood a word I wrote. There’s a name for people like you – idiot.

  15. @Andrei Martyanov

    As someone pointed out before, losing an aircraft in carrier ops is hardly a rare event in any navy that attempts it. Given that the Russians have had a relatively low ops tempo and readiness state over the past few years, it is not surprising that one aircraft has bit the dust but that more have not.

    • Replies: @Andrei Martyanov
  16. Bayan says:

    The first time a Western power was defeated by a non white nation was in 1896. Ethiopia defeated Italy at the Battle of Adwa. Nine years before Russia’s defeat by Japan. Is Russia a Western power? White but not Western.

    Why would Israel care about attacking Syria? Syria is dead.

  17. @Bayan

    There are numerous instances of Western powers being defeated in battle by non-Western entities. The Battle of Isandlwana ( 1879 ) and Battle of the Little Big Horn (1876 ) spring to mind. You can go back further to instances like the Battle of the Three Kings ( 1578 ) when King Sebastian’s Portuguese army was overwhelmed in Morocco.
    Actually, its been not at all uncommon over the centuries.

  18. The first thing wrong with this article is the fact, which others have already pointed out, that the Admiral Kuznetsov isn’t an aircraft carrier at all, and isn’t classified as one; the Russians always insist on calling it an “aircraft carrying heavy cruiser”.

    The difference isn’t just semantic; it indicates a deep, fundamental doctrinal difference between Russian and Western roles of specialist aircraft carrying ships.

    For the Western navies, aircraft carriers have – ever since the Second World War – served the purpose of power projection, that is, supporting naval fleets in campaigns against land targets by bombing and provision of air cover. Fighting against other naval forces has been a secondary role. Basically, aircraft carriers have been the equivalent of the big guns of battleships, supporting (imperialist) invasions of sovereign nations which are unable to fight back on equal terms, and the ships have been constructed to serve that purpose. Western aircraft carriers are the 21st Century equivalents of British gunboats of the colonial era, meant to bludgeon uppity natives into submission.

    Therefore, modern Western carriers have been basically upgraded WWII carriers; big ships with an enormous aircraft group, capable of launching huge numbers of heavily armed aircraft on strike missions against enemy forces, but unable to adequately defend themselves and thus relying on a very large escort force of cruisers, destroyers, and submarines.

    To most efficiently use these aircraft, they need to carry a heavy war load aloft, enough to make worthwhile the effort of sending them against land targets. To do this, they can’t take off under their own power, because even the largest aircraft carrier flight deck is a very small runway for modern jet aircraft. This is why Western navies concentrated on developing the CATOBAR carrier. These are fitted with one or more catapults, where the aeroplanes were launched with the help of a steam-powered shuttle attached to a rail sunk inside the deck, which is capable of accelerating an aeroplane in a fraction of a second from standstill to a speed where it can get airborne.

    However, catapults tend to be very expensive, very high-maintenance, and technologically very complex, which is why very few carriers from any navy these days have them. Not even the Indian, Chinese and British carriers now being constructed have catapults, while the US Navy’s new electromagnetic catapult system (EMALS), supposed to replace the old steam powered catapult, has been by all accounts far less than satisfactory. In the not too distant past – the 1970s-1980s – aircraft carriers like the Indian Navy’s Vikrant and Viraat have actually had their catapults removed as part of their service upgrades and refits.

    As such, calling the Admiral Kuznetsov “obsolescent” just because it doesn’t carry catapults is ridiculous.

    The Soviet, and Russian, idea of the role of carriers has – to date, but not necessarily in future – been completely different. From the beginning, there was a lot of debate in the USSR on the role of the carrier, with naval opinion divided between a US Navy style power projection carrier and a different type meant for a different purpose. Ultimately, the Soviet Navy chose the second option: a ship whose primary purpose was not to attack land targets, but to protect other sections of the fleet from air attack. At the time this was logical. After all, the USSR wasn’t in the business of Vietnam-style imperial adventures against target nations on the other side of the planet.

    For this, obviously, you need a different style of ship from the Western CATOBAR carrier. You need a ship which is able to defend itself, because otherwise the fleet it’s supposed to protect will have to expend all its energies in defending it. This is why Russian “carriers” have always had a very heavy defensive suite of missiles. Secondly, the aeroplanes it carries don’t necessarily have to take off with maximum weapons load, just weapons enough to deter attacking aircraft. Catapults, with their demands on space and maintenance, are not what such ships need; there’s little point in having a ship which is laid up in port having its catapults serviced when you need it on the high seas to save your ship from attack.

    With the Russian intervention in Syria, however, the Russian Navy began an evident rethink of the role of a carrier. After the American destruction of Libya and now the terrorist campaign against Syria, it seems Russia has finally started evaluating aircraft carriers in the Western sense – as power projection platforms intended to intervene in land conflicts, not just protection of the fleet in naval battles. Why?

    The answer lies in the kind of warfare America is waging against Russia. Ever since the Afghan jihad Jimmy Carter launched in 1979, America uses jihadi headhunters as proxies against Russian-friendly nations across the planet, as it did in Libya, as it is doing in Syria, as it actually did against Russia itself in Chechnya. In order not to be strangled strategically and economically, Russia may increasingly have to intervene to turn the tide against the cannibals, as it is doing in Syria; and air strikes against them will be an essential component of such interventions. Not everywhere, as in Syria, can Russia be sure of having access to land bases. Besides, as the Arctic ice cap melts, Russian carriers may increasingly be necessary to defend economic resources like oil and minerals which become available. For both these roles, fleet protection is irrelevant, but power projection is vital. And for that Russia needs aircraft carriers, not defensive heavy cruisers.

    And that is why the Kuznetsov has been deployed off Syria and conducting air strikes there. The carrier isn’t either necessary to the war effort there, or going to be (with its limited air group, which can only take off with a fraction of the weapons the planes can carry) particularly effective, but it gives the Russian Navy, for the first time ever, experience in a field of activity (power projection) its Western rivals have been carrying out for over seventy years. It should be understood as combat training more than anything else.

    Meanwhile, after all these years, the Russians seem to have decided to construct a new class of aircraft carriers. When, or even whether, these ships – the Project 3000 Storm as it is called – will be built is far from certain, but the design is of a genuine aircraft carrier, not a compromise like the Kuznetsov, and will definitely include catapults, with or without supplementary ski jumps.

    In a full scale war between well armed adversaries, though, aircraft carriers are, and will remain, basically sitting ducks. It makes no difference whether they are CATOBAR supercarriers or aircraft carrying heavy cruisers with planes taking off with half full fuel tanks, two missiles, and no ammunition.

    It’s just that a full scale war of that nature will go nuclear anyway, and the Russians are gearing up to fight a conflict that stops well short of that.

  19. Andrei Martyanov [AKA "SmoothieX12"] says: • Website
    @The Alarmist

    MiG-29K is a new plane for pilots of Kuznetsov’s air wing and training for this deployment was undeniably rushed (for MiG-29s), unlike it is the case with venerable SU-33s. The rush was understandable for a number of operational and strategic reasons but still.

  20. Andrei Martyanov [AKA "SmoothieX12"] says: • Website

    White but not Western.

    Modern “West” (as in West European) is not the West anymore. It is, basically, dead and its rotting corpse stinks to heaven poisoning atmosphere. Yes, in this sense, Russia is not West and she better stay this way for a long-long time.

  21. @Andrei Martyanov

    As long ago as the 19th Century, Rudyard Kipling wrote that the proper attitude towards Russia was that it was the most western of Eastern nations, not the most eastern of Western nations. In fact, all through the USSR’s history, Russia acted as an Eastern nation defending the East from the West, and was quite successful at that. However, after the collapse of the USSR, Russia very stupidly tried to reinvent itself as a Western nation, believing the blandishments of NATO and the EU (which are functionally the same thing). It is only under Putin that it is finally reverting to its role as an Eastern country…and finding success and Great Power status once more.

    • Replies: @Andrei Martyanov
  22. Andrei Martyanov [AKA "SmoothieX12"] says: • Website
    @Fiendly Neighbourhood Terrorist

    Regular geopolitical metrics are very limited for describing Russia’s status. Russian culture and her geographic fulcrum is distinctly European–there is no escape from that.

    all through the USSR’s history, Russia acted as an Eastern nation defending the East from the West

    Yet, it was single most powerful “westernizing” period of time in Russia’s long history.

  23. @Verymuchalive

    The Kuznetsov is a Heavy Aircraft-Carrying Cruiser.

    Do you read what you post? Saker is no better informed than you are.

  24. ” Verymuchalive”
    ” Yes, Admiral Saker ”
    ” Confine Quartermaster to Barracks for 4 weeks for gross Naval Ignorance ”
    ” Yes, sir ”
    Under International Law, The Kuznetsov is classed as an Aircraft Cruiser. No other Power has ever objected to its classification as a Cruiser. So it must be a CRUISER. See Wikipedia or Jane’s Fighting Ships for the background to this.
    Quartermaster, stick to army matters. On Naval matters, you’re a duck out of water.

    • Replies: @Historian
  25. Historian says:

    Under International Law, The Kuznetsov is classed as an Aircraft Cruiser. No other Power has ever objected to its classification as a Cruiser. So it must be a CRUISER.

    In law, there’s something called a “legal fiction.” That’s when something is obviously false, but everybody pretends it’s true to satisfy the legal requirements. There’s an article in Wikipedia about legal fictions.

    The Kuznetsov carries more airplanes than SSMs. That means that its striking power is provided primarily by aircraft. The Kuznetsov is no more of a cruiser than the USS Lexington (CV-2). The Lexington carried eight 8-inch guns and twelve 5-inch guns!

    The “cruiser” charade was concocted for the sole purpose of getting the ship into the Mediterranean. Russian aircraft carriers passing through the Turkish Straits cannot displace more than 15,000 tons, but Russian cruisers are allowed unlimited displacement. Since Kuznetsov displaces 43,000 tons, it has to be called a cruiser.

    The Turks play along. “Aircraft carrier? What aircraft carrier? We saw a ship pass by, all right, but it was a cruiser. Next time you think you see an aircraft carrier headed our way, be sure to tell us. We’ll keep our eyes open for any aircraft carriers, and we’ll be sure to stop them from going through.”

    Legal fictions are everywhere in navy ship classifications. Japan has “helicopter destroyers.” Australia has “landing helicopter docks,” complete with ski jumps. The United States has “landing helicopter docks” that operate Harriers, can operate the F-35, and are the same size as the Charles de Gaulle!

    Nobody wants to call a carrier a carrier. Well, except the Chinese. They call their Kuznetsov-class carrier an “aircraft carrier.” Those devious Orientals!

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