From Republic.ru, Aug. 3, 2022, https://republic.ru/posts/104623. Complete text:
For whatever reason, each Kremlin directive regarding naval activities always marks a new stage of confrontation with the West. For example, in 2017, following the annexation of the Crimea and the start of the secret war in the Donetsk Basin, “Fundamentals of Russian State Policy in the Field of Naval Activities [Until 2030]” was published [see Vol. 69, No. 30, pp. 10‑11], which stated for the first time that “during the escalation of a military conflict, demonstration of readiness and determination to use force employing nonstrategic nuclear weapons is an effective deterrent.” At the time, the authors of the “Fundamentals” were completely unfazed by the fact that the provision about “nuclear deescalation” (i.e., the use of nonstrategic nuclear weapons as a deterrent) was completely at odds with the conditions for the use of such weapons as stipulated in the Military Doctrine.
Now, at the main naval parade on July 31, [Russian President] Vladimir Putin proclaimed the further development of domestic strategic thinking: “We have clearly identified the boundaries and areas of Russia’s national interests – economic, vital and strategic [interests]. These are primarily the Arctic, Black, Okhotsk, and Bering Seas, as well as the Baltic and Kurile Straits. We will decisively ensure their protection by any means.” The head of state recalled that the Navy is about to receive one of those means – Tsirkon hypersonic cruise missiles.
As for “identifying the boundaries,” that was done in the Naval Doctrine that the president signed on the same day. Granted, at first it seemed that the document’s authors saw no boundaries at all: “The national interests of Russia as a great naval power extend to the world’s oceans as a whole, plus the Caspian Sea.” Naturally, other countries cannot accept such intentions. So the primary threat, the doctrine says, is “the US’s strategic policy to dominate the world’s oceans.” At the same time, the authors of the doctrine have to be aware that [this] potential adversary’s Navy is at least four times bigger than Russia’s in terms of aggregate tonnage. What’s more, the rapid development of the Chinese Navy is clearly calling into question the goal to secure the Russian Navy’s “position as the second most combat-capable Navy in the world,” which was proclaimed five years ago.
So, to maintain at least some grip on reality rather than remain in the realm of naval dreams, the document’s authors carried out an operation hitherto unseen in domestic doctrinal documents. They graded national interests in terms of their importance. As of now, the areas of Russian interests in the world’s oceans are as follows: (a) vital, (b important or (c) other (i.e., completely unimportant).
“Vital” areas are “directly related to state development; protection of state sovereignty [and] territorial integrity; the strengthening of defense [capabilities; and] are critical for the country’s socioeconomic development.” They include internal waters and the territorial sea of the Russian Federation, the country’s exclusive economic zone and its continental shelf, the Arctic Basin, including the Northern Sea Route [and] the Sea of Okhotsk, plus the Russian sector of the Caspian Sea.
“Important” areas “have a significant impact on economic development, the material well-being of the population and Russia’s national security, as well as on the state’s strategic and regional security.” These are water areas adjacent to the Russian coast, including the Sea of Azov and the Black Sea; the eastern part of the Mediterranean Sea; the straits of the Black Sea, the Baltic and the Kuriles; and global transport communication lines.
This seems to be more than just a bureaucratic exercise in building a kind of hierarchy of multiplying “interests.” It concerns the possible use of weapons (which no longer looks like empty rhetoric since the start of combat operations in Ukraine [see Vol. 74, No. 8, pp. 9‑13]). According to the doctrine, when it comes to vital interests, alongside political and other tools, Russia “will use military methods involving the use of force, including naval presence [and] a show of flag and force.” If necessary, it “will use military force in accordance with Russian laws, and the universally recognized principles and norms of international law.” When it comes to “important” areas, the document states, Russia “will use mostly political, diplomatic, informational and other nonmilitary tools,” but if their capabilities are exhausted, it “can use military force as the situation warrants.”
Risk zones: the Crimea and the Arctic.
Thus, urbi et orbi have been told where Moscow is the most likely to use military force. [Its] desire to defend internal and territorial waters is understandable. Hardly anyone would encroach on them. But then there is the danger of incidents near the Crimea: Practically nobody except Russia considers these waters Russian. Granted, as long as the “special military operation” continues, it’s unlikely that ships from third countries would approach this region.
The situation in the Arctic is different. The Russian Naval Doctrine states, quite justly, that “the international legal delimitation of sea areas in the Arctic is incomplete.” This primarily brings to mind problems of the Northern Sea Route that the doctrine insists [Russia] has the right to control by military means. Moscow clearly wants to change the Northern Sea Route’s status to internal waters, which gives [it] the right to establish the rules of [innocent] passage for foreign ships, including warships, at its discretion; require that they give [at least] a three months’ notice; use the services of Russian pilots, etc. The US and other Western countries disagree with this interpretation. They insist that according to the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, foreign warships [of all states] enjoy the right of innocent passage through the territorial waters of any state. They insist on their right to exercise the freedom of navigation. And this sets the stage for a possible conflict.
Moscow is also extending the zone of its vital interests to “the continental shelf of the Russian Federation beyond the 200 [nautical] mile exclusive economic zone as defined in the recommendations of the UN Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf.” Despite the recommendations, this shelf has not yet been declared Russian, but as we can see, it has already been described as an area where Moscow intends to ensure its vital interests by military means.
The issue of Spitsbergen, an island that under a 1920 treaty is part of Norway, is even more curious. The same treaty allowed the USSR and then Russia to mine coal there. The treaty establishes Spitsbergen as a demilitarized zone. Now the Naval Doctrine stipulates some mysterious “diversification and intensification of maritime activities on Spitsbergen, Franz Josef Land and Novaya Zemlya archipelagoes, and Wrangel Island.” All the aforementioned archipelagoes except Spitsbergen are part of Russian territory and are used mostly by the military. The USSR had repeatedly tried to impose a “joint defense” Spitsbergen on Norway. And now the archipelago has been included in the zone of Russia’s vital interests, where Moscow allows for the use of military force. Thus, the new Naval Doctrine is turning into a kind of Pandora’s box with multiplying risks of a direct military confrontation between Russia and the US.
The doctrine as a budget request.
If what the doctrine says is taken at face value, Moscow intends to create not only opportunities but also assets for a military confrontation with the West. For instance, the document’s authors allow for building modern aircraft carriers, despite the fact that not a single large-tonnage ship has been built in the country in the past 30 years. [Russia’s] only aircraft carrier, the Admiral Kuznetsov, is undergoing permanent repairs. Russia has yet to build shipyards that could launch a modern aircraft carrier.
The doctrine also insists on the need to expand the Navy’s infrastructure – and not only on Russian territory, but also in the Crimea, Krasnodar Territory, Kaliningrad Province [and] the Arctic. The document assumes that in addition to the technical supply facility in Tartus, Syria, similar facilities will be built in other Mediterranean countries. What’s more, “preserving and maintaining Russia’s naval presence in the Persian Gulf via technical supply facilities in the Red Sea and the Indian Ocean” is listed as a national naval policy priority.
Finally, the Naval Doctrine has come to include passages about the Navy’s preparation for mobilization. In the first part of the document, its authors insisted that one priority for maritime transport development is “to significantly boost the share of vessels sailing under the state flag of the Russian Federation among the total number of international merchant vessels by using various mechanisms, including preferential subsidies, and removing excessive administrative barriers.” Several pages down, they explain why this is necessary.
The fact is that commandeering vessels and their crews by the Armed Forces during wartime or a special military operation requires advance preparation. It is worth noting that according to [the doctrine], one mobilization preparation priority calls for improving the system of requisitioning Russian-flagged vessels during a period of threat or in wartime and transferring them to the command of the country’s military command and control bodies. So if you sail under the Russian flag, be prepared for your vessel to be commandeered for war service. [The Russian government] promises to pay compensation later. If it can, that is.
I suspect, however, that the grandiose plans to build aircraft carriers, create a network of technical supply facilities abroad, [and] implement a mobilization preparation system will most likely remain on paper. With military operations continuing for six months now, clearly, the lion’s share of resources will be spent on replenishing armor and ammunition supplies. The Navy will once again turn out to be a poor relative. Aware of all this, the naval lobby has drawn up a budget proposal in the form of a new naval doctrine, beefing it up with the demonstration of great power ambitions.