Russian Aspirations vs. Operations


I don’t know if you’ve been following it but an interesting story has been unfolding off the coast of Somalia. Last week pirates (who, interestingly, claim legitimacy as a sort of Coast Guard for Somalia) seized an arms-carrying Ukrainian cargo ship off the coast of Somalia and are demanding a $20 million ransom for the release of the crew and ship. American, French, and British ships are in the area and the Russians have dispatched a frigate. Ukraine has relatively little in the way of blue water navy, one submarine, one frigate, a few corvettes, a number of near-in patrol and support craft.

That’s where this article from the IHT comes in:

MOSCOW: Russia’s decision to dispatch a warship to pirate-infested waters off Somalia reflects its determination to project power worldwide. But it remains unclear what role the vessel might play in the latest hostage crisis there.

The Russian Navy has said only that it ordered the guided missile frigate Neustrashimy (Intrepid) to the northwest Indian Ocean to protect commercial shipping lanes and defend the lives of Russian citizens.

But there has been speculation Russia could try to free the hostages aboard a Ukrainian ship, the Faina, that was seized by Somalia-based pirates last week. Russia has dealt harshly with hostage-takers in recent years.

The pirates have demanded US$20 million for the release of the ship and its 20-man crew, which includes two Russians. Besides more than 30 battle tanks, the ship is loaded with armaments and the pirates warn they will fight to the death if attacked.

The seizure, analysts say, has given Russia another chance to display its might following its brief war with Georgia — which the Kremlin justified, in part, as an effort to protect Russian citizens living in two Georgian breakaway regions.

“It’s another show of the flag intended to demonstrate that Russia would protect its citizens wherever it deems it necessary,” said Yevgeny Volk, the head of the Moscow office of the Heritage Foundation.

Those may be Russia’s aspirations but its operational capability is somewhat different. The frigate deployed from the Baltic. It will also be interesting to see what they do with respect to logistics.

Russia’s status as a world power is highly dependent on its nuclear arsenal which is why I believe that Russia will be quite reluctant to relinquish that arsenal in the foreseeable future. It’s able to project quite a bit of force in its “near abroad” as we saw in its recent adventure in Georgia. To assert or retain status as a world power on a basis other than its nuclear arsenal Russia must retain control of the Black and Caspian Seas and hold on to its eastern territories, which will become increasingly difficult as its population dwindles.

I’ve drawn a line in red on the map at the top of this post to suggest a prospective route between the Baltic and Somalia. Once you’ve reached the Suez Canal, it’s through the Red Sea and a dash around the Horn of Africa.

UPDATE (James Joyner): We’ve been following the Somali pirates story on a breaking basis on Atlantic Update and the issue was discussed by Nick Gvosdev in “NATO’s Tunnel Vision: Seeing Beyond Russia” and J. Peter Pham in “The Challenge of Somali Piracy.”

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Dave Schuler
About Dave Schuler
Over the years Dave Schuler has worked as a martial arts instructor, a handyman, a musician, a cook, and a translator. He's owned his own company for the last thirty years and has a post-graduate degree in his field. He comes from a family of politicians, teachers, and vaudeville entertainers. All-in-all a pretty good preparation for blogging. He has contributed to OTB since November 2006 but mostly writes at his own blog, The Glittering Eye, which he started in March 2004.

Comments

  1. Anderson says:

    Once you’ve reached the Suez Canal, it’s through the Red Sea and a dash around the Horn of Africa.

    Better than they did in the Russo-Japanese War, where they pissed off the Brits & had to go *around* Africa.

    A long way to get sunk.

  2. sam says:

    But it remains unclear what role the vessel might play in the latest hostage crisis there.

    One possibility: It sinks the Ukranian ship. The dash around the Horn of Africa reminds me of a discussion I had with a friend when the Argentinians invaded the Falklands. He pointed out that the Brits had to steam almost 8,000 miles to reach to Falklands. He thought this might present a problem for them. I said that 8,000 miles is not such a long way for a modern navy if no one is shooting at you. The logistics would require , if the frigate is conventional, refueling at sea, but God knows, the Russians have enough oil.

  3. Triumph says:

    To assert or retain status as a world power on a basis other than its nuclear arsenal Russia must retain control of the Black and Caspian Seas and hold on to its eastern territories, which will become increasingly difficult as its population dwindles.

    These efforts to downplay Russia’s strength are right out of the Obama-Kennedy-Anan-Barney Frank playbook.

    As Sarah Palin said so eloquently the other day:

    “it’s very important when you consider even national security issues with Russia as Putin rears his head and comes into the air space of the United States of America, where– where do they go? It’s Alaska. It’s just right over the border. It is– from Alaska that we send those out to make sure that an eye is being kept on this very powerful nation, Russia, because they are right there. They are right next to– to our state.”

    Luckily we have a tough cookie running with McCain to remind us that we are likely to be invaded in the near future by the Ruskies. This is exactly why we need a spunky Governor who commanded the Alaska National Guard successfully over the past couple of years to keep the country safe.

  4. Dave Schuler says:

    Fortified by information from the CIA we overestimated Russian strength for 40 years. I see no reason to return to the status quo ante.

  5. Bithead says:

    Those may be Russia’s aspirations but its operational capability is somewhat different

    If you mean can Russia hit those marks at once, you’re quite right. However, as the Grand Canyon shows, great things are not of nessesity accomplished all at once.

  6. davod says:

    Why is a Russian ship being sent to aid a Ukrainian ship?

    Someone else had better get there first.

  7. Dave Schuler says:

    davod:

    There were Russians on board the ship. Additionally, it’s conceivable that the Russians could argue that they were obligated under the CIS Charter to come to Ukraine’s aid. That the Ukraine has never ratified the CIS Charter and, consequently, is technically not a member of the CIS would be a confounding factor in that argument.