Staunton, April 3 – Yesterday, Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoygu announced that Moscow was shifting the home base of its Caspian flotilla from Astrakhan at the northern edge of the sea to Kaspiisk, a Daghestani facility, some 400 kilometers away south toward the central section of the landlocked body of water.
The Moscow official also announced that the number of officers and sailors assigned to this flotilla will “be increased,” and its already modernized fleet upgraded further to allow it to do things like fire cruise missiles toward Syria from near its base rather than after sailing for some hours (pravda.ru/politics/military/02-04-2018/1379116-flotoliya-0/).
Viktor Murakhovsky, the editor of the military journal Arsenal Otechestva, says that Astrakhan, because of problems with the Volga delta there, is hardly ideal as a base and in wintertime ships are sometimes delayed in putting to sea when ordered. The situation in Kaspiisk is much better, and the flotilla will be able to respond immediately.
That technical detail certainly played a role in this decision, but it seems clear other domestic and foreign policy developments played larger ones, although so far there have been only hints about these. (See svpressa.ru/war21/article/196849/, kavpolit.com/articles/posle_perevoda_kaspijskoj_flotilii_v_dagestane_moz-37901/ and chernovik.net/content/lenta-novostey/kaspiyskaya-flotiliya-v-polnom-sostave-beret-kurs-na-dagestan).
There are at least three compelling reasons why Moscow likely views this move as worthwhile right now. Specifically, the move
· represents both a vote of confidence in Putin’s new man in Makhachkala and provides the center with additional forces to use to intimidate officials in Daghestan or elsewhere in the North Caucasus should that become necessary;
· gives Moscow even more leverage to block or in the event of a crisis quickly destroy east-west pipelines under the Caspian, including a new launch of cruise missiles toward Syria or elsewhere in the Middle East;
· and provides new content to Moscow’s desire to have as much de facto control of the Caspian and indeed to restore the pre-1991 division of the sea between itself and Iran, something that the other littoral powers have been challenging.