Staunton, August 19 – Three reports released today highlight the growing gap between what Vladimir Putin says are Moscow’s intentions on the world’s oceans and especially in the Arctic and what the Russian navy and the shipyards that support it and commercial vessels are actually capable of delivering.
First and perhaps most important, Igor Voron, an independent Russian military analyst, says that efforts to recover from the collapse of the Soviet navy have been far from successful, the victim of financial stringencies, corruption, and Western sanctions (profile.ru/military/slishkom-malo-slishkom-pozdno-kak-sovershenstvuetsya-rossijskij-podvodnyj-flot-394279/).
In a detailed new article focusing on the Russian submarine fleet since the Kursk disaster of 20 years ago entitled “Too Little Too Late,” he shows that the differences between what the Kremlin says and what is actually the case are growing and may reach unsustainable levels over the next ten years.
Not only are older Soviet-era ships being scrapped because there is little possibility of modernizing, but new ships aren’t coming on line at anything like the rate the Russian government has called for. Again and again, there have been shortfalls in construction. (On that, see also windowoneurasia2.blogspot.com/2020/08/russian-shipyards-failing-to-meet.html.)
Second, Rosatomflot, the federal structure responsible for the country’s nuclear-powered icebreakers, has filed new lawsuits against Russian shipyards for the latters’ failure to build these key ships in a timely and reliable fashion (thebarentsobserver.com/en/arctic/2020/08/rosatomflot-files-lawsuits-against-shipyard-worlds-most-powerful-icebreakers-are).
Because of national security, these cases are shrouded in secrecy; but the fact that they have been lodged at all shows just how problem-plagued this sector is, one whose few successes often lead to apocalyptic judgments by Western analysts that Moscow will be able to completely control the Northern Sea Route against all comers.
And third, in what may appear to be a success but in fact highlights failure, the Admiral Nakhimov has been released to the fleet again, but only after the 25,000 ton naval vessel had been in the yards at Severodvinsk since August 1999, a period that makes repairs of the Admiral Gorshkov look like the model of efficiency (thebarentsobserver.com/en/security/2020/08/russian-battle-cruiser-put-water-after-more-20-years-reconstruction).
None of this is to say that the Russian navy is not a powerful force, but rather it is a sign that the problems Moscow has experienced in other sectors are fully in evidence even in such a strategically important one as naval construction and that, barring a major infusion of cash and attention, this situation is unlikely to change fundamentally in the next few years.