Staunton, August 28 – The Russian navy this week completed the rebasing of the Caspian Flotilla from Astrakhan, its historic home port, to Kaspiisk and Makhachkala in the Republic of Daghestan, where it will be 385 kilometers closer to the maritime boundary of the Russian Federation.
Most of the equipment from the previous base was shifted south by train, but the ships sailed there over the last few weeks now that the port facilities have been completed in Kaspissk and expanded in Makhachkala (capost.media/news/politika/kaspiyskaya-flotiliya-v-polnom-sostave-perebazirovalas-iz-astrakhani-v-kaspiysk/).
The major reason behind the move was Moscow’s desire to have its vessels closer to the center of the Caspian and thus be in a position to respond to any challenges by other littoral states and its fear that the Volga waterway between Astrakhan and the Caspian might silt up and limit the flotilla’s freedom of action.
But the basing shift has at least two other consequences. On the one hand, because it is in a non-Russian republic and because the Caspian Flotilla has the capacity to project power on land via helicopters and marines, it will provide Russia with an additional weapon to use against any violence in the region and reassure ethnic Russians that they will be defended.
And on the other, because Moscow regularly shifts ships from the Caspian Flotilla to the Sea of Azov to put pressure on Ukraine, a move that is increasingly problematic via Russia’s rapidly silting up inner waterways, the new basing strategy will make it more likely that the Russian government will push ahead with a new North Caucasus canal.
That would link the Caspian directly with the Sea of Azov (and via that sea to the Black Sea). As of now, there are two competing plans, one that would go through the Kalmyk Republic and a second that would bypass that federal subject. Because such a canal would have enormous economic value, competition over the route can be expected to heat up dramatically.