What will the navy do with its ships?

Surprisingly, developments in the Russian military have continued apace over the last two months while I’ve been more or less away from writing new material. Now I’m back and at some point will write about some of the things I learned about Caspian security.

But first, I came across a very interesting analysis of likely Russian naval strategy for the next ten years based on plans announced in the State Armaments Program. This was published two months ago, but I haven’t seen it covered in English, so it seems worth noting. The author notes four situations in which Russia will have to depend on its naval forces:

  1. Protecting undersea pipelines and offshore energy deposits.
  2. Protecting Sea lanes of communication and trade (i.e. anti-piracy).
  3. Defending Russia from China. The author argues that since Russian ground forces could not withstand a Chinese attack, Russia’s only hope (other than its nuclear deterrent, which he doesn’t mention for some reason) is to defeat the Chinese Navy and threaten its major population centers on the coast.
  4. Showing the flag in areas where it’s important for Russia to have influence. The author specifically lists Latin America, the Middle East, and Southwest Asia. He ties previous ship visits to these areas to subsequent arms sales to Venezuela and Vietnam.

These are likely to be the four main missions of Russia’s conventional naval forces for at least the next decade. Note what is missing from this list. Based on its shipbuilding plans, Russia no longer considers the US an opponent. Instead of ships aimed at destroying US attack submarines and aircraft carriers, Russia plans to build smaller multipurpose ships such as frigates and corvettes.

Furthermore, ship building plans indicate that in the coming years, the Pacific Fleet will become the most important Russian fleet, taking over from the Northern Fleet. Its main mission will be to deter potential Chinese aggression against Russia. It could also be used in the event of a conflict with Japan over the Kuril Islands, though I can’t imagine that how that dispute could lead to an armed conflict. Because of the priority given to this fleet, the first of the newly purchased Mistral ships will go to the Pacific Fleet.

The Northern fleet will remain the main base for strategic submarines, while its big surface ships (and especially Peter the Great, which is nuclear powered and does not need to depend on accompanying refueling ships) will be restricted to “show the flag” types of cruises around the world.

Now that the Sevastopol basing issue has been resolved, the Black Sea Fleet will be substantially modernized. Plans call for it to receive six diesel submarines and 12 new corvettes and amphibs. These will be used for three missions — to protect undersea energy pipelines, control maritime approaches to Georgia, and conduct anti-piracy operations off the coast of Somalia.

Finally, the Baltic Fleet has no potential opponents and will be turned into a coastal protection force. All of its large ships are being transferred to Sevastopol and its sole mission will be to protect undersea pipelines. To this end, it will have a larger contingent of naval special operations forces.

Of course, all of this depends on the Russian ship-building industry actually completing the construction of various ships in a timely manner. Plans call for the construction, over the next ten years, of 8 strategic submarines, 22 multi-purpose submarines (both nuclear and diesel), 12 frigates, 20 corvettes, and 10 amphibious ships. Given the track record, the likelihood of Russian ship-builders being able to build this many ships in ten years is more or less zero. Building half of those ships is perhaps a realistic target, if all goes well. But note that the first of the Ivan Gren amphibious ships, six of which are supposed to be built, has been under construction since 2004 and is currently listed as “in early stages of construction.” The first of the new Admiral Gorshkov frigates, laid down in 2006, was recently floated out of its launch dock but is still listed as only 40 percent complete.

Despite the inevitable problems and delays that will push back this reconfiguration, the shipbuilding program spelled out in the SAP shows the likely strategic direction of the Russian Navy for at least the next decade. According to these plans, the conventional Russian navy will remain primarily a coastal defense force, while its older larger ships will primarily be engaged in friendly visits to other parts of the world.

Russian Politics and Law, January 2011 Table of Contents

Volume 49 Number 1 / January-February 2011 of Russian Politics and Law is now available on the mesharpe.metapress.com web site at http://mesharpe.metapress.com. Contents after the cut.

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The Russian Orthodox Church and Russian Politics: Editors’ Introduction

Authors: Irina Papkova and Dmitry Gorenburg

On 5 December 2008, Aleksii II, who had been the Orthodox patriarch of Moscow and All Rus for the entire post-Soviet period, passed away. The formal enthronement of his successor, Kirill I, took place two months later.   In contrast to the secular realm, where the differences between the Putin and Medvedev presidencies are merely stylistic, the Russian Orthodox Church (ROC) has so far experienced the tenure of the dynamic Kirill I as a veritable revolution. Furthermore, the shakeup within the ROC has already clearly affected the relationship between the Russian state and the majority national church.  Radically different from his predecessor in both the style and content of his administration of the ROC, the new patriarch has managed to move the church-state relationship in the Russian Federation in directions that were only imagined under Aleksii II.

The ROC’s post-Soviet relationship with the state has centered on several key concerns: the admissibility of religious instruction in public schools (through the framework of “Fundamentals of Orthodox Culture” courses); the introduction of chaplaincy in the armed forces; the restitution of property; and the limitation of competition by other faiths on Russian soil.   Prior to 2008, the ROC had made progress only in terms of converts; the church did not, on balance, manage to convince the state to accede to its demands.  The notorious Law on Freedom of Conscience and Religious Organizations (1997), which limited proselytism in Russia, was the only success the ROC could point to; on all other counts, the state held a distinctly secular position.  With the accession of Kirill I, however, the situation began to change dramatically in favor of the church’s rising political influence.  This issue of Russian Politics and Law examines this new dynamic.  We also explore two broader problems currently debated in Russia’s overlapping social, political and ecclesiastical circles: how big a role should the Orthodox Church play in society, and to what extent should it be granted the privilege of representing that society’s interests vis à vis the state?

The first two articles–by Aleksei Makarkin and Sergei Filatov respectively–are analytical pieces that provide deep background both on the situation within the ROC since Kirill I’s enthronement and on the ways in which his patriarchate has affected church-state relations.  In “The Russian Orthodox Church: Competing Choices,” Makarkin begins by summarizing the results of the previous patriarch’s reign, concluding that Aleksii II bequeathed his successor with a consolidated institution able to play a visible role in Russian politics and society. Both Makarkin and Filatov focus on the energetic personality of the new patriarch, most visible in his support for the revitalization of the ROC’s missionary activity across the country, often in innovative form such as preaching at rock concerts. Makarkin points out that the new patriarch is a master politician, who used these abilities to defeat his main rivals for the position of Patriarch. Now that he is in charge of the ROC, he can use these abilities to tackle some of the more controversial issues facing the church, including its relationship with the Roman Catholic Church and with competing Orthodox churches in Ukraine.

Filatov, in “Socio-Religious Life in Russia in the Autumn of 2009” describes Kirill’s goal as bringing Orthodoxy “out of the ghetto” and into every possible aspect of social life.  Filatov is concerned, however, that the message of the new ROC leadership is not so much religious as nationalist in content, because the missionary rhetoric focuses mainly on “Holy Rus,” on the values of “Russian civilization,” rather than on the message of Christ. Focusing on church-state relations, Filatov describes the progress that the ROC has made since 2008 in getting the state to accede to its political preferences: the Medvedev government has granted federal approval for the teaching of “Orthodox values” in public schools; both Putin and Medvedev have moved towards authorizing full restitution of pre-Revolutionary ecclesiastical property; and the Duma has been considering further legislative restrictions on foreign proselytism. At the same time, both Makarkin and Filatov point to potential weaknesses in the ROC’s position. First, they underscore the unstable nature of the patriarch’s authority within the ROC itself, as Kirill’s authoritarian personality and somewhat liberal theological views have combined to alienate a large segment of the clergy and active laity.  Second, Filatov, in particular, points out that Russian society is by no means entirely Orthodox in its orientation, and that the persistence of a strong secularist mood among some members of the political class may potentially create friction between the state and the ROC in the future.

The rest of the articles in this issue move away from impersonal analysis and express the positions of various actors concerned with the Russian church-state relationship, including state actors, the patriarch himself, and voices from within society. Both Russian and Western experts have often underestimated the extent to which both the state and the Orthodox Church are multi-vocal, presenting the relationship as one in which a unitary church has been lobbying an increasingly responsive unitary government to further ecclesiastical interests. Yet, as mentioned above, prior to 2008 the state was more often than not unresponsive to the Church’s demands. One reason for this may be found in the actively secular orientation of some government officials. While the ROC has achieved certain goals since 2008, the path has not been simple, as the officials in question still hold influential offices and have been quite open in opposing what they view as encroaching clericalism.  In “Religion in the System of State Power,” Andrei Sebentsov (executive secretary of the Government Commission for Religious Associations) criticizes the ROC for frequently overstepping the boundaries separating church and state. Moreover, Sebentsov complains that state officials are often complicit in granting the ROC privileges that contradict Russia’s secular constitution. Complicating matters, however, even this quite vocal critic of the ROC admits that there are areas on which church and state not only can, but should work together, such as strengthening the position of Russia abroad.

In fact, the past two years have seen an increasing coordination in the policies of the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the ROC’s outreach to its parishes outside Russian borders. In his “Address at the Grand Opening of the Third Assembly of the Russian World,” Patriarch Kirill stresses the important role played by the church in ensuring at least a spiritual unity between Orthodox Christians of Slavic background, reminding Ukrainians, Belarussians and Russians of their common heritage.  In the context of the competition between the West and Russia for hegemony over large areas of the former Russian/Soviet Empire, the patriarch’s language in this article is striking for its ethno-linguistic, cultural understanding of the proposed “Russian world,” and for the decidedly underemphasized role he accords to Orthodoxy. In his trenchant critique of the patriarch’s address (“Geopolitics from the Patriarch: The Heavenly Kingdom Versus the ‘Russian World’”), Gennadii Druzenko writes that “the most remarkable thing about this speech is that the head of the largest national Orthodox Church spoke for twenty-five minutes and mentioned God only three times…while repeating thirty-eight times the phrase ‘Russian world’ – a term [that] sounds like a geopolitical concept bearing little connection to church doctrine.”

The impression that Patriarch Kirill understands the interests of church and state to be inseparable is strengthened in his “Address at the Opening of the Eighteenth International Christmas Readings.”  The purpose of the Christmas Readings has been to heighten the visibility of the ROC’s role in education; over the years, the event has evolved into the ROC’s largest annual gathering, involving clergy, laity and political actors.   In his address to the participants, Kirill I underscores the importance of the Orthodox Church in ensuring a patriotic education infused with reverential memory for Russia’s past glories. Though he refers in passing to individual salvation, the emphasis here is clearly on the role that the ROC can play in strengthening the post-Soviet Russian state.  Here, Patriarch Kirill functions almost explicitly as a political, rather than religious, authority figure.

In his address to the Christmas Readings, Patriarch Kirill harkens back to the assumption that, in lobbying for the introduction of an Orthodox component into public school education, the ROC speaks for Russian society.  At the same time, the “Fundamentals of Orthodox Culture” project had, prior to 2008, floundered in part because the society supposedly interested in it in fact offered up a surprising resistance to its realization.  Despite President Dmitry Medvedev’s recent authorization of federal support for the “Orthodox Culture” course, opposition within certain segments of Russian society remains strong. In “Orthodox Bolshevism,” Mikhail Sitnikov warns that the legalization of the course across the Russian Federation may lead to a new totalitarianism where politicized Orthodoxy replaces Communism as the compulsory state ideology.  Sitnikov’s article is polemical and does not claim to represent the voice of the Russian population in general.  In “They Did not Take it On Faith” Irina Ivoilova and Sergei Kuskin simply bring forward statistics showing that, given the option of choosing courses on religion and on secular ethics for their children, the majority of Russian parents have, as of 2010, voted in favor of the secular option.

The articles in this issue show that the ROC is increasingly becoming an effective force in Russian political life, despite the low levels of religiosity among nominal church adherents. Patriarch Kirill has already used his political skills to achieve the introduction of courses on Orthodoxy in Russian schools and the establishment of a chaplain system in the Russian military, policy achievements that eluded his predecessor despite years of sustained lobbying. The ROCs is likely to continue to use his skills to advance its political agenda for the foreseeable future.

Debating NATO arms sales to Russia

Robert Farley responds to my post on NATO arms sales to Russia:

I can certainly understand the logic of the argument that arms sales should create dependence, which should lead to reluctance on the part of Russia to irritate the West. However, there are problems both logical and empirical. First, “France” and “the West” aren’t identical; it may be possible to engage in certain adventures that bother Washington, but not Paris. Second, I’m not sure about the empirical question. We can certainly identify cases in which an arms transfer relationship did not prevent war. Type 42 destroyers, for example, fought on both sides of the Falklands War.

Robert makes a fair point in noting that France is not the same as the West. However, I was making a larger point here, one that goes beyond just the Mistrals and just France. If Russia continues to conclude major arms deals with NATO states (with the Mistral being the largest so far, but not the only), then over time the Russian military would become more closely tied to NATO, which would do two things.

1) Increase interoperability, allowing for greater cooperation for common ends — such counter-terrorism or anti-piracy operations. This seems to be a relatively uncontroversial point.

2) Reduce the likelihood that “Russia would take unilateral military action contrary to Western interests.” This is obviously a judgement call and open to debate. I was thinking along the lines of the commonly made argument that European dependence on Russian energy sales makes European states (such as Germany) less willing to provoke Russia. One might argue that weapons are not the same as natural gas in terms of the effect they have on states’ foreign policies. And obviously there are other factors that would come into play.

The physical object represented by a particular platform or weapon system doesn’t matter at all. What matters is the policy line represented by military cooperation between two states. After the Iranian revolution, for example, Iran still used US-made weapons and equipment, such as the F-14, but further cooperation was out of the question. Over time, these planes have deteriorated and become less and less useful.

But absent a radical change in government or policy, it seems to me that Russian arms purchases from NATO states would over time create a situation where Russia becomes dependent on these states for both additional equipment and for maintenance of weapons already purchased. Russian leaders clearly hope that this is just a temporary phenomenon, during which they can absorb Western know-how and start building advanced weapons systems domestically against in the near future. I have my doubts that this will happen any time soon. Russian dependence on Western military technology is most likely here to stay for at least a decade, maybe longer. And that will make Russian leaders think twice before taking military action that will lead to an end to such exports.

India-Russia Defense Integration Is Likely To Endure

Here’s one last Oxford Analytica brief to tide over dedicated readers while I try to finish a big project. This one was originally written in early October. If all goes well, expect new material on the blog right after MLK day.

SUBJECT: The outlook for Russian-Indian defence cooperation.

SIGNIFICANCE: India will be the Russian defence industry’s biggest client for at least the next four years, accounting for 55% of all foreign orders. Many of these contracts are for joint ventures that will tie the two countries’ defence industries even closer together.

ANALYSIS: Despite recent reports that Russian aircraft did not advance to the final round of India’s tender for a medium multi-role combat aircraft, Russia’s defence industry will dominate India’s foreign arms purchases for the foreseeable future.

Ships and submarines Cooperation between the Indian and Russian navies has endured since the 1960s.  About half the Indian Navy’s major surface combatants and two-thirds of its submarines were built in Russia or the Soviet Union:

  • Frigates In recent years, India has purchased six Russian-built Krivak (Talwar) class frigates. The first three were delivered in 2003-04, while the second set is being delivered in 2009-12.  Each of the new frigates is to be armed with eight jointly developed BrahMos supersonic cruise missiles, a 100-millimetre gun, a Shtil surface-to-air missile (SAM) system, two Kashtan air-defence gun/missile systems, two twin 533-mm torpedo launchers and an anti-submarine warfare (ASW) helicopter.
  • Submarines India also operates ten Kilo class submarines, purchased from the Soviet Union and Russia between 1986 and 2000. Four of the older submarines have been modernised at the Zvezdochka shipyard in Severodvinsk, which included a complete overhaul of hull structures; improvements to control systems, sonar, electronic warfare systems, and an integrated weapon control system; as well as adding SS-N-27 anti-ship missiles.
  • Weapons systems Over the years, India has bought a number of major Russian weapons systems for domestically built ships. These purchases have included anti-ship missiles and SAMs, torpedoes, ASW rocket launchers and naval guns. Most significantly, the Shivalik class frigates and Kolkata class destroyers are armed almost entirely with Russian weapons such as the RBU-6000 rocket launchers, SET-65E torpedoes, SS-N-27 anti-ship missiles, and SA-N-12 surface-to-air missiles.

Carrier delays The Severodvinsk shipyard is nearing completion on a long-delayed project to refurbish the former Soviet aircraft carrier Admiral Gorshkov (INS Vikramaditya), which was sold to India in 2004.  Under the terms of the original deal, India would have receive the ship for free in 2008 — but would have paid 800 million dollars for necessary upgrades and refurbishment, and an additional 1 billion dollars for accompanying aircraft and weapons systems, which included:

  • 12 single-seat MiG-29K and 4 dual-seat MiG-29KUB aircraft;
  • 6 Ka-31 reconnaissance and Ka-28 anti-submarine helicopters;
  • a Kashtan close-in weapons system;
  • 9M-311 SAMs;
  • torpedo tubes; and
  • artillery units.

Recurring delays and significant cost over-runs brought the Indian side close to cancelling the deal, though in March 2010 the two sides reached an agreement to increase the payment for retrofitting to 2.3 billion dollars. According to the new contract, the carrier will be transferred to India in 2012. As of July 2010, all structural work had been completed and almost all large equipment had been installed, although cabling work is continuing.

Submarine lease In August 2010, Russia officially transferred an Akula-II class submarine to India, which will lease it for ten years. An Indian crew is currently in Russia being trained to operate the submarine. The lease is the result of a 2004 deal through which India invested 650 million dollars in completing construction on the submarine. It was due to be transferred in 2008, but technical problems during construction, followed by a deadly malfunction of the automatic fire extinguishing system during sea trials, delayed the transfer.

Aircraft The vast majority of India’s fixed-wing aircraft and helicopters were purchased from Russia.  In 2008, the two countries signed a contract to upgrade existing Mig-29s, in service since the 1980s, at a total cost of 964 million dollars. The first four aircraft will be upgraded in Russia, while the other 60-plus will be overhauled in India with the assistance of Russian experts. During the overhaul, which will be completed by 2013, the planes will be fitted with:

  • advanced avionics;
  • new multi-functional Zhuk-ME radars;
  • a new weapon control system; and
  • revamped engines.

As a result, the lifespan of the aircraft will be extended by 25-40 years.  In addition, in January the Indian Navy ordered 29 more Mig-29K aircraft at a cost of 1.5 billion dollars. Together with the 16 identical aircraft ordered as part of the Vikramaditya deal, these planes will form the core of India’s naval aviation for the foreseeable future.

The Indian government has reached an agreement with Sukhoi to assemble in India Su-30MKI fighters from kits purchased from Russia. It is also planning to modernise its existing fleet of Su-30MKI fighters, 42 of which will be upgraded with new radars, avionics and BrahMos supersonic missiles. The project will begin in 2012 and will be carried out by Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) at a cost of 2.34 billion dollars, with assistance from Russian experts. By the end of this decade, the Indian Air Force will have a total of 272 Su-30MKI fighters in service at a total cost of around 14 billion dollars, making it the dominant aircraft in its fleet.

India has also purchased 139 Mi-17 helicopters as a replacement for its aging Mi-8s. The first lot of these is being delivered this year.

Tanks and armoured vehicles The Indian army currently operates 657 T-90 tanks, most of which were assembled in India under license. Another 1,000 T-90M tanks will be built locally over the next ten years. The Indian army also operates almost 2,000 T-72 tanks and large numbers of BMP-1 and BMP-2 armoured vehicles.

Joint projects In addition to purchases, the Indian and Russian defence industries are working on a range of joint projects, some of which have already resulted in very successful products:

  • BrahMos Considered by some experts to be world’s fastest and most accurate cruise missile, the BrahMos has a range of 290 kilometres (km), can be used against ships or land targets, and can be launched from ships or land. Air- and submarine-launched versions are currently under development. The missile is currently in service on Indian frigates and destroyers, as well as in the Indian army on mobile launchers. The air version will be installed on Indian aircraft by 2012. A faster BrahMos II missile will be ready by 2014 and will be installed on the Kolkata class destroyers. The BrahMos is not currently used by the Russian military. It is available for export, with Chile, Brazil, South Africa, Indonesia and Malaysia involved in negotiations for potential purchases.
  • Multi-role transport aircraft This project is in its initial stages, with costs being split evenly among Rosoboroneksport, the United Aircraft Corporation and HAL. A prototype aircraft may be built in six to eight years. It will be modelled on the Il-214, with a range of 2,500 km and a payload of up to 20 tonnes. The goal is produce around 200 aircraft, with 30% available for export.
  • Fifth-generation fighter jet HAL is cooperating with Sukhoi on the development of a new fighter aircraft, which is expected to join the Russian Air Force in 2015.  India will procure at least 50 planes in a two-seat version that will be armed with BrahMos missiles.

CONCLUSION: Military cooperation has moved beyond arms sales and licensing of Russian designs for production in India.  Successful joint ventures promise to integrate the two countries’ defence industries for the foreseeable future.