A POTEMKIN NAVY?
Despite Russia’s ambitious plans to restore its fleet,
experts doubt its ability to rival U.S. naval forces
By OTTO KREISHER, Special Correspondent
a brief spurt of concern and protest
in Washington and elsewhere in
In November 2008, a Russian
warship steamed into the Caribbean,
visiting Venezuela to bolster rabidly
anti-American President Hugo Chavez and counter U.S. incursions into
the Black Sea. U.S. Navy and Coast
Guard ships had provided humanitarian supplies to Georgia several
months earlier during that nation’s
clashes with Russia over the disputed region of South Ossetia.
And a rearmament program,
recently approved by President
But those pronouncements and naval excursions may
be little more than a 21st century “Potemkin Village,”
aimed at hiding a dramatically diminished Russian fleet
with little immediate capability to restore anything close
to the might of the Cold War Soviet armada.
“The basic point we should always keep in mind:
there is a big space between their statements and what
they can actually accomplish,” said Dmitry Gorenburg,
a Russian Navy authority at Harvard University and
the Center for Naval Analyses.
Instead of a naval renaissance, Gorenburg agreed
with Alexander Khramchikhin, chief analyst at the
Institute of Politics and Military Analysis in Russia,
who wrote in the Russian newspaper Nezavisimaya
Gazeta late last year that: “Any person who can see the
real situation well understands that in a few years the
Russian Navy as a whole, as well as all four of its com-
Based on the pronouncements of Russian naval officials, the sea
service appears ready to move aggressively to rebuild and modernize the remnants of the once-powerful Soviet force.
■ Plans have been announced to build six aircraft carrier strike
groups in 20 years and re-establish the Russian Navy’s presence
in the Mediterranean and the Atlantic.
■ Officials also have said they are considering buying a foreign-made, modern helicopter-carrier assault ship, such as the French-built
Mistral, which has rankled some members of the U.S. Congress.
■ Skeptics, however, believe there is a large gap between what
the Russians say they want to accomplish and what they will
actually be able to achieve.
Reinvigorated by dynamic and nationalistic young leaders, and bolstered by revenue from its vast oil and natural gas reserves, Russia
appears to be moving aggressively to regain its superpower status by rebuilding and modernizing the badly
decayed remnants of the once-powerful Soviet military.
A key part of that restoration, based on the pronouncements of naval officials, would be the creation
of a blue-water fleet to rival the U.S. Navy.
Adm. Vladimir Masorin, then-commander of the
Russian Navy, restated that ambition in late 2007,
when he announced plans to build six aircraft carrier
strike groups in 20 years. That would give Russia the
world’s second largest fleet of carriers, after the
Masorin also declared that the Russian Navy was re-establishing its presence in the Mediterranean and the
Then last summer, the U.S. Navy tracked two
nuclear-powered Russian attack submarines cruising in
international waters off the Atlantic coastline, creating