Russia’s Naval Doctrine: New Priorities and Benchmarks

Russia’s Naval Doctrine represents a systemic document that underlies the national maritime policy and constitutes an integral part of the Russian leadership’s strategic planning, which focuses on expanding the Navy and pursuing a national maritime policy as a top priority.

President Vladimir Putin recently approved a revised version of Russia’s Naval Doctrine. Changes to the Naval Doctrine stirred interest both in Russia and abroad.

This interest is not accidental, since Russia’s Naval Doctrine represents a systemic document that underlies the national maritime policy and constitutes an integral part of the Russian leadership’s strategic planning.

The Russian Naval Doctrine to 2020 was first approved in 2001, but remained largely unnoticed for a long time, being viewed more as a formal non-binding document. The effort to draft the Naval Doctrine was led by the Russian Navy. However, defense budgetary restrictions, which remained in place for an extended period of time, made implementing its provisions hardly attainable and even rendered them somewhat abstract. The Navy was in a state of decline following the collapse of the Soviet Union and, debilitated by a lack of proper resources, was unable to play the role of bulwark assigned to it by the Naval Doctrine.

The situation has turned around over the past few years. A process of retrofitting of the Navy began to unfold, and the activities of the Russian Navy in the oceans increased sharply. The number of naval exercises that we’ve seen over the past few years was unheard of even in the Soviet Navy’s heyday when it was led by Admiral Sergei Gorshkov. This instantly boosted Russia's positions as a naval power.

However, the resumed build-up of the Navy revealed numerous problems in the sphere of naval shipbuilding and developing of new naval weapons. As a result, the naval segment is holding back the 2011-2020 State Armaments Program, and the effort to actually shore up the Navy’s combat potential is being delayed.

The international situation has changed significantly recently, which directly affected Russia's positions on the sea. Primarily, this involves the reunification of Crimea and Sevastopol with Russia in 2014 and also the need to take measures for speedy economic, political and military integration of Crimea and Sevastopol. Based on this reunification, plans are in place to restore the presence of the Russian Navy in the Mediterranean. At the same time, the negative reaction of Western countries to this reunification and the general increase of Russia's potential have led to an aggravation of the military-political situation on Russia’s western borders and "Western" seas.

Therefore, a revision of the Naval Doctrine is in order. It must be amended to include provisions that are consistent with the current state of affairs. Clearly, the government made the revisions quickly, which is indicative of a greater focus on the Navy and the fact that the Naval Doctrine is now viewed as an effective guiding document of the government strategy.

Russia’s Naval Doctrine covers four functional areas and six regional areas. The four functional areas include maritime activities, maritime transport, maritime science and the production of mineral resources. The regional areas include the Atlantic, the Arctic, the Pacific, the Caspian Sea, the Indian Ocean as well as the Antarctic, which is a new addition to the Naval Doctrine.

The revised Naval Doctrine primarily focuses on two regional geostrategic areas: the Atlantic and the Arctic. The former is accounted for by continued NATO expansion in the Euro-Atlantic region as it approaches Russia's borders and the actual resumption of the Cold War with the West. The new version of the Naval Doctrine states that NATO plans to move its military infrastructure closer to Russia’s borders are unacceptable to Russia, and that this is what determines the nature of NATO-Russia relations. In its definition of the national naval policy for the Atlantic region, the Naval Doctrine refers to "the existing conditions in this region that are advantageous only to NATO, and the imperfection of legal mechanisms for ensuring international security."

In turn, Moscow sees the Arctic as a region that is important for its economy and defense, as it boasts vast resources off the continental shelf, is home to the Northern Sea Route, awaits a possible reduction in the Arctic Ocean ice and has overall importance to Russia in providing relatively free access to the Atlantic and the Pacific. Russia is actively "returning to the Arctic" militarily (establishing the "fifth" joint strategic command and actively developing military infrastructure) and economically (as it began to build a new nuclear icebreaker fleet and is putting together plans for developing offshore oil and gas fields).

Regarding Crimea and Sevastopol, the new edition of the Naval Doctrine states that focus should go, among other things, toward "improving the personnel and the structure of the Black Sea Fleet and developing its infrastructure in Crimea and off the coast of the Krasnodar Territory."

In light of the expanding military shipbuilding in Russia and the attempts to develop "major" commercial shipbuilding, with due account of the problems that arose in the process, the revised Naval Doctrine naturally incorporates a new section on shipbuilding. This reflects a greater focus of the supreme authorities on military shipbuilding and various aspects of civil shipbuilding.

An important section of the revised Naval Doctrine deals with the government administration of maritime activities. It outlines the role of the Russian Government’s Maritime Board and specifies the competence of other public authorities, which will help plan the implementation of the national maritime policy provisions for the long run.

Thus, adopting the updated Naval Doctrine indicates that Russia’s current leadership focuses on expanding the Navy and pursuing a national maritime policy as a top priority.

Views expressed are of individual Members and Contributors, rather than the Club's, unless explicitly stated otherwise.