The new Naval Doctrine is strikingly different from the 2015 edition. The world described in it seems much more disturbing and dangerous; its potential for conflict has increased significantly, Valdai Club expert Prokhor Tebin writes.
On Russian Navy Day, July 31, 2022, Russian President Vladimir Putin signed Decree No. 512 “On the Approval of the Naval Doctrine of the Russian Federation”. The previous Naval Doctrine was approved on July 26, 2015.
The renewal of the Russian Naval Doctrine is long overdue, due to a number of significant changes in the region and internationally. These include the operation in the Syrian Arab Republic; the signing of the Convention on the Legal Status of the Caspian Sea of August 12, 2018; the approval of the “Fundamentals of the State Policy of the Russian Federation in the Field of Naval Operations for the Period Until 2030” in 2017; and the new edition of the 2021 National Security Strategy. The revised Security Strategy reflects the sharp aggravation of Russia’s relations with the countries of the West, as well as the special military operation on the territory of Ukraine, the Donetsk People’s Republic and the Lugansk People’s Republic.
National interests, challenges and risks
The document significantly expands the number of Russia’s national interests in the World Ocean, from eight to fourteen.
The interpretation of national interests in terms of defence, security and freedom of the high seas is expanding. The necessity of preserving for Russia “the status of a great maritime power, whose activities are aimed at maintaining strategic stability in the World Ocean” amid “the emerging polycentric world” is noted. Separate mention was made of ensuring the safe operation of offshore pipeline systems and guaranteed access to global transport communications.
The development of the Arctic zone of the Russian Federation (AZRF) and the Northern Sea Route (NSR) has been added to the list of national interests. In terms of the development of the Russian Arctic, an important addition was made regarding the “full-scale development of the continental shelf of the Russian Federation outside the 200-mile exclusive economic zone”. A proviso is included that this will be possible after the outer border of the Russian continental shelf is delimitated, in accordance with Article 76 of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea.
It is also important when ensuring the national interests of Russia to divide the World Ocean into regions; these are categorised as vital, important and other. In addition to Russia’s territorial waters, the exclusive economic zone (EEZ) and the continental shelf beyond its limits in the Arctic Basin, the waters of the Northern Sea Route, the Sea of Okhotsk and the Russian sector of the Caspian Sea are classified as vital areas. The list of important areas for ensuring national interests is also noteworthy; these include the Sea of Azov and the Black Sea, the Baltic and Kuril straits, the eastern part of the Mediterranean Sea, as well as sea transit areas which are vital to world maritime transport interests.
An important difference in the new Naval Doctrine is, as Ilya Kramnik rightly pointed out, the correction of Russia’s national interests in the World Ocean. The 2015 edition links the needs of the state and society with the maritime potential of Russia. At the same time, the 2022 edition defines national interests as the “objectively significant needs of the state and society” without referring to maritime potential.
The United States and its allies, which are implementing a containment policy towards Russia, directly confront Russia’s independent foreign and domestic policy. The force factor continues to play a role in international relations.
The Naval Doctrine identifies ten challenges and threats to national security and the sustainable development of Russia related to the World Ocean. The key challenges and threats are the confrontation with the United States and its allies (including NATO members), which are striving to dominate the World Ocean, their desire to limit Russia’s access to the resources of the World Ocean and vital maritime transport routes, and the territorial claims against Russia which have been made by a number of states relating to some of its coastal and insular territories. Separately, the potential conflict in the Arctic is highlighted, associated with the strengthening foreign naval presence and attempts to weaken Russia’s control over the NSR.
Certain risks among those identified by the Naval Doctrine for Russia’s maritime activity should be noted: the sanctions against Russian shipbuilding and oil and gas enterprises and companies, the incompleteness of the international legal delimitation of maritime space in the Arctic, and attempts to revise the Convention on the Regime of the Straits of July 20, 1936 (Montreux Convention), as well as the lack of bases outside of Russia to support the operations of the Navy in remote areas of the oceans.
The change to part 1 of Article 32 is important; it contains a list of national maritime policy principles. As amended in 2015, the first principle was “compliance with the generally recognised principles and norms of international law and the provisions of international treaties of the Russian Federation”; now it is “compliance with the legislation of the Russian Federation, generally recognised principles and norms of international law, as well as the provisions of international treaties of the Russian Federation”. The priority of non-military methods of protecting national interests is supplemented by a phrase about “an effective combination of non-military and military measures”. Quite remarkable is the inclusion of the phrase “using the capabilities of other states that are Russia’s allies and partners to realise the national interests of the Russian Federation in the World Ocean”.
Functional and regional directions of the national maritime policy
The functional areas of maritime activities of the 2015 edition (sea transport, the development and conservation of the resources of the World Ocean, marine scientific research, naval activities), have been supplemented by a fifth — the development of offshore pipeline systems. These are aimed, among other things, at reducing the dependence of the export of domestic hydrocarbon resources on the reliability of ground pipeline systems that pass through other states. The need to ensure the independence of Russia in laying offshore pipelines and the protection of ships, installations and structures used in this process is emphasised.
In terms of scientific activity, the role of studying the military-political, economic and legal problems of using the resources and spaces of the World Ocean has been increased. In terms of naval activities, the Naval Doctrine refers to the fundamentals of the state policy of the Russian Federation in the field of naval activities, the current version of which was approved in 2017.
The list of regions of operation defined by the national maritime policy has remained unchanged, but their ordering has changed. The 2022 edition of the Naval Doctrine lowered the Atlantic region to third place in the list, while the Arctic and Pacific take first and second place. The division of the Atlantic region into three basins is emphasised — the Baltic Sea, the Azov-Black Sea and the Mediterranean Sea.
The Arctic region — The transformation of the Arctic into a region of “global competition not only from an economic, but also from a military point of view” is especially stressed. Along with the Northern Fleet, the Pacific Fleet, the Federal Security Service, and the Russian National Guard forces are entrusted with the task of ensuring the security and defence of the country. Emphasis is placed on the comprehensive development of the NSR as a safe, competitive, year-round national transport route in Russia. The necessity of ensuring the stability of the historically-established international legal regime of internal sea waters in the Arctic straits of the NSR and control over the naval activities of foreign states in the NSR is emphasised.
The Pacific region — Regarding the Pacific, the national maritime policy recognises overcoming the economic and infrastructural isolation of the Far East from the industrialised regions of Russia, the development of economic ties with foreign countries, and the development of the country’s transport and logistics potential as priorities. Separately, the importance of ensuring the naval presence of the Russian Navy in the Asia-Pacific region, including the formation of logistics centres on the territory of foreign states, as well as the development of a domestic shipbuilding sector in the Far East, including for the construction of modern aircraft carriers, is mentioned.
The Atlantic region — as in the 2015 edition, the emphasis is on the role of NATO, but the wording is more stringent. It is emphasised that the aim of NATO activities is a direct confrontation with Russia and its allies. The thesis was repeated that Russia finds it unacceptable that the alliance plans to extend its military infrastructure to Russia’s borders while attempting to function globally. The priority of the development of the Baltic Fleet is being increased.
The clause on the need to ensure the international legal regulation of the regime and a procedure for the use of the Kerch Strait has been excluded.
The section on the Mediterranean basin has been expanded. An emphasis was placed on strengthening Russia’s partnership with Syria, expanding Russia’s naval presence in the region, as well as developing relations with the states of the Middle East and North Africa, including the development of military-technical cooperation and the creation of new logistics centres.
The Caspian Sea — the emphasis is on strengthening the economic and geopolitical position of Russia in the region. The important role of the Convention on the Legal Status of the Caspian Sea of August 12, 2018 is noted.
The Indian Ocean — the list of countries, the development of relations with which is recognised as a priority of the national maritime policy in the region, has been significantly expanded. In addition to India, whose status has been upgraded from “friendly ties” to “strategic partnership”, the list includes Iran, Iraq and Saudi Arabia. The need to maintain the naval presence of Russia in the Persian Gulf, as well as its participation in ensuring the security of the functioning of maritime transport in the region, including the fight against piracy, is noted.
The Antarctic — the need to maintain equal conditions for international cooperation and prevent the militarisation of the region is noted. The important role of Russia’s permanent and active presence as a member of the Antarctic Treaty system and the need to develop Antarctic stations and field bases as part of the Russian Antarctic Expedition is emphasised.
Provision of maritime activities
Shipbuilding — the added specification that the domestic shipbuilding sector must be developed “independently of the external situation” deserves special attention. The importance of innovation and investment activities has been increased in order to develop new and existing shipbuilding capacities. Separately, for the second time, the need to ensure the possibility of building modern aircraft-carrying ships for the Navy, as well as marine robotic systems for the military and dual purposes was mentioned.
Staffing, education and upbringing — this section has been expanded. The focus is on the development and improvement of the education system, including in the interests of the shipbuilding industry; ensuring social guarantees for Naval, Federal Security Service, National Guard, and Russian Emergencies Ministry personnel and their families; as well as the development of the health care system for sailors.
Safety of maritime activities — this section is supplemented with subsections on health care and combating maritime piracy and terrorism.
Information support — this section has been expanded: the promising satellite communication and Express-RV broadcasting system is mentioned, the need to create a unified infrastructure for the information support of maritime activities and the domestic orbital constellation of spacecraft to connect coastal information centres with ships.
International legal support and international cooperation is a new section. Particular emphasis is placed on participation in the activities of the International Maritime Organisation, naval diplomacy (joint international exercises of the Navy and the FSB, regular calls to foreign ports) and ensuring the safety of maritime activities.
New parts of the Doctrine
The new Naval doctrine is supplemented by two parts that were absent in the 2015 edition — “Mobilisation preparation and mobilisation readiness” and “Procedure for using the instruments of the national maritime policy to protect the national interests of the Russian Federation in the World Ocean”.
The part on mobilisation contains an important indication of the possibility that ships flying the state flag of Russia may be withdrawn during wartime or amid threats, and that control of these ships would then be transferred to the Armed Forces. At the same time, the priority of increasing the number of ships flying the State flag of Russia is emphasised. An extensive list of necessary measures for ensuring the mobilisation readiness of ships, ports and shipbuilding enterprises is provided. It is also noted that there is a need to improve the procedure for calling up and using ships and port facilities amid special operations in peacetime, as well as the procedure for compensating ship owners for the resulting losses.
The part about the “Procedure for the use of ...” contains the following provisions on the possibility of using military force, which are indicated as being the most important:
in vital areas of the World Ocean, where Russia, along with others methods, makes full use of military force in accordance with the legislation of the Russian Federation, generally recognised principles and norms of international law;
in important areas, Russia can use military force adequately to the prevailing situation when the possibility of using other tools has been exhausted;
in other regions, Russia does not assume the possibility of using military force.
The new Naval Doctrine is strikingly different from the 2015 edition. The world described in it seems much more disturbing and dangerous; its potential for conflict has increased significantly. The situation in the Russian Arctic is much more tense, but there are significant challenges and risks in many areas, including the Baltic and Azov-Black Sea basins, the Sea of Okhotsk and the Kuril Islands. The role of military force in the new Naval Doctrine has grown significantly. The most important change was the division of the World Ocean into areas for ensuring Russia’s national interests into vital, important and other, as well as determining the conditions and scope for the use of military force to protect national interests, depending on the status of the area. In the context of worsening international tensions, the establishment of concrete and systematic “red lines” at the level of strategic planning documents seems correct and necessary.
At the same time, the Naval Doctrine has become more ambitious. In accordance with the new wording, “the national interests of the Russian Federation as a great maritime power extend to the entire World Ocean and the Caspian Sea.” The maritime doctrine involves building up the economic, research and naval presence of Russia in various areas of the World Ocean, strengthening and developing the Navy, creating a shipbuilding industry “independently of the external situation”, as well as port and information infrastructure. All this requires significant investments, and, importantly, a consistent state policy. Only time will tell how Russia will be able to implement this Naval Doctrine in the context of the ongoing operation in Ukraine, continuing threats of destabilisation in the Caucasus and Central Asia, and the accession of Sweden and Finland to NATO.
In light of the changed global diplomatic arena and the approval of the new Naval Doctrine, it seems appropriate to update the Fundamentals of the State Policy of the Russian Federation in the field of naval activities for the period up to 2030. One of its key tasks should be to determine the strategy for the development of a Navy that can protect the national interests of Russia and the implementation of the provisions of the Naval Doctrine, taking into account the modern technology and resources available to the country. The Russian fleet must be balanced and sustainable, and its development must be linked to resources and the development of other instruments of national policy.