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Swords and Shields: Russia's Med menace

The Admiral Kuznetsov was designed to protect the Soviet submarine fleet, interdict Western submarine forces and destroy Western carrier groups with its supersonic Granit SS-N-19 anti-ship cruise missiles in the event of nuclear war. It carries 24 multipurpose Sukhoi Su-33 fighters -- Flanker-D -- comparable with the U.S. F-14. The Admiral Kuznetsov is designed to conduct air superiority and air defense operations using its aircraft and its 3K95 Kinzhal missile defense system.
by Ariel Cohen
Washington (UPI) Oct 15, 2008
The Russian Federation is expanding its global power projection capability, starting with redeploying a part of the Black Sea Fleet to its Cold War hunting grounds in the Mediterranean. Returning to bases and anchorages in Syria and Libya is a top priority for the Russian admirals.

During the Cold War era the Soviets emphasized interdicting Western aircraft carriers and nuclear submarines in the Mediterranean to prevent them from launching strikes against targets within the Soviet homeland. The Mediterranean remains a key area of interest for Russian nuclear deterrence strategy, while deterring a war against Syria by the presence of Russian forces demonstrates Moscow's clout to other countries.

The Mediterranean 5th Flotilla of the Soviet navy left the Mediterranean in 1991. In 1999 a Russian military intelligence ship resupplied in the Syrian port of Tartus while spying on NATO operations in the former Yugoslavia.

Today, left over from the Cold War, the 720th Logistics Support Point, a floating dock and three floating PM-61 piers based at the Syrian port of Tartus, is the only Russian foreign naval base after Cam Rahn Bay in Vietnam was abandoned by Russia in 2002. Used for maintenance and refueling since the 1971 Syrian-Soviet Defense Treaty, the base at Tarsus is relatively small. The Russian Federation has begun expanding the base and preparing to defend it with S-300PMU-2 anti-air missile systems.

The other Syrian port, Latakia, is also being expanded and dredged in preparation to base Russian ships. In the context of Russian military and naval expansion, these steps signify intent to establish a permanent, sustainable naval presence in the Mediterranean, which may provide some deterrent to NATO forces and may eventually threaten the Suez Canal and Israel.

The primary motivation for Russian expansion into the Mediterranean is the Russian desire to project power and influence throughout the region while reaching out to "old friends" such as Syria. Russian vessels on their way to Venezuela took care to pay visits to another potential Russian regional ally -- Moammar Gadhafi's Libya.

Russian ships that may be deployed to Tartus, according to Russian naval sources, include Russia's only aircraft carrier, the Admiral Kuznetsov, the missile cruiser Moskva and several nuclear power attack submarines or nuclear guided missile submarines.

The Admiral Kuznetsov was designed to protect the Soviet submarine fleet, interdict Western submarine forces and destroy Western carrier groups with its supersonic Granit SS-N-19 anti-ship cruise missiles in the event of nuclear war. It carries 24 multipurpose Sukhoi Su-33 fighters -- Flanker-D -- comparable with the U.S. F-14. The Admiral Kuznetsov is designed to conduct air superiority and air defense operations using its aircraft and its 3K95 Kinzhal missile defense system.

Experts believe that Russia has had significant difficulty keeping more than a small portion of its naval forces operational. There are few facilities within Russia to conduct major repairs on the ships, as many of them were constructed in Mykolaiv -- Nikolayev -- in today's Ukraine.

Yet reports abound that Moscow launched a number of programs updating its Soviet-era naval assets, including cruisers, destroyers and submarines. Recent increases in Russian military spending and operational readiness, as well as the expansion of port facilities at Tartus, will improve the capacity of the Russian Black Sea Fleet and its Mediterranean squadron to act.

NATO naval forces, including the U.S. 6th Fleet and the British, French, Italian and Spanish fleets in the Mediterranean, provide a massive Western force in the region. Nations contribute carrier assets to the 6th Fleet, such as the American Nimitz-class supercarriers, at least one of which is assigned to the Sixth Fleet's operational area at any given time.

The 6th Fleet alone outnumbers the Russian Black Sea Fleet -- of which only a portion has been sent to the Mediterranean -- in aircraft, armaments, electronic warfare capabilities, computer power and personnel. Yet NATO naval planners need to watch Russian advances in Europe's strategic underbelly.

(Ariel Cohen, Ph.D., is a Washington author and expert on geopolitics and energy security. Lajos Szaszdi, Ph.D., and Nicholas Lippolis contributed to this article.)

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Russia To Cut Military Personnel To One Million By 2012
Moscow (RIA Novosti) Oct 15, 2008
Russia will cut military personnel numbers to 1 million by 2012, four years earlier than the initial target of 2016, Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov said on Wednesday.







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