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Russia’s Ailing Navy: A Toothless Tiger?

While Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014 and its current standoff with Ukraine have created an atmosphere of tension and suspicion in the region, a closer look at Russia’s naval fleet reveals that the country may not be as much of an international military power as Moscow would have the world believe.

The Fall Of The Mighty Russian Fleet

Russia’s military might outstrip those of its neighboring countries in terms of size and personnel, but the actual vessels themselves are mere shadows of their former selves. The lack of funding in the post-Cold War era and the collapse of the Soviet Union have left Russia’s maritime military beaten and bruised.

A finding of the Congressional Research Service in March 2014 shared that Russia’s seafaring capacity has been greatly depleted as a result of “mismanagement, changes in plans, corruption, manning issues”.

The Current State Of Russia’s Maritime Military Forces

Russia’s navy has been more visible, and reported about more often, in recent times owing to the Ukrainian crisis and the conflict in Crimea. The Russian navy established control over the Crimean ports during the 2014 annexation- a move that has been to Moscow’s advantage since Russia has traditionally faced difficulties with acquiring and maintaining warm water ports.

This development aside, Russia’s navy is far from the mighty force it once was during the peak of the Soviet era. Russia’s current fleet is characterized by old and decrepit vessels, most of which are leftovers from the erstwhile USSR. Despite attempts to breathe new life into the existing fleet, the Russian government has been unable to repair or replace the outmoded vessels.

Towards the end of the Cold War, in a bid to outdo the United States, the Soviet Union financed the building of three full-size aircraft transporters. The vessels were to include two non-nuclear ships, one of which is the Kuznetsov, a ship that is currently in use as well, and a nuclear-capable ship. At the time, the United States had as many as 15 aircraft transporters, the bulk of which boasted nuclear capabilities.

The fall of the Soviet Union dealt a severe blow to the country’s naval ambitions and Moscow was left with only enough money to complete payment to the Ukrainian ship-builders crafting the Kuznetsov. Authorized in the year 1991, the Kuznetsov is the last remnant of Russia’s old glory days and the final full-scale warship that Russia has had built.

Since then, the Russian government has finished work on some small-sized destroyers, frigates and submarines. However, the bulk of the naval ships in use even today- and this includes all the big warships of the Russian naval fleet- are actually relics from the Soviet period.

From what is known about these vessels, one can gather the understanding that these old ships are inefficient, outmoded and weak. The Kuznetsov is often observed to be accompanied by a tugboat; the ageing vessel is known to experience frequent mechanical problems and breakdowns, including a short...