Russian ships deployed in the Mediterranean… return to port after 325 days

Cruiser Varangian and his escort returned to Vladivostok, the home port of the Pacific Fleet. A mission of more than 10 months, which highlighted the shortage of ships and logistics solutions of the Russian Navy.

It is a long, very long journey that the sailors of the cruiser have completed Varangianof the destroyer Admiral Compliments and an oil tanker Boris Butoma. Three red-star ships of the Russian Pacific Fleet arrived at their home port of Vladivostok on Friday, November 18, after passing through the large suspension bridge of Russky Island. The final leg of the 325-day journey that took them away from their beloved region took them to the eastern Mediterranean, where they spent more than ten months through the Suez Canal, the Red Sea, the Indian Ocean, China. Seas and the Sea of ​​Japan.

under his command Varangianflagship of the Pacific Fleet and sister ship from Moscow The small squadron sunk by the Ukrainians in the Black Sea last April played a discreet but important role: ensuring the constant presence of the Russian fleet in the Eastern Mediterranean during the Ukrainian war. It goes without saying that the issue is not new. The Russian Navy has been stationing ships at Medor for several years, mostly a few low-tonnage vessels, as well as two submarines of the Black Sea Fleet, which are closest to the area. This Mediterranean squadron – a revival of the Soviet 5th Squadron that faced the American 6th Fleet during the Cold War – is integral to Russia’s presence in Syria, where Moscow has a naval base in Tartus, Russia’s only one abroad.

Prohibitive posture

Moscow has significantly increased its deployment in the Mediterranean as tensions rose in early 2022, stemming from exercises on the Ukrainian border and escalating with the invasion of the country on February 24. At the beginning of January, detachments of the two great Northern and Pacific fleets respectively centered around the cruisers. Marshal Ustinov and Varangian accompanied by them. The aim, of course, was to try to monitor the activities of the NATO marines on Medor, but more importantly, to provide a deterrent position. It was these amazing cruisers with a displacement of more than 12,000 tons, armed with supersonic P-1000 Vulcan anti-ship missiles – weapons known as “aircraft carrier killers” – that fell to the task. These missiles, which allow these ships to be universally recognized by inclined launchers located on both sides of the bridge, are a more reliable deterrent, they have the so-called “dual” use, their conventional warheads can be replaced with nuclear warheads. . There is no indication that this is the case, but the suspicion has deterrent value.

So, on paper, Russia managed to regroup a small armada in the eastern Mediterranean, which is a sign of the increasing strength of the Russian armies. But the reality is completely different: with the exception of two frigates, the ships that Moscow has deployed in “Medor” attract attention first of all for their canonical age. The Varangian, Admiral Compliments and Boris Butoma those returned to Vladivostok this Friday were commissioned in 1989, 1985 and 1978…that’s 33 to 44 years at sea. In the vast majority of navies around the world, such structures would have already been retired or would be at the point of being. As a result, most sensors and weapons of large Russian ships do not meet modern standards.

Another difficulty is related to the decrease in the number of Russian naval vessels that can pick up ships deployed in January. The Russian Navy currently has 18 active frigates, destroyers, and cruisers distributed among four fleets of the North, Pacific, Baltic, and Black Seas that are extremely far apart from each other. But there is no indication that all of these ships – only five of which have been in service for less than 10 years – can actually perform a mission of several months thousands of kilometers from their home port.

Therefore, the ships deployed in January 2022 had to play overtime in extremely difficult conditions. You have to imagine the sailors spending more than ten months at sea in comfort, which is simpler because the buildings are old, and the added bonus of tensions stemming from the specific geopolitical context of the war in Ukraine. And above all extremely limited possibilities for support, repair and supply. Russia has Tartous facilities in Syria, but in practice this simple Soviet-era “logistics base” has not yet received sufficient investment to meet the needs of large ships deployed on the high seas for long periods of time. for example, it is impossible for Russian cruisers or destroyers to dock along the docks reserved for smaller ships.

Therefore, Russia is hardly able to continue the strengthened military-naval presence in the Mediterranean Sea since last February. Part of the Northern Fleet also left the area, as did the Pacific ships. On September 16, she thus became a cruiser Marshal Ustinovthe destroyer Vice Admiral Kulakov and an oil tanker Writing They returned to the port of Severomorsk on the Barents Sea.

As of November 12, only the frigate remained among the large ships Admiral Kasatonov – the flagship of the Russian Navy belonging to the Northern Fleet – and a frigate Admiral GrigorovichAccording to an account kept by naval analyst and former Belgian officer Frederik Van Lokeren, belonging to the Black Sea Fleet. To compensate for this attrition, the Russians chose to deploy two classes of corvettes Steregushchiy Of the Baltic Sea Fleet, but such ships are modern, they do not have the endurance of cruisers or destroyers.

SEE ALSO – War in Ukraine: Kherson is one defeat too much for Putin?

NATO continues its presence in “Medor”.

And the situation should not improve. With the war in Ukraine and in accordance with the Montreux Treaty, Turkey has decided to close the Bosphorus and Dardanelles straits, which connect the Black Sea and the Mediterranean Sea, to all warships in the event of an armed conflict. The fleet located in the former, already under severe pressure from the war, would therefore not be able to deploy ships to support the Mediterranean “squadron”, although this solution was the most logical from a geographical point of view. Black Sea ships currently in the Mediterranean Sea are only allowed to return to the Sevastopol base. Again, they play overtime at Medor, but they won’t be able to do it forever; at some point they will have to return to port. With the straits closed by the Turks, securing the Tartus base in Syria is becoming increasingly difficult for the Russians, but more important than ever. Since warships are banned, Moscow uses civilian tankers that are protected as they enter the Mediterranean by frigate.

Conversely, NATO countries maintain a strong presence in the Eastern Mediterranean, of course with the US Sixth Fleet and its forty ships and a very dense network of naval bases that are very useful for logistics. There is also the Navy, which permanently places a frigate in Medor. An aircraft carrier at the end of a summer maintenance stop Charles de Gaulle On Tuesday, November 15, it took off from Toulon as part of the Antares mission. Although the Ministry of the Armed Forces is tight-lipped about the route, we do know that the carrier battle group will soon cross the eastern Mediterranean to reinforce “NATO’s defensive and deterrent posture on Europe’s eastern flank”. Early 2022 – depending on the evolution of the international context, perhaps before pushing to the Indian Ocean.

SEE ALSO – War in Ukraine: “Putin will go all the way”, assures Giuliano Da Empoli

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