The Rus­sian Navy is back

The Sun (Malaysia) - - SPEAK UP - BY ERIC S. MAR­GO­LIS

RUS­SIA’S dis­patch of a 10-ship flotilla to the Syr­ian coast has raised some out­rage and sneers aplenty in the West. Par­tic­u­larly when one of its em­barked MiG-29K fight­ers crashed on take­off from Rus­sia’s sole car­rier, the ob­so­les­cent Ad­mi­ral Kuznetsov which lacks cat­a­pults.

Join­ing Kuznetsov are be­lieved to be two Akula class nu­clear-pow­ered at­tack sub­marines that are much feared by Western navies. On the sur­face will be the pow­er­ful, mis­sile-armed bat­tle-cruiser, Peter the Great.

Un­like Western war­ships, which are es­sen­tially frag­ile tin cans packed with elec­tron­ics, Peter the Great is ar­moured and built to with­stand pun­ish­ment.

Other Rus­sian mis­sile frigates and sup­ply ships are also off Syria.

Washington just hates it when the Rus­sians dare do what the US has been do­ing since World War II: con­duct gun­boat diplo­macy, how­ever lim­ited.

As a stu­dent of Rus­sian naval af­fairs, I am watch­ing the de­ploy­ment of war­ships from the Red Ban­ner North­ern Fleet with much in­ter­est.

Rus­sia has wanted to be a ma­jor naval power since the days of Peter the Great in the early 1700s, but it has al­ways faced the curse of Rus­sian geog­ra­phy. In spite of lim­ited ac­cess to the world’s seas, Rus­sia is largely a land­locked na­tion spread over vast dis­tances. Rus­sia faces geo­graphic bar­ri­ers ev­ery way that it turns.

Most im­por­tant, Rus­sia’s ma­jor fleets – North­ern, Baltic, Black Sea, and Pa­cific – are un­able to con­cen­trate to sup­port one another due to ge­o­graph­i­cal con­straints. Com­pare this to the mighty US Navy that can move all but the largest war­ships from the Pa­cific to At­lantic or vice versa. All ma­jor US naval bases give easy ac­cess to the high seas. The only Rus­sian ports that do are re­mote Vladi­vos­tok and even re­moter Petropavlovsk on Kam­chatka – that has no land link to the rest of Rus­sia.

No Rus­sian can for­get the calamity of the 1903-1904 Russo-Ja­panese War.

Rus­sia’s Pa­cific Squadron was largely bot­tled up in the naval fortress at Port Arthur by a sur­prise Ja­panese at­tack, 38 years be­fore the Pearl Har­bour at­tack.

As a re­sult, Rus­sia had to send its Baltic Fleet more than half way around the globe to the North Pa­cific on a 33,000km (18,000 miles) jour­ney of the damned that took nearly half a year.

An ac­ci­den­tal en­counter in the fog with the Bri­tish her­ring fleet nearly pro­voked war with Great Bri­tain – which re­acted with sim­i­lar alarm as Vladimir Putin’s fleet sailed by Bri­tain on the way to Syria.

On May 27, 1905, the com­bined Rus­sian fleet was am­bushed off Korea at Tsushima by Ja­pan’s bril­liant ad­mi­ral, Hideki Togo. Af­ter a fierce bat­tle (I’ve sailed over the ex­act spot) the Rus­sian fleet was sunk or cap­tured, the first time a Western power had been de­feated.

Tsushima lit the fuse of the 1917 Rus­sian revolution.

Rus­sia’s in­abil­ity to unite its fleets threat­ened their de­feat in de­tail in a ma­jor war. World War II saw the Rus­sian fleets more en­gaged in naval in­fantry land bat­tles than mar­itime op­er­a­tions.

Dur­ing the Cold War, the US and its al­lies were able to bot­tle up Rus­sia’s fleets by seal­ing off the Green­land-Ice­land-UK gap, then Baltic ex­its at the Sk­ag­gerak Strait, and the Black Sea exit at the Turk­ish Straits.

The US Navy planned to di­rectly at­tack Rus­sia’s Pa­cific Ports and cut the Trans Siberian rail­road that supplied

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