March 18, 2013
That Russia has previously threatened, and followed through with, sending ships to the Mediterranean is nothing new. In the past, every such episode was related to the protection of what Putin considered vital geopolitical interests in the region: whether defending the Syrian port of Tartus, various crude and natural gas pipelines in the region threatened by NATO expansion in Turkey, or offsetting heightened US presence around Gaza and Israel (and of course Iran). Which is why with the legacy conflicts in the region dormant, and the only news of any relevance being the European intervention in Cyprus against Russian oligarch interests, it is surprising we learn today that the Russian Navy will dispatch a permanent fleet of five or six combat ships to the Mediterranean Sea, with frigates and cruisers making up the core of the fleet.
How far into the Mediterranean one wonders? It wouldn’t be too difficult to put two and two together and assume that with Cyprus just a few hundreds kilometers away from Syria, Lebanon, Gaza and Israel, Russia may have not only a new geopolitical target, namely the now pseudo-insolvent Russian protectorate of Cyprus, but a perfect alibi to be in the region as well, and more importantly, have a Plan B to the Syrian port of Tartus which is Russia’s only naval base in the region.
How soon until we read that Russia is willing to invest even more unguaranteed loans into the Cypriot financial system…. in exchange for one tiny little naval and/or military base?
“Up to five or six ships must be on a permanent basis in the Mediterranean Sea. They should be controlled through the command of the Black Sea Fleet,” Russian TV channel Zvezda quoted Admiral Chirkov as saying.
Supply vessels will also be included in the permanent deployment to the Mediterranean.
The decision to send Russian ships to the Mediterranean’s waters was first announced on March 11 by Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu.
“I think that we have everything to create and maintain such a grouping. Certainly, this shows the positive dynamics of development of the Navy,” Shoigu told top officers of the Russian Armed Forces. By 2020, the Russian Navy will include eight missile submarines, 16 multipurpose subs and 54 combat ships, he added.
Chirkov said that top Navy officers are currently in the process of strategizing the deployment of a combat group to the Mediterranean. He also said that Russia is prepared to send combat ships to the Pacific and Indian Oceans.
“There was an experience in the history of the Navy when we had squadrons in the Indian and Pacific Oceans. Of course, if needed, we will [advise] the Defense Ministry’s top officials, the government and the President [on the deployment of] task forces on a permanent basis there,” Chirkov explained.
And an example of the kind of ship that will soon be floating in Cyprus’ back yard: