Due to the importance of oil prices for Russia, Israel may utilize its leverage to prevent Russia from allying with Iran by exerting pressure on the Kremlin through the Sunni Gulf monarchies.
What’s new in the 2022 Maritime Doctrine?
Russian President Vladimir Putin signed the new Maritime Doctrine on July 31. This high-level strategic-planning paper elaborates on Moscow’s official maritime strategy. The latest edition differed significantly from the previous one in 2015.
The revised text emphasizes worldwide conflict with the West, the primacy of the security prism in defining national goals, and reorienting Russia’s foreign policy toward the Global South in the aftermath of the invasion of Ukraine.
The Doctrine describes Russia as a “great continental and naval power” with national interests in all of the world’s seas and oceans, a will to maintain this status, and “sufficient naval-military might” to “guarantee” its ability to protect its national interests.
The 2022 document demonstrates Russia’s growing willingness to use military means to advance its aims. The Kremlin plans to improve its navy’s combat capabilities by considerably expanding its littoral infrastructure, boosting its visibility and frequency on the high seas. To that end, the new Doctrine asks for a complete restructuring of Russia’s shipbuilding industry, including a qualitative increase in its technological and production capacities in both military and civilian domains and the ability to produce aircraft carriers.
In terms of energy, the Doctrine calls for the revitalization of seabed exploration and the production of fossil fuels. The 2015 text called for a “strategic reserve” of geologically studied areas for future development. The absence of a similar clause in 2022 underscores Russia’s concentration on maximizing hydrocarbon extraction in the coming years, worried that the climate-change agenda will limit future export opportunities.
The revised Doctrine, like the 2015 text, divides the world into six geographical regions. However, the arrangement has changed. The Arctic and Pacific regions formerly ranked second and third in the order of importance, have been upgraded to the first two, while the Atlantic region is now ranked third. One of Russia’s key goals in these three regions is to “ensure strategic stability” (a euphemism for mutual nuclear deterrence), which has been declared more forcefully and urgently than in 2015.
According to the Doctrine, the Arctic has become a focal point of global military and economic competition. Russia wants to keep its lead in this region and allow “wide exploitation” of its mineral reserves.
The Doctrine expresses Moscow’s resolve to expand the Northern Sea Route (NSR) and reject what it views as attempts to undermine its exclusive control over it. Initially advertised as an alternative for the Suez Canal, the new Doctrine and other actions demonstrate that the NSR is being shifted eastwards to speed up Russian commodity exports to Asia.
The Pacific region was considered a long-term rather than an immediate goal in the 2015 version, which noted that “friendly relations with China are a critical component of national maritime policy in the Pacific direction.”
The 2022 text considers this region to be “strategically important” for the Russian economy and security, with the main priority being to end the isolation of the Russian Far East from the European part of the country via the development of the NSR and new land logistic corridors, as well as the Far East’s integration into the Asia-Pacific economic system. Russia intends to bolster its Northern and Pacific fleets and internal security units based in the region, “create conditions for a naval presence in the Asia-Pacific region, allowing control over the safety of maritime transport lines,” and construct technological and logistical hubs in the region.
China is not mentioned in the present Doctrine. Instead, there are three new “key components”: reducing threats to Russia’s national security, ensuring strategic stability in the region, and fostering cordial relations with Asia-Pacific countries.
Mentioning the Atlantic region (encompassing the Baltic, Black, Mediterranean, and Red Seas) only in the third tier reflects the Kremlin’s abandonment of any positive engagement with the West. Instead, it must “resolutely uphold… national security interests.” However, this rhetorical ploy should not obscure that Russia’s military and strategic planners are preoccupied with confronting the US and NATO.
Compared to a brief section in the 2015 edition, the reference to the Mediterranean basin is significantly more explicit. Moscow wants to enhance its ties with Syria, where it has a naval base that ensures a permanent Russian military presence in the Mediterranean. Russia is planning to establish more techno-logistical outposts in the region. Russia has a political role in ensuring Middle Eastern regional stability.
Like the 2015 edition, the Caspian Sea region is in fourth place, followed by the Indian Ocean region in fifth and the Antarctic region in sixth. The Caspian Sea Treaty (adopted in 2018 but not yet ratified by Iran) is one of the main changes reflected in the Caspian region chapter. That chapter prioritizes Russia’s economic and geopolitical posture in the region, including deeper military connections with coastal countries. It also aims to improve the region’s road and railroad links, thereby increasing its logistical importance.
In the Indian Ocean section of the 2015 document, the main goal was to strengthen “friendly ties” with India. New Delhi’s importance to Moscow grows in the 2022 document, where Moscow aims to “develop a strategic partnership and naval-military cooperation” with India, the only country with such an exalted description in this document. Moreover, Moscow is eager to increase its collaboration with Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Iraq. Russia intends to keep a naval presence in the Persian Gulf “based on techno-logistical outposts in the Red Sea and the Indian Ocean, and to use the infrastructure of the countries of the region for Russian naval military activity.” Russian warships rarely visit the Gulf these days, and Russia lacks permanent bases in the area. It has been unable to persuade the Sudanese government to agree to the long-term lease of a portion of Port Sudan.
As for Antarctica, Russia demands equal participation in deciding the region’s future and opposes its militarization.
The 2022 Doctrine adds a new classification of maritime territories based on their importance to Russia’s security and willingness to enforce its rights militarily:
- “Areas of existential importance” are those in which Russia can employ all components of its national-security toolbox, including military force. This category includes Russia’s territorial and internal waters, its Exclusive Economic Zone, the Russian part of the Caspian Sea, the Okhotsk Sea, and substantial portions of the Arctic Ocean.
- “Important areas” refer to those where force will be used only if all other options have been exhausted. These areas include the eastern Mediterranean, the Black Sea and the Sea of Azov, the Baltic Sea, the Turkish, Danish, and Kuril straits, and international maritime routes along Asia and Africa.
- “The other areas” refer to all the other international waterways where Russian interests will be advanced through nonviolent means.
Furthermore, the new Doctrine declares Russian law as supreme above international law, includes a new chapter on the military mobilization of all military and civilian maritime capabilities, and calls for increased Russian diplomatic participation in international bodies dealing with maritime matters.
When Doctrine Meets Reality
Since assuming office, Putin has devoted significant resources to rebuilding Russia’s naval capabilities, which were seriously damaged by the disintegration of the Soviet Union. Despite ambitious initiatives and considerable investment, many issues limiting Russia’s development as a naval power have not been resolved or have deteriorated. Russian military and civilian sectors lack critical modern technological know-how, manufacturing capacity, and a skilled workforce.
For example, no new surface ships of the destroyer class or higher have been built at Russian wharves since the Soviet era. Russian projects are plagued with many prototypes that make maintenance difficult and low quality, which leads to frequent accidents and manufacturing delays. It is anticipated that the Western sanctions regime will pose significant new difficulties to the expansion of Russian naval might contained in the revised Doctrine.
Nuclear-armed submarines are the foundation of Russia’s naval force, allowing Russia to pose a significant threat to other great powers. Russia invests heavily in modernizing its military. In the conventional sphere, Russia only produces smaller ships (mostly corvettes and frigates) and diesel submarines equipped with advanced and precise cruise missiles. Russia is a world leader in producing nuclear-powered icebreakers, which are required for Arctic development.
The Russian fleet is essentially a green water navy, operating primarily in regions near Russia’s borders (the North Sea, the Black Sea, the Baltic Sea, the Caspian Sea, the Okhotsk Sea, and the Sea of Japan). The eastern Mediterranean is distinct in that it is the only new region in which the Russian navy established a permanent presence in the post-Soviet era, based on the two Russian military installations in Syria, Khmeimim and Tartus were leased to Moscow for decades. The war in Ukraine highlighted the Mediterranean’s military importance, as Russia has concentrated most of its warships there to deter NATO.
The Maritime Doctrine is Russia’s first national security document published since the start of the Ukrainian conflict. It represents the Kremlin’s current strategic “wishful thinking.” Such publications are primarily designed for foreign readers, and their terms are not binding on the Russian military and government. The trend of securitization in Russian foreign policy is continued in this text. It reveals its proclivity to transform international waterways into a zone of strategic struggle and confrontation between the world’s great powers.
Some of its new components appear to be directly related to Russia’s geopolitical situation following the invasion of Ukraine. In contrast, others seem to be intended to synchronize with other Russian strategic planning documents produced after 2015. For example, the militarization of maritime territory was previously stated in the 2017 “Fundamentals of state policy of the Russian Federation in the military-naval sphere until 2030,” a strategic document outlining the Doctrine’s military components.
The overambitious language of the Maritime Doctrine has prompted many scholars to focus their attention on the gap between Putin’s and his admirals’ thinking and the harsh reality of the Russian navy. The Russian Navy lacks the capability of the US Navy in every area, and if it were not for nuclear weapons, even lesser countries would not have considered it a serious threat. Even if Moscow considerably boosts its expenditure on navy construction, it is unlikely that Russian capabilities will catch up to those of the United States and China (which is now constructing ships quicker than any other country).
Indeed, Russia’s ambitions are difficult to realize. Nonetheless, Russia can surprise on occasion. The 2015 Doctrine introduced the idea that Russia needs a permanent naval and military presence in the Mediterranean. This became a reality that same year with Russian intervention in the Syrian civil war.
During the next decade, Russia can play a more important role in the Arctic, Mediterranean, and Caspian regions, where it has already created vital strategic assets. Given the proximity of its Pacific Fleet, a territorial conflict, and heightened political friction between Moscow and Tokyo, it might also adopt a more confrontational stance toward Japan.
However, it is difficult to imagine Russia creating a significantly more potent conventional naval force in the Pacific or Indian Oceans. The Russian fleet may increase its presence by conducting frequent “show-the-flag” operations and pursuing limited temporary docking agreements.
In terms of economics, the Doctrine advocates for a realignment of Russia’s logistical infrastructure toward the East as recompense for lost trade with the West and a concentration on domestic connectivity inside Russia’s vast territory.
Following its disastrous performance in the Ukraine war, Russia appears to be attempting to prevent the perception of becoming increasingly dependent on China, which might be viewed as a liability by Indo-Pacific nations. Moscow envisions that New Delhi, which has just become a major importer of Russian oil, would be its new chief partner in the Global South. Russia, which lacks a shared border with India, is rushing to upgrade the North-South Corridor, where Iran is a vital partner.
In developing its long-term strategy, Israel must consider Russia’s objectives to expand its military footprint and political activities in the Mediterranean Sea and the Red Sea.
The extensive references to the Middle East in the Doctrine are unparalleled in Russian national security documents. It closes the gap between the region’s fundamental importance to Moscow and its absence from policy texts over the previous ten years. It regards the eastern Mediterranean (and thus the Middle East) as an “important area” and is willing to use force to safeguard its interests there.
Given that the Doctrine shows that Iran is becoming more important to Russia, the question is whether Moscow can keep its ties with Jerusalem and Tehran separate. This is important not only for the area around the Indian Ocean, where Iran is relevant but also for the Caspian Sea and Russia’s presence in Syria. Iran is referred to as a “partner” rather than a “strategic partner” (a term used only for India).
Saudi Arabia has been touted as a possible counterweight to Iran. Due to the importance of oil prices for Russia, Israel may utilize its leverage to prevent Russia from allying with Iran by exerting pressure on the Kremlin through the Sunni Gulf monarchies. However, reports of Russian procurement of Iranian UAVs are unsettling as this might indicate deeper military and security cooperation between the two.
While Russia recognizes that Europe is anticipated to transition away from Russian gas, it wishes to postpone this scenario. As a result, promoting eastern Mediterranean gas supplies to Europe as an alternative to Russian gas is likely, unlike in the past, to provoke Russian concern and perhaps cause it to meddle in Israel’s operations.
Under these conditions, Israel’s maritime activity, which is now more closely coordinated with the US, will have to consider deconfliction with Russia and its advanced collection capabilities, which will presumably affect Israel’s freedom of action, especially in the eastern Mediterranean. These challenges are likely to grow if Russian-Iranian ties are improved, and Russia takes concerted steps to limit Israel’s actions, notably within the context of its campaign between the wars in Syria.
Photo: IMAGO / ZUMA Wire