Cash-Strapped Russia To Scrap One-Fifth Of Its Navy

By Patrick Goodenough | July 7, 2008 | 8:12 PM EDT

Pacific Rim Bureau ( - Eighteen months after proposing that Russia once again become a sea power to be reckoned with, the country's senior Navy officer has announced that one-fifth of its ships will instead have to be scrapped.

Admiral Vladimir Kuroyedov told the Krasnaya Zvezda (Red Star) newspaper that the navy had for the past six years received only 12 percent of its required budget and could no longer afford to keep the fleet afloat.

"The majority of those ships will never sail again, even if funding were to be boosted," he said in an interview, published early this week. "We are catastrophically short of money."

One-fifth of the current number of ships would have to go, he said, without giving specific figures.

Decommissioning dozens of vessels supposedly would free up funds for existing ships that were in better shape, and also pay for new submarines and surface ships expected in the next few years.

"We must preserve the ships which are still 'alive' and use their potential to survive until better times," Kuroyedov said.

In 2001, according to the Jane's defense publication group, the once-impressive Soviet Navy had dwindled to a force of 17 nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarines, 26 nuclear-powered attack submarines, 17 large surface ships, 50 frigate-sized vessels and around 70 smaller ships.

Many are understood by Western experts not to be combat-ready.

In July of that year, President Vladimir Putin approved an ambitious new doctrine proposed by the Kuroyedov and his colleagues, aimed at restoring Russia's naval might through a 10-20 year shipbuilding program.

The doctrine said Russia's maritime policy was designed to "strengthen its position amongst the world's leading powers."

At the time - the document was unveiled on Russia's Navy Day - the plan was seen mostly as an attempt by Putin to restore the morale of a navy still devastated by the loss a year earlier of a modern nuclear submarine, the Kursk , which sunk with all hands - 118 men - during maneuvers in the Barents Sea.

Independent defense analyst Pavel Fengenhauer, writing in the Moscow Times, cited "well-informed sources" as saying the navy's plan back then had envisaged eventually building a fleet with up to 15 aircraft carriers, to challenge the U.S. Navy on the open seas.

In the months that followed, however, a number of reports referred to cutbacks and setbacks for the navy.

In May of last year, officials said 8,600 personnel would be cut from the Baltic fleet, one of its four fleets (the others are the Black Sea, Pacific and North Atlantic or Northern fleets).

In October, the head of Russia's shipbuilding agency told the Itar-Tass agency that the Admiral Ushakov nuclear missile cruiser, moored in a shipyard for several years awaiting repairs, was instead likely to be decommissioned.

Under its former name, Admiral Kirov , the cruiser built in 1980 was once the flagship of the Northern fleet.

That same month, decommissioning of some 100 laid-up Northern fleet nuclear submarines began.

Many of Russia's laid-up submarines remain afloat in docks with nuclear fuel still in their reactors, prompting concerns about the risk of radiation leaks.

The U.S. has over the past eight years funded a program to dismantle submarines decommissioned under previous bilateral disarmament treaties.

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Patrick Goodenough
Patrick Goodenough
Spencer Journalism Fellow