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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

New Doctrine Seeks to Restore Prowess of the Navy

President Vladimir Putin has approved a new naval doctrine designed to reassert Russia's status as a leading maritime power.

The ambitious document, signed Sunday, aims to "promote the strengthening of Russia's national interests and its international authority as one of the leading naval powers."

Russia's maritime interests are considerable, but its surface fleet is two-thirds the size of its predecessor, the Soviet navy. Crippling economic problems continue to starve it of fuel for maneuvers, state-of-the-art equipment and warships, leaving the navy politically marginalized and demoralized.

Alexander Pikayev, analyst at the Moscow Carnegie Center, said Putin's signature of the plan on Navy Day was a gesture to a navy traumatized by last August's catastrophic loss of the Kursk nuclear submarine with 118 crew during naval maneuvers.

"In terms of naval officers' morale, it's quite important," he said. "But this is a very vague doctrine, and based on the experience of similar doctrines in the past; its practical importance is questionable, to put it mildly.

"It should not be considered as something that will determine Russian policy in the future. Real procurement systems, what ships are purchased and how many, will give a better understanding of the limitations of the Russian navy."

Joanna Kidd, naval analyst with the London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies, said Russia's ambitions were hampered by a tiny military budget — $29 billion in 2000 compared to Britain's $34.5 billion and the $293 billion spent by the United States — and an ageing fleet. She said NATO's 1999 aerial bombardment of Yugoslavia underscored Russia's naval impotence. Airstrikes and Tomahawk cruise missiles were launched from a powerful NATO flotilla in the Adriatic Sea.

"Russia was able to send just one small intelligence ship. … They could not even send one small frigate from the Black Sea because everything is so unseaworthy," she said.

"Had Russia been able to deploy a small number of surface ships … that would probably have given a little bit more bargaining power, in terms of negotiating with NATO what would be the post-conflict solution in Kosovo."

Russian analysts were also skeptical that the doctrine would help a navy forced to scrap a new-generation torpedo and delay a new submarine.

The Izvestia daily said Monday that Russia needed a fleet of 300 to 320 modern warships if it wanted to wield real geopolitical influence, but that even this missed the point.

"The Russian leadership has not shown clear understanding of what the country really needs a fleet for, and what concrete tasks it should resolve in the world's oceans and with what forces," the paper said.

Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov said Tuesday that Russia would develop its nuclear submarines despite questions raised by the Kursk, The Associated Press reported.

"The naval strategic forces are a basic element of out nuclear triad. They will definitely be preserved and … perfected and developed," Interfax quoted him as saying during a visit to Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky.