Over the Horizon: The Russian Navy’s Strategic Limitations

Over the Horizon: The Russian Navy’s Strategic Limitations

Naval power is characterized by fungibility and flexibility. Because of the relatively open nature of the seas, ships and fleets can be transferred between ports and crisis zones in order to conduct operations or exert influence. Indeed, one of the key appeals of naval power is the ability of warships to respond to crises in a variety of locations without requiring a longstanding political and infrastructural commitment.

However, of all the major naval powers, Russia remains most tightly constrained by its unfortunate maritime geography. Russian warships based in the Arctic, Baltic, Black Sea and Pacific cannot easily support one another. This problem was most dramatically demonstrated in the Russo-Japanese War of 1904, in which the Imperial Japanese Navy effectively destroyed the Russian Pacific Fleet and the Russian Baltic Fleet. Only Ottoman intransigence prevented the Russian Black Sea Fleet from meeting the same fate. Russian naval policy suffered from similar constraints in World Wars I and II as well as during the Cold War.

Consequently, Russia faces a strategic dilemma whenever it makes decisions about the basing of its warships. Because of the relative isolation of its fleets, warships deployed to one region cannot be readily redeployed in times of crisis, and the influence that a fleet provides over its surrounding region cannot be transferred to other areas. In short, Russian naval power is neither fungible nor flexible. Other states face similar issues, but not usually to the same extent. Russian naval deployments must therefore reflect a level of political and strategic commitment to a region not required in the strategic planning of other nations.

Keep reading for free!

Get instant access to the rest of this article by submitting your email address below. You'll also get access to three articles of your choice each month and our free newsletter:

Or, Subscribe now to get full access.

Already a subscriber? Log in here .

What you’ll get with an All-Access subscription to World Politics Review:

A WPR subscription is like no other resource — it’s like having a personal curator and expert analyst of global affairs news. Subscribe now, and you’ll get:

  • Immediate and instant access to the full searchable library of tens of thousands of articles.
  • Daily articles with original analysis, written by leading topic experts, delivered to you every weekday.
  • Regular in-depth articles with deep dives into important issues and countries.
  • The Daily Review email, with our take on the day’s most important news, the latest WPR analysis, what’s on our radar, and more.
  • The Weekly Review email, with quick summaries of the week’s most important coverage, and what’s to come.
  • Completely ad-free reading.

And all of this is available to you when you subscribe today.