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Mediterranean Eskadra

The Russian Armed Forces will organize joint military operations with the French Navy to combat terrorists in Syria, chief of the main operations directorate of Russian armys General Staff Andrey Kartapolov said on 18 November 2015. "Under the Russian presidents decree, the General Staff is working out joint anti-terrorism operations with the French Navy," Kartapolov said. "With the arrival of the Charles de Gaulle warship to the Syrian shore we will organize joint military operations."

Russian President Vladimir Putin on 17 November 2015 instructed the commander of the guided missile cruiser Moskva, which was already in the Mediterranean, to establish cooperation with French counterparts to draft plan for joint action on the sea and in the air. Russian combat ships in Syrian waters would provide no air defense or antisubmarine support for the French aircraft carrier-led group as it can accomplish these missions independently.

Imperia Russian policy pointed unfalteringly southward, to Constantinople and a warm water port" on the Mediterranean, along with active overlordship of the Slavic folk of Balkans. This doctrine of Russia's right to obtain warm-water ports which do not belong to her, and to which she had no conceivable claim, was a most dangerous one, as, put in another form, the doctrines may well be made to cover schemes of aggression, any attempt to realise which would bring about a general European war.

On the other hand, the red of the English Jack of the British empire was dotted plentifully up and down the Mediterranean. The importance of safeguarding India was seen in Britain's strategic control over the sea route the stations in the Mediterranean; the protectorate over Egypt; Aden; the "protected" territory of southeastern Arabia; possession of the Kuria Muria Islands.

The Soviet Union was not in the Mediterranean primarily because of a traditional drive to gain control of the Turkish Straits and a warm water port, nor because Communist ideology demands constant territorial and political expansion.

The most dramatic change in the Middle East over the 20 years 1950-1970 was the establishment of a viable Soviet military presence in the Mediterranean. This was made evident with a steady quantitative and qualitative increase in the number of ships located there. Achieving intercontinental nuclear parity allowed Russia to concentrate more in this area. They could saturate this area, which has the poorest sonar conditions in the world, with submarines, and thus upset the regional stability.

Since the mid-1960s, the Soviet Naval Forces were increasingly deployed abroad. In 1964 the Mediterranean squadron became the first permanently forward-deployed Soviet naval force. The Soviet Mediterranean Eskadra was an arm of the Black Sea Fleet, and also drew ships from other fleets. Since its inception, it usually had thirty-five to forty-five ships.

By 1966 the Soviets had built up their Mediterranean force an average daily strength of fifteen ships which were making port calls from Egypt to Gibraltar. This initial Soviet deployment in the eastern Mediterranean was to counter the American deployment SSBNs there. As American ballistic submarines improved in range and accuracy, the Soviets were drawn into blue water operations to hunt and destroy these boats. Naval air cover was necessary for the surface fleets to performs these tasks, and all of the USSR's surface units for deploying air power at sea would be built in the Black Sea.

The first significant appearance of Soviet sea power in the Mediterranean came in 1967 during the Arab-Israeli conflict. During the Six-Day War (June 1967) the Soviets increased their force in a show of support for the Arab states. That was the first opportunity taken by the Soviets to demonstrate their willingness to influence major events in the area by the use of military power. During that crisis the Soviet Mediterranean Squadron numbered up to some 70 units, some of which were in Port Said and Alexandria, to prevent Israeli attacks against those ports.

The cold war was getting even colder. The invasion of Czechoslovakia in August 1968 contributed to the lowering temperature. For the Mediterranean it was the prelude to Albania renouncing its membership of the Warsaw Pact. Late that year, the MARAIRMED Command was activated in Naples to improve NATO surveillance in the Mediterranean. The Alliance's concern for the never ending Soviet penetration, by any means, in the Mediterranean basin was reflected in this recognised need for increased vigilance. NATO ministers instructed the Council in permanent session to keep the situation under close review. In the framework of measures studied at Reykjavik meeting the previous June, the NATO Defence Planning Committee approved, in May 1969, the future establishment of a Naval On-Call Force Mediterranean. This maritime force, like the AMF for land and air, was to play an important deterrent role by showing the Allies' solidarity and their determination to put their forces under one flag. Assigned to NAVSOUTH, the On-Call force was activated 43 times in 1970-1991, when it was decided to replace it with a permanent force. It initially comprised up to five frigates or destroyers.

This Soviet presence rapidly expanded, and by 1970, the eskadra maintained nearly 70 vessels in the eastern Mediterranean, with logistical support coming from the Black Sea. During the Yom Kippur War (October 1973) the force rose from 52 to 95 ships [other estimates placed the increase at from 60 to 84 ships] - including over a dozen destroyers and nearly two dozen submarines - outnumbering the American 6th Fleet. During another peak period, the squadron sent 62 ships with 18,720 personnel into the Mediterranean. The Soviet Squadron had a marginal capability to perform its primary military taskdefend the USSR's exposed southern flank. Because of the risk of an unwanted conflict with the Sixth Fleet and a recognized inability to come to grips with the Polaris submarine, by the early 1970s the Kremlin was seeking a mutual withdrawal of us and Soviet naval forces from the Mediterranean.

By the mid-1970s, psychologically, a substantial impact on the Mediterranean countries had been achieved. Middle Eastern countries saw the Soviet presence as strengthening their position, but deep political and psychological penetration by the Soviet Union was doubtful. North African countries were concerned over possible entanglement with either superpower and would prefer ties with Europe. France, Spain and Yugoslavia had adjusted their foreign policies toward a more neutral stance while the NATO Alliance had been prodded into more united defense efforts. The military leaders of the United States were worried while elements of Congress and the American people tended toward neo-isolationism and lack of concern. A decline in American involvement in the Mediterranean would open the way to further Soviet penetration.

In the late 1980s the political and socio-economic landscape surrounding the Mediterranean area changed. Popular demonstrations in Bulgaria and Romania led to dramatic regime changes. Hungary opened its western borders. The Berlin Wall came down. NATO offered new relationships to Central and Eastern European nations. The Warsaw Pact ceased to exist on 31 March 1991, and the Mediterranean Eskadra effectively withdrew from the Mediterranean.

Although Russia does not base a fleet in the Middle East, the Mediterranean and its access/egress points represented an important theater of operations for them. Access to the eastern Mediterranean is through the 105 mile long Suez Canal, controlled in the north at Port Said and in the south at the Suez Canal. The canal, which separates Africa and Asia, was built by the French, completed in 1869, and feeds through three lakes (Menzala Lake, Timseh Lake and the Bitter Lakes). The canal provides the shortest maritime route between Europe and the Indian Ocean and the western Pacific Ocean.

Southward the canal flows into the Gulf of Suez which opens into the Red Sea. This body is bordered on the west by Egypt, Sudan, Eritrea, and Djibouti, and on the east by Saudi Arabia and Yemen. At Al Aqaba and Eilat, both Jordan and Israel, respectively, have access to the northern Red Sea, via the Gulf of Aqaba.

Adjoining the Red Sea to the south is the Gulf of Aden; they are connected via the Bab el Mandeb, a narrow strait and choke point between Djibouti and Yemen. Further, the Gulf of Aden opens eastward into the Arabian Sea and Indian Ocean. The Yemeni island of Socotra lies off the coast of Somalia astride the entrance to the Gulf of Aden. In the recent past it has been an important strategic port of call for Russian warships.

It is obvious that Middle Eastern oil and its uninterrupted shipment is vital to the global economy. Yet this shipment is geographically / strategically at risk due to a host of choke points which must be navigated. The Suez Canal, Red Sea, Bab el Mandeb system has already been noted. Most Middle East oil production is, however, concentrated in the Persian Gulf region, in such states as Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Qatar, Kuwait, Iraq, and Iran, which collectively have more than two-thirds of the current world oil reserves.

The only outlet to the Persian Gulf lies in the southeast via the Strait of Hormuz. This 35-60 mile wide passage separates Iran from part of Oman, and is effectively "controlled" by the latter and the UAE. The overall volatility of the region (examples include the recent reflagging of Kuwaiti tankers, Desert Shield and Desert Storm, ongoing Arab-Israeli differences, and the larger issue of Islamic fundamentalism from Iran) makes these waterways of vital strategic importance to all maritime powers.

In January 1996 the Russian aircraft carrier Adm. Kuznetsov deployed in the Mediterranean to show the flag and help commemorate the Russian Navy's 300th anniversary. The Russian navy RNS Admiral Kuznetsov (CV 063) battle group, on its maiden Mediterranean deployment, was accompanied by guided missile cruisers, RNS Sovremenny, RNS Besstrashny, RNS Pylky, and supporting auxiliary ships. This marked the first significant deployment of Russian warships to the Mediterranean in five years. Elements of the US Navy's America (CV 66) carrier battle group and Wasp (LHD 1) amphibious ready group conducted bilateral operations with the Russian carrier battle group whiel it was in the Mediterranean.

During the Yugoslav crisis, Russian warships were readied to sail to the Mediterranean. On 30 March 1999, following the outbreak of the Kosovo War, Russia announced plans to send a flotilla of up to eight war ships into the Mediterranean. Defense Minister Igor Sergeyev stated that a decision on when to deploy them had not been made, and the Russian government indicated it did not intend to become entangled in the conflict in the Balkans. In response, US State Department spokesman James Rubin said Washington was "obviously concerned by the signal such a large deployment might send to Belgrade and the other countries in the region." At least seven anti-submarine and missile-carrying frigates, reconnaissance and escort ships from the Black Sea fleet, based in Sevastapol, were repotedly ready to deploy at the beginning of April 1999, but no order came. The flotilla, reportedly consisting of one cruiser, two destroyers, two patrol ships and three support ships, was said to include the destroyer Admiral Golovko, the anti-submarine ships Kerch and Sderzhanny, and the patrol ships Pytlivy and Ladny. The Liman reconnaissance ship, sailed out of the Black Sea on 04 April 2000, and into the Adriatic, where it monitored NATO military operations against Serbia. Subsequently, Russia notified Turkey through diplomatic channels of plans for passage of the straits by the Russian task force between April 15 and 22, though in fact this deployment did not occur. In early July 1999 five Russian landing ships took paratroopers from the Tula and Pskov airborne divisions to the Balkans to join Russia's peacekeeping force in Kosovo. The five ships were: Azov, Cesar Kunikov (Ropucha class), #69, #150, #156 [probably Polnochny-class ].

On 23 November 1999 Prime Minister Vladimir Putin announced to the Russian Security Council that Russian Navy operations would soon extend beyond their previouly limited boundaries. Areas mentioned in his speech as having strategic significance for Russia were the Baltic Sea and regions to the south of Russia. Putin stated that additional funds would be provided for deployment by November 2000 in the Mediterranean of Russia's sole aircraft carrier, the Admiral Kuznetsov, a destroyer, a frigate, one tanker, and nuclear-powered submarines carrying SLBMs. The Tartus base in Syria, first used for Russia's Mediterranean squadron in 1983, was also to be reactivated.

Naval exercise FRUKUS in June 2012 is named after the four nations taking part: France, Russia, the United Kidom and the US. French naval vessel De Grasse (D612), Russian naval vessel Yaroslav Mudriy (727), British naval vessel HMS York (90), and the guided-missile cruiser USS Normandy (CG 60), kicked off the days training with a simulated small-boat attack, then continued with live-fire weapons exercises, and firing of each ships larger weapons. FRUKUS is an annual exercise aimed at improving maritime security through an open dialogue and increased training between the navies of France, Russia, United Kingdom and United States.

Russias naval push into the Mediterranean traced back to March 2013, when ships from the Pacific Fleet were sent to the region, given the recent increased tensions between Russia and the West and the strategic importance of the Mediterranean.

In 2013 ten Russian LLSs from four Russian naval fleets crossed the Black Sea straits in southern direction more than 30 times and subsequently joined the Russian naval force in the Mediterranean Sea.

The Russian Navy's carrier strike group (CSG) in the Mediterranean Sea has conducted a routine rotation of its large landing ships 05 April 2014. The large landing ship (LLS) "Olenegorsky Gornyak" of the Northern Fleet and LLS "Kaliningrad" of the Baltic Fleet crossed the straits and entered the Black Sea. Both LLSs spent ten days executing their tasks as part of the Russian naval force in the Mediterranean Sea.

On 07 January 2014, the Pyotr Veliky and the Yancheng provided safe passage for a Danish cargo ship loaded with Syrian chemical weapons in the first instance of direct interaction between the Russian and Chinese navies. After Russias Pyotr Veliky missile cruiser and China's Yancheng frigate successfully escorting the first Syrian chemical weapons shipload, the Russian and Chinese navies moved to discuss plans for future joint exercises.

Up to 10 warships and support vessels are permanently deployed in the Mediterranean Sea, Russian Black Sea Fleet Commander Admiral Alexander Vitko told reporters on 23 July 2015 in Sevastopol.

Black Sea Fleet Commander Admiral Alexander Vitko commented on the deployment: "Since the end of 2012, an average of 10 ships and auxiliary vessels from the Black Sea, Baltic and Northern fleets are permanently in the Mediterranean Sea, but the command of the permanently deployed Navy in this region is carried by the Black Sea Fleet and the burden of performing the tasks of this group lies namely on this fleet's warships and auxiliary vessels," Vitko said.

On 05 October 2015 the Russian Navy deployed a maritime convoy operation involving seven warships of the Black Sea, Northern and Baltic fleets comprising a permanent Russian Navy tactical group in the Mediterranean. A group of Russian Black Sea Fleet ships conducted missile and artillery exercises in the Mediterranean Sea, Black Sea Fleet press attach Capt. 1st Rank Vyacheslav Trukhachyov said 05 October 2015.

Today, the Black Sea flagship missile cruiser, the Moskva, the Ladny guided missile frigate and the cruisers Pytlivy and Smetlivy.completed firing exercises at marine and air targets using artillery and missile complexes, Trukhachyov said. The ships also practiced using chafe and depth charges.

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Page last modified: 12-10-2016 19:49:51 ZULU