Unnamed Navy sources told the media this week that the Navy Main Staff’s postponed transfer to Admiralty in St. Petersburg is back on, and will begin in July. But the Navy has not commented officially.
The Leningrad Naval Base left Admiralty for Kronshtadt, leaving space for the Navy Main Staff in the former. The Naval Engineering Institute may or may not have left Admiralty for Pushkin.
The first elements to move could be administrative elements not bearing on the fleet’s combat readiness, while the Navy’s ‘operational services’ remain on Bolshoy Kozlovskiy Lane providing uninterrupted command and control of the fleet, and naval strategic forces in particular. Some press pieces have said the transfer process could stretch out into 2012.
A radical ‘optimization’ [i.e. personnel cut] in the Navy’s command and control structures, beginning 1 March, will reportedly precede the move to Admiralty. Some press sources say the cut will focus on the Navy’s Central Command Post (ЦКП).
Cutting Navy headquarters personnel may not be all that hard. Izvestiya notes that, according to some sources, 300 Navy staff officers came out against the transfer to Petersburg when the story first broke in 2007. Nezavisimaya gazeta has repeated the rumor that only 10-15 percent of current staff officers will move to Piter and Grani.ru claims most are already looking for other work in Moscow.
Recall that Duma Speaker Boris Gryzlov first ‘suggested’ the move to Defense Minister Serdyukov in fall 2007, saying that the Navy should return to Russia’s ‘naval capital’ already replete with naval educational institutions and shipbuilding enterprises, and lighten Moscow’s heavy load of governmental organs.
The plan called forth the late 2007 protest letter signed by many retired admirals, asserting that moving the Navy Main Staff would “not only lack common sense, but actually undermine the country’s defense capability.”
Former General Staff Chief Yuriy Baluyevskiy was publicly ambivalent about the wisdom of the transfer. In early 2009, Navy CINC Vysotskiy told the press he had no orders on the move. However, new General Staff Chief Nikolay Makarov was quick to remind Vysotskiy:
“Now command and control organs of the armed forces can be located anywhere. The main thing is a reliable command and control system should be created which allows for carrying out missions in peace and wartime.”
But can it really be located anywhere?
Retired General-Major Vladimir Belous of IMEMO’s International Security Center has been quoted everywhere saying that, in St. Petersburg, the Navy headquarters could come under a devastating enemy air attack in as little as 15-20 minutes.
Some have guessed the price tag for relocating to Piter at between 26 and 50 billion rubles, Grani.ru guesses 80 billion, and still others say completely rebuilding the Navy’s Moscow infrastructure in the country’s second capital would cost up to 1 trillion rubles. In any event, a gigantic sum forcing the Defense Ministry to forego lots of other good uses for its money.
Many experts believe the Navy’s command posts, comms, and underground bunkers will remain in Moscow and Moscow suburbs, since relocating them to Piter will be physically or financially impossible. Former First Deputy Navy CINC Igor Kasatonov has been widely quoted saying that Piter will be no more than an alternate headquarters for the Navy CINC, from which it will be possible only to exert tactical control over the fleet.
IA Regnum concludes that, although military experts unanimously believe a Moscow-to-Petersburg move will undermine the Navy’s combat readiness, it’s not clear it matters given the other things [i.e. political considerations, business interests] that are in play.
Vladimir Temnyy writing for Grani.ru makes the point that old admirals’ alarmist rumblings about disrupting the Navy’s command and control are unimportant to those who want to build a business center and expensive apartments in place of the Navy Main Staff building near the Krasnyye Vorota metro station.
In Stoletie.ru, Sergey Ptichkin calls the possible move ‘administrative caprice,’ adding that there’s profit motive in this caprice since the Navy headquarter’s building is valuable central Moscow property. He says not a single expert or Navy leader can justify the move, and brands Gryzlov’s talk of returning the Navy to Russia’s ‘naval capital’ the height of naivete. He makes the point that the Navy was only in Piter because Piter was the capital of the Russian Empire. Otherwise, the Navy’s headquarters should be with the rest of the nation’s leadership. Ptichkin concludes the modern Russian Navy can only be commanded from Moscow’s infrastructure and to replicate it in Piter is, if not impossible, then insanely expensive, especially at a time when there are questions about what kind of Navy will remains to be commanded.
An editorial in Friday’s Nezavisimoye voyennoye obozreniye concluded that the “ambitions of the powers-that-be trump common sense” and “the fact that arguments ‘against’ are clearly superior doesn’t bother them.”