Tag Archives: Mikhail Nenashev

Mistrals Not Needed

It’s possible the endgame for the Russian Mistrals is approaching.

First Russian Mistral at DCNS (photo: RIA Novosti  / Daniil Nizamutdinov)

First Russian Mistral at DCNS (photo: RIA Novosti / Daniil Nizamutdinov)

But Moscow’s not sad.  Officials have already said it’s not a tragedy.

Mikhail Nenashev — not an official, but a former Duma member and well-informed commentator — has called into question the need for the Mistrals. He’s a former Captain First Rank who chairs the All-Russian Movement for Support of the Navy.

According to RIA Novosti, he said the Mistrals have no utility but political.  The news agency quotes Nenashev:

“These ships are no kind of necessity for the navy — we don’t intend to land troops in such a way.  As I recall, the French themselves earlier and now are searching for how to deploy these ships — for a decade of fulfilling these missions by the French Navy there were few places where these ‘Mistrals’ were deployed in reality.”

That’s a bit of an exaggeration.  The most cursory look shows that the French contributed the Mistrals to the NATO Response Force, and deployed them during unrest in Lebanon and Cote d’Ivoire, among other places.

Nenashev and others (including Minister of Industry and Trade Denis Manturov) say Russia can build ships like to the Mistrals since it was already participating in their construction, and providing the internal command and control systems for the ships.  It would take longer (3-4 years) but cost less (€150-200 million vs. €1.2 billion).  The French, he says, can build it in a year because they have a smooth production process for these ships.

The former officer suggested that Sevmash or Baltic shipyard could construct such a ship if desired.  But he fails to note that these builders are already absolutely chockablock with orders today, and every new ship type is taking substantially more than 3-4 years to build.

But Nenashev willingly admits there are “acute questions” about the shipbuilding industry.  Specifically, issues of components, parts, technology, and skilled labor are a “little rough” and require coordination.

It’s exactly what Moscow will miss — a chance to see first-hand how fairly robust and modern French shipbuilders do their work.  No doubt there are things the Russians could have learned and taken home.

For their part, the French carefully note that the delivery of the first Russian Mistral has not legally and finally stopped. But President Hollande signaled Moscow that, if the situation in Ukraine does not improve, he will not approve the ship’s transfer in November.  That final decision will actually come at the end of October.

Improvement in Ukraine is defined by a relatively high bar of an effective ceasefire and agreement on a political resolution of the conflict.

The Elysee is quick to repeat that the Mistral sale remains unaffected by EU sanctions on Russia, and is a decision for Paris to make.  Hollande adopted his current stance in the last couple weeks as unavoidable evidence of direct Russian participation in the fighting (i.e. POWs and KIAs) in eastern Ukraine surfaced.

As of 9 September, RIA Novosti reported that planned at-sea training for the first Russian Mistral and its 400-man crew-in-waiting in Saint-Nazaire was put off for “technical reasons” having nothing to do with the French President’s current stance on the sale (or no sale).

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Return to Cam Ranh?

Russia Departs Cam Ranh in 2002 (photo: ITAR-TASS)

The Russian Navy’s possible return to Vietnam became the latest military rumor floated in the media last week.  If it happens, it won’t have exactly the same purposes as in 1979, and it probably won’t be on the same scale.  But it will be part and parcel of the issue of being, or wanting to remain, a naval power.  Moscow might have to ask itself if it still is one, or will be one in the future.

On Wednesday, former Navy Main Staff Chief, Admiral Viktor Kravchenko told Interfaks the Navy is proposing to reestablish a material-technical support base (PMTO or ПМТО) at Cam Ranh.

The news service quotes Kravchenko:

“Without a system of bases for deployment, full support of Navy ships in distant waters is problematic.  Navy surface ships and submarines need repair, resupply, and crew rest to fulfill a wide range of missions on the world’s oceans.  If as before Russia considers itself a naval power, the reestablishment and creation of basing points like Cam Ranh is unavoidable.”

A Defense Ministry source told Nezavisimaya gazeta that:

“The [Navy] Glavkomat has finished work on the documents considering and substantiating the need to reestablish a basing point to support Russian ships in the Asia-Pacific region.  If there is a political decision, then the Navy is prepared to reestablish a working base in three years.”

The base would support ships on antipiracy missions in the Pacific and Indian Oceans, according to the source.

The Chairman of the Duma Defense Committee’s Subcommittee on Military-Technical Cooperation, former Captain First Rank Mikhail Nenashev told Interfaks:

“The rent for a naval base at Cam Ranh, in the end, would cost Russia less than regular support of combatants on the world’s oceans using auxiliary ships, tankers, and repair ships.”

And:

“Reestablishing a base at Cam Ranh would help strengthen and develop cooperation with Vietnam and the Asia-Pacific region countries not only in military, but in many others spheres of activity.”

Izvestiya says, Moscow doesn’t intend to return to a Cold War-style global military confrontation with Washington – it has not the forces, means, or desire for it – but the ‘Cam Ranh initiative’ shows that a gradual reanimation of specific military bases abroad could happen.

According to Newsru.com and Vremya novostey, in 1979, Moscow and Hanoi signed a 25-year agreement by which the Soviet Pacific Fleet’s 17th Squadron gained access to Cam Ranh.  Vietnam allowed the Soviet Navy to base 10 surface ships, 8 submarines with a submarine support ship, and 6 auxiliaries at the port.  Later, the 922nd PMTO was established at the Vietnamese port.  The Soviets had POL storage, an ASW and missile armaments base and technical service unit, a Naval Infantry sub-unit, and an air regiment at Cam Ranh.

The base was initially free, but Hanoi asked for $300 million in rent in 1998.  In 2001, Moscow decided not to extend its agreement with Vietnam, and the last Russian elements departed Cam Ranh in mid-2002.  The decisionmaking around the Cam Ranh withdrawal (likewise for Lourdes, Cuba) is anything but clear-cut.  But then President Putin probably made the decision, reportedly against the advice of many senior uniformed officers, in an effort to save money for the military at home, and to make nice with Washington.  Former high-ranking General Staff officer Leonid Ivashov claims the $300 million rent, at least, shouldn’t have been an issue since it could have been written off against Vietnam’s $10 billion debt to Moscow.

Prime Minister Putin’s December 2009 Hanoi visit and major arms deal, including six proyekt 636 diesel submarines, with Vietnam may have started movement on a return to Cam Ranh.  Defense Minister Serdyukov went to Hanoi in February and told Rossiyskaya gazeta the Vietnamese were very interested in constructing a Navy repair plant and Russian help with naval logistics.  However, Serdyukov claimed the Vietnamese didn’t propose anything about Cam Ranh.  But NG’s Vladimir Mukhin speculates a deal for a renewed Russian presence at the base might be inked during President Medvedev’s late October trip to Vietnam.

Izvestiya quotes independent military analyst Aleksandr Khramchikhin:

“Theoretically, I welcome the reestablishment of a Navy base at Cam Ranh.  For Russia, it is a very composite and most useful facility abroad. Without it, the operations of the Pacific Fleet are impeded.  Also very little remains of the Pacific Fleet.  This fact, however, doesn’t change the usefulness of the base at Cam Ranh.  Such a step could, of course, create certain foreign policy difficulties for Russia.  I suppose the U.S. and China will express dissatisfaction, but this will hardly have any real effect.  As concerns Vietnam, it would pay to view it as our most important ally.  Russia largely cast it aside after the collapse of the USSR.  This was a gross mistake worth correcting.”

It’s worth recalling Khramchikhin may view Vietnam through a slightly Sinophobic prism.

Talking to NG, Duma Deputy, and former Black Sea Fleet commander, Vladimir Komoyedov worries there won’t be anything to deploy at Cam Ranh:

“The Pacific Fleet, whose ships need to control the waters of South-East Asia, has hardly received any new units for the last two decades.  And what will we deploy to Cam Ranh?”