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Russia: Navy To Rise Again, Says Admiral

Moscow, 5 November 1996 (RFE/RL) -- The chief navigator of the Russian Navy, Rear Admiral Valery Alexin, says Russia will re-emerge as a naval power in less than two decades.

In an interview with RFE/RL on the occasion of the 300th anniversary of the Russian navy, Alexin described in unusual detail his plan to rebuild a navy that Peter The Great founded 300 years ago. During his reign, Czar Peter oversaw the construction of 215 warships constructed to establish Russia as a naval power.

Alexin told our correspondent in Moscow that he plans to oversee first a reduction of the navy over the next five years and then a rebuilding of power early in the next century. But at least one prominent Western analyst said this program is unrealistic, given the competing needs of all of Russia's military forces.

During the first stage of Alexin's plan, endorsed by the Defense Ministry, the navy will dispense with out-of-date vessels that would be of no combat use in the next century, he said. Earlier this month, the national Defense Council approved withdrawing from service many of Russia's aging warships, leaving the Baltic, Pacific, Northern and Black Sea fleets with only one full squadron each.

Alexin wouldn't say which or how many ships are to be scrapped. But, he said, the restructured navy will operate a third as many ships as its Soviet predecessor had at the peak of its combat strength in 1990. The Russian navy presently claims 133 submarines, one aircraft carrier, 24 cruisers, 21 destroyers, 120 frigates, 80 corvettes, 182 mine warfare vessels and 80 amphibious vessels.

Admiral Alexin said that, by scrapping the older vessels over the next five years, the navy will be able to concentrate on supporting its strategic elite, such as the powerful cruiser Pyotr Veliky (Peter the Great) and the latest generation of missile-carrying nuclear submarines.

Meanwhile, he said, he expects the Russian economy to be recovering and additional tax revenues to become available for modernization. This recovery, Alexin said, seems likely to occur early next century. When it does, the navy will enter its second stage -- massive construction of 21st century warship -- to be implemented by the year 2015. By then, he said, Russia should have a minimum of 300 modern, combat-ready warships, including 100 major surface vessels, 120 cutters and up to 95 submarines

Alexin disputed Russian and Western analysts who, he said, argue that Russia, now without enemies, no longer needs a powerful navy. A country that has 38,000 kilometers of coastline making up 70 percent of its frontiers "cannot afford to have a weak navy."

The chief navigator said that without reformed funding, the navy won't even be able to maintain its present, diminished combat potential. Its fleets will be weaker than those of many of Russia's maritime neighbors, he said.

He said that even fully funded and operating more than 300 warships, the Russian navy will still not equal the combat strength of the U.S. Navy, and certainly not that of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization's (NATO) naval force. He said he expects the naval portion of NATO's overall combat forces to double by 2003.

Admiral Alexin said this lack of parity need not be a great concern. Since the Soviet Union's collapse, he said, the Russian navy has accepted that it cannot, and that it shouldn't attempt to, match its Soviet predecessor, whose nuclear submarines once dogged their U.S. counterparts all over the world. Now, he said, it is not parity that the navy should be after but "protection of our national interests."

Alexin said the Russian navy should be especially active in the Far East, whose vast natural resources, he said, will demand world attention in the coming century. He said also that there is strategic importance in the Arctic where Russian submarines are capable of firing rockets that break through the ice to hit any point in the Northern Hemisphere.

"We should be strong there as well as everywhere Russia's national interests require us to be," he said.

The military analyst for the Prague-based Open Media Research Institute, Doug Clark, said of the Alexin interview: "It's the first piece I've seen that has been so specific about future plans. However, I certainly do not think Alexin is being realistic."

Clark said that it will be difficult for the Russian navy to bring about any "massive construction of 21st century warships" even if Russia were to manage a quick economic recovery. The navy will be competing with ground and air forces, all of which also will need major and expensive re-equipping, he said.

Interfax news agency quotes Defense Council Secretary Yuri Baturin as having told the council this week that, because of changes in its internal political and economic situation, Russia must revamp the basic military doctrine it adopted only three years ago. Baturin said that rising tensions on Russia's borders and near its territory create new challenges. He said that underfinancing has created "a trend toward lower combat readiness and effectiveness" throughout Russia's armed forces.