STRATEGY: Has the ‘Great Game’ Moved to the Sea?

August 2, 2012 at 5:23 pm Leave a comment

Russia Considers New Naval Bases

As the United States military shifts attention to the Asia Pacific region and reaches agreements to base troops and ships in Australia, Singapore and possibly the Philippines, Russia is considering expanding its overseas naval bases.

Russian Ministry of Defense photo

Currently, Moscow has only one overseas military installation – a naval supply base at Tartus in civil war-wracked Syria. But the commander of the Russian navy recently said he is looking at opening bases in Cuba, Vietnam and on the Indian Ocean island chain of the Seychelles.

In the 19th and early 20th centuries the political and military jockeying – especially espionage – by Russia and Britain for influence in Central Asia was called “the Great Game.” But after World War II the United States replaced the British Empire and the Soviet Union succeeded the Russian Empire as players of the Great Game.

But now it appears the “Game” may be moving East and West and out to sea with Moscow suggesting it needs more naval bases around the world. “It is true, we are working on the deployment of Russian naval bases outside Russian territory,” Vice Admiral Viktor Chirkov told the RIA Novosti news agency July 27, according to several western news accounts.

But a day later, Russia’s defense ministry, denied that it was trolling for new bases. In a statement the ministry called the reports a media “fantasy” and said Chirkov – who does not have the authority to make such deals with other governments – was misquoted, AFP reported.

Yesterday (August 1), Pravda reported that the base expansions were being planned for “rest and replenishment of the crews after the campaign in the area and not military bases.” But Russian warships could do both, if necessary, Pravda added “given the good attitudes of the leaders of these countries toward Russia.”

At the Pentagon, Defense Department spokesman George Little said last week that Russia is within its rights “to enter into military agreements and relationships” with other countries, Bloomberg Businessweek reported, noting that Russia has been building up its Navy since 2008.

Pundits and politicians around the world were quick to speculate about what it all means. Some thought Vietnam – nervous about China’s bullying behavior in the South China Sea, where massive deposits of oil and gas are thought to exist beneath the sea bed – is looking for a big partner to counter Beijing. Others believed Cuba and Venezuela might be looking for a champion as a buffer against the U.S.

Cuban leader Raul Castro met with Moscow officials last month and Vietnam’s President Truong Tan Sang met with Russian President Vladimir Putin and Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev in Russia recently. The talks were said to include exploring closer military ties but no announcement was made. U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta also met with Sang in June and visited the Cam Ranh Bay facility. Sang previously said the naval base’s facilities would be open to all friendly navies.

Cam Ranh Bay may via Wikipedia

The Soviet Union took over the massive naval base at Cam Ranh Bay in 1979 after the U.S. pulled out of Vietnam in the mid 1970s. But after the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, Russian officials decided the rent Vietnam wanted to charge for continued use of its facility was too high and withdrew its personnel in 2002. That was the same year Russia closed its radar facility in Lourdes, Cuba, where the Soviet Union had operated an intelligence-gathering base since the 1960s.

Several analysts expressed doubts that the aged Russian Navy poses any strategic threat in the near term.

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Entry filed under: Asia-Pacific, BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India, China), Latin America, National Security and Defense, Naval Warfare. Tags: , , , , , , , .

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