Russian navy flexes muscles in Mediterranean, East China Sea - analysis

Russia is conducting naval exercises in two locations in the Mediterranean and the East China Sea.

 Russian warships leave a port during naval drills, which are staged by the Baltic Fleet forces of the Russian Navy, part of the military exercises Zapad-2021 opened by Russia and Belarus, in the Baltic Sea town of Baltiysk in Kaliningrad Region, Russia September 9, 2021 (photo credit: REUTERS/VITALY NEVAR)
Russian warships leave a port during naval drills, which are staged by the Baltic Fleet forces of the Russian Navy, part of the military exercises Zapad-2021 opened by Russia and Belarus, in the Baltic Sea town of Baltiysk in Kaliningrad Region, Russia September 9, 2021
(photo credit: REUTERS/VITALY NEVAR)

Russia’s navy is engaging in two important missions, 8,000 kilometers apart.

Russia and China are conducting a joint naval exercise called Naval Interaction-2022 in the East China Sea from Dec. 21-27, the Russian Defense Ministry said on Monday while in the Mediterranean, two Russian Steregushchiy-class corvettes, the Stoikiy and Soobrazitelny, docked at the port of Alexandria. These warships, launched in 2010 and 2012 respectively, are modern Russian ships in comparison to the older Slava-class cruisers Varyag and Marshal Ustinov that had been in the Mediterranean.  

Russia’s navy has taken a beating this year. The Slava-class Moskva was sunk in the Black Sea in April. The Ustinov and Varyag spent time this year off the port of Tartus in Syria where Russia has a naval base. The Ustinov returned to its station with the Russian Northern Fleet in September.

Russia has naval bases in Severomorsk, in Murmansk, for its Northern Fleet, and it has bases at Kaspiysk, St. Petersburg, Sevastopol and Vladivostok. Kaspiysk is a base intended for the Caspian Sea. The base at Sevastopol is in Crimea which Russia occupied in 2014, but it is a historic base used by the Russians and prior to the current government, the Soviet navy.  

Beginning on December 10, the corvettes Stoikiy and Soobrazitelny reportedly arrived near the port of Alexandria for what Russians called a friendly visit in which the sailors met the Russian Ambassador G.E Borisenko. According to a social media post about their visit, this continues the tradition of friendship between Russian and Egyptian armed forces that goes back 70 years.

 Russian minesweeper ''Vladimir Yemelyanov'' sails during the exercises of the Russian Navy in the Mediterranean Sea, February 15, 2022. (credit: RUSSIAN DEFENSE MINISTRY/HANDOUT VIA REUTERS) Russian minesweeper ''Vladimir Yemelyanov'' sails during the exercises of the Russian Navy in the Mediterranean Sea, February 15, 2022. (credit: RUSSIAN DEFENSE MINISTRY/HANDOUT VIA REUTERS)

According to a report in Russian language Eurasia Daily, the visit was announced on December 17 and Russian officials said, “we are very grateful to the Egyptian authorities for the warm welcome given to Russian warships. Their visit to Alexandria, which continues the tradition of mutual visits, reflects the strategic partnership between Russia and Egypt, whose armed forces have maintained close ties for almost 70 years, which helps to strengthen friendship between our peoples and strengthen global stability.”

The article said that work with Egypt is considered important for Russia due to its unique geostrategic position, “the most powerful military-political and demographic potential in the Arab world, and the status of one of the leaders among the Arab countries automatically turn Cairo into a point of competition between the largest powers.” 

Therefore Russia views this visit with importance

The corvettes had already made a call in Algeria in October, Russian media said. These ships had left their Baltic fleet headquarters earlier this year after a training in July for a naval parade. They passed around Ireland and then to the Mediterranean.

Defense and geopolitics commentator Mahmoud Gamal on Twitter noted that “Egypt, Russia Navies conducts the joint naval exercise ‘Bridge of Friendship-2022’ in the Mediterranean off Alexandria coast.” It was not clear how long this drill will take place, and there were no further details about it. Russia is clearly showing off its newer corvettes and projecting its power in the region by bringing them to Egypt.  

Meanwhile, off the coast of China, Russia is also doing a drill with the Chinese

“The main goal of the exercise is to strengthen naval cooperation between the Russian Federation and the People's Republic of China and maintain peace and stability in the Asia-Pacific region,” the Russian Defense Ministry statement said.

The drill will include live fire at targets with missiles and also anti-submarine maneuvers.

“The Russian Navy at the exercise will be represented by the flagship of the Pacific Fleet of the Order of Nakhimov, the guards missile cruiser Varyag, the frigate Marshal Shaposhnikov, the corvettes of project 20380 Hero of the Russian Federation Aldar Tsydenzhapov and Sovershennyy.”

Russian Defense Ministry

“The Russian Navy at the exercise will be represented by the flagship of the Pacific Fleet of the Order of Nakhimov, the guards missile cruiser Varyag, the frigate Marshal Shaposhnikov, the corvettes of project 20380 Hero of the Russian Federation Aldar Tsydenzhapov and Sovershennyy,” the Russian Defense Ministry said, according to Turkish media. “The statement added that two destroyers, two patrol ships, an integrated supply ship, and a diesel submarine will be involved in the exercise from the Chinese side.” 

The drill near China will last a week and will take place in the waters east of Zhoushan and Taizhou, two cities in East China's Zhejiang province. This is important and comes amid tensions between North and South Korea. Russia is clearly showing off its naval muscle with these drills.

Russia’s navy is in need of modernization and although it is part of the pride of Russia, the navy has often suffered setbacks going all the way back to the Russian-Japanese war in 1905. In that year the Russian navy was defeated at the Straits of Tsushima. The Russian fleet had sailed some 18,000 nautical miles to reach the area but was defeated by the Japanese.