President Vladimir Putin calls improving the Russian navy’s combat capabilities a priority.
The unfinished husks of three guided-missile frigates that have languished for three years at a Baltic shipyard show that is easier said than done.
Earmarked for Russia’s Black Sea Fleet, the frigates fell victim to sanctions imposed by Ukraine in 2014 after Russia annexed the Crimean peninsula, prompting Kiev to ban the sale of the Ukrainian-made engines needed to propel them.
With Moscow unable to quickly build replacement engines for the Admiral Grigorovich-class frigates, construction stopped. Russia is now cutting its losses and selling the three ships to India without engines.
The navy’s problems stem largely, but not exclusively, from the Ukrainian sanctions. There are also problems, for different reasons, with new equipment for the army and air force.
The picture that emerges is that Russia’s armed forces are not as capable or modern as its annual Red Square military parades suggest and that its ability to project conventional force is more limited too.
“You need to always distinguish between reality and the shop window,” said Andrei Frolov, editor-in-chief of Russian magazine Arms Exports.
“Red Square is a shop window. It’s like in restaurants in Japan where there are models of the food. What we see on Red Square are models of food, not the food itself.”
Western diplomats and military experts say Putin has long projected an image of military might to strengthen his and Moscow’s image at home and abroad, but that Russia is overhauling its military far more slowly than China.
“Moscow’s problems mean its ability to project conventional military force — something it is doing in Syria and has done in Ukraine — is not as great as the Kremlin would have the world believe,” said one Western official with knowledge of Russia’s military.