Possible Instruments of evil.
"Mistral" warships?

The Russian Putin regime starts having a long list of what they see as geographical successes in Georgia (Abkhazia and South Ossetia) and in the Ukraine (Crimea, Donetsk, Lugansk). If not stopped this list could become longer with the further intrusion in Southern Ukraine (Odessa) on the way to Moldova (Transnistria).

These conquests were not the result of classical military operations but were achieved using other tools and approaches.

Propaganda, disinformation, lies, helped by the lack of timely or by clumsy reactions by the victim States and other politicians, prepared the way.

Covert operations by paid locals and special forces, also in uniform without the insignia showing that they belonged to the Russian Armed Forces. Using fire arms provided by those Russian forces of which some were, in accordance with bilateral agreements, stationed in the victim States. Avoiding excessive violence, infiltrating, occupying government and media buildings. Disarming local police, occupying military installations of unprepared and ill commanded native units.

But in the case of Georgia and in the Crimea, after the so called referendum, also by a more classical military occupation deploying, in the victim States, armoured infantry brigades and threatening, if possible, with similar forces brought to the borders of the States that the Putin Regime intends to destabilize.

The presence of the Russian Black Sea fleet in Sebastopol on the Crimea and the uncertainty of its future there was without doubt a consideration on the mind of the aggressors. But the ships never fired a gun or threatened to fire a gun. It is difficult to image a meaningful role for warships in the new scenarios used by the Putin regime in Georgia or in the Ukraine.

How much of this unrest can the Russian Putin Regime go on fuelling? How many military units can it keep deployed? What is the cost?

Putin, nostalgic of the era of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR), sees Russia as a world power. But this is not supported by the economic reality (International Monetary Fund 2013):

RANK Country/Region GDP
Billions of US $
World 74,0
European Union 17,4
1 United States 16,8
2 China 9,2
3 Japan 4,9
4 Germany 3,6
5 France 2,7
6 United Kingdom 2,5
7 Brazil 2,2
8 Russia 2,1
9 Italy 2,1
10 India 1,9
11 Canada 1,8
12 Australia 1,5
13 Spain 1,4
14 Mexico 1,3
15 South Korea 1,2

Based solely on the economic reality Russia is as much a world power as Italy and slightly less than Brazil.

If the criteria were: political arrogance, willingness to take risks and lack of respect for democratic values and human rights than of course the Putin regime might well top all the rest in this list.

Economically the possibilities of the Putin Regime are limited and it must be possible to restrain it using financial/economic measures, all the more so since the Russian economy, depending heavily on the export of energy (gas and oil) and minerals, is extremely vulnerable.

In the meantime Russia ordered two Mistral-class helicopter carriers in France for a total amount of $ 1,6 billion. The ships of 21.000 ton with a length of 199 meter can carry and put ashore an armoured battalion of up to 900 soldiers and their vehicles, and operate up to 18 helicopters, two more might be built under license in Russia itself. The first ship is expected to be delivered by France in October 2014.

Surely powerful instruments for the projection of military power from the sea.

A helicopter carrier and its use is never going to be the tool of covert operations; It will be possible to always know where it is and what it is doing.

At sea, unless well protected by a plethora of other warships and unless operating under the cover of an air defence umbrella, the helicopter carrier is very vulnerable. It remains to be seen if the Russian fleet and/or Air Force are capable of providing, with sufficient confidence, such a protection.

It is understandable that the acquisition of those ships for the Russian fleet is worrying the Baltic and Black Sea states, but the reorienting the $ 1,6 billion of their cost towards Russian special forces or infantry brigades should be even more worrying.

So, for the time being, it is probably wise to let the acquisition program in France of the "Mistral" warships by the Putin regime run its course and to seek measures against that regime in other areas of the economic and financial domains.

16 May 2014

Willy Herteleer
Admiral (Retd)
Honorary aid to the King
President EURODEFENSE-Belgium