Currently, the Russian Caspian flotilla is the largest and most powerful naval unit in the Caspian Sea. Since 2002, Moscow has consistently implemented the strategy of technical re-equipment and reorganization of its naval forces. As a result, the Caspian flotilla has the largest number of warships with modern on-board weaponry. In fact, in contemporary political and economic realities, there is no rivalry between Russia and other Caspian littoral states. Moscow is supported by the coastal countries in its intention to ensure non-interference in inter-regional affairs, including security issues, by third countries. During the ongoing talks over the Caspian Sea’s legal status, the parties have repeatedly emphasized that they will avoid using military force in mutual relations. Furthermore, the agreement was reached that only littoral states should be allowed to deploy ships and military forces in the sea. Finally, the Caspian states committed themselves to not permitting any country to use their territories for a military attack against other littoral countries. Therefore, Russia’s reasons for maintaining and improving the Caspian Navy are entirely different from the alleged Moscow’s concern about potential hostile relationship and distrust with the regional countries.
Established by Peter the Great as part of the Imperial Navy, the Caspian flotilla is actually one of the oldest fleets in the Russian Navy. It has been important for Russia in terms of securing its southern borders for the last 300 years. The Caspian flotilla was perceived as a key component of the Russian Empire’s expansion into the region, and it remains a vital element of continued influence and military dominance being the southernmost outpost of the country (German, 2014). As a result, the historical factor plays a significant role in understanding the current motivation of the Kremlin in strengthening its naval facilities in the Caspian Sea. For instance, on April 2, 2018, Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu officially announced that the Caspian flotilla would be relocated from Astrakhan to the town of Kaspiysk, Dagestan, and its personnel be increased. From Russia’s perspective, this decision should increase the effectiveness of the flotilla to protect coastal waters, fight against poaching and illegal trafficking, and guard the country’s national interests in oil-producing areas. It has already been stressed that the new base will have the country’s most technically advanced naval facilities – even more advanced than those of the Northern, Baltic, or Black Sea Fleets.
In order to implement the transfer of the naval base from Astrakhan to Kaspiysk by 2020 vast construction work should be conducted in Dagestan during the next two years, including the building of quays, logistic facilities and housing. In fact, the construction will entail improving the harbor, building new docks as well as barracks, ammunition storage facilities, and officers’ housing. Under the first stage of the project that is to be completed by 2019, it is planned to create berthing places for warships, deepen the seabed, build moorings and the necessary ground infrastructure (Navy Recognition, 2017). The idea to relocate Russia’s Caspian flotilla to the city of Kaspiysk appeared on the agenda in 2017 together with the Strategy for the Development of the Russian Seaports in the Caspian Basin initially presented in March and approved in September 2017. Since Russia announced its plans to open an additional unfreezing deep port in the city of Kaspiysk, it appears that Dagestan will be given a crucial role in improving both Caspian Sea security and cargo throughput.
There are several advantages of the relocation plan. The new base for the Caspian flotilla will enjoy a strategic geographic location. The northern part of the Caspian Sea and the Volga Delta, in contrast to the middle part of the sea where Kaspiysk is placed, often freeze over during winter. Since the flotilla warships are not ice-class vessels, such severe climate conditions cause additional difficulties for conducting naval activities. Moreover, Astrakhan is about 100 km from the Caspian Sea, and ships need to pass the Volga Delta to enter the open sea (Ahmadbayli, 2018). The growing shallow of the Volga Delta makes it problematic for warships with deep draught and heavyweight weapons to maneuver and reach their maximum speed. As a result, it takes six hours to go down the river before entering the Caspian Sea. Therefore, from this point of view, the decision to relocate the Caspian flotilla headquarters with command and control capabilities from the Astrakhan port to the ice-free deep port of Kaspiysk in Dagestan is strategically correct (Sputnik, 2018).
In fact, in terms of the military vessels’ deployment, Kaspiysk is better than Astrakhan, especially when it comes to the possible involvement of the Caspian flotilla in the Middle Eastern theater of operation. The relocation will allow to save up to 12 hours for the flotilla to reach the designated area and be operational for launching missiles from the Kalibr missile complex installed on the Gepard-class guard ship Dagestan (Project 11661), the flagship of the Caspian flotilla, and the Buyan-M-class small missile ships Grad Sviyazhsk, Uglich, and Veliky Ustyug (Project 21631). Actually, the Caspian flotilla has already had experience of engaging in military operations in Syria. In 2015, the Caspian Sea joined the list of seas from which Russia fired cruise missiles at targets in Syria. In October 2015, the Russian Caspian flotilla launched 26 cruise missiles at 11 targets in Syria from the deployment area in the south-western part of the sea. The second cruise missile attack from the Caspian region occurred in November 2015 when the Caspian flotilla warships launched 18 cruise missiles at seven targets in the Raqqa, Idlib and Aleppo provinces of Syria (Kucera, 2015). As a result, the decision to create a new base could be perceived as Moscow’s ongoing determination to project long-term and long-range military power into the Middle East (Blank, 2017).
Finally, since the Caspian flotilla is primarily tasked with providing security in the Caspian Sea region, including support for counter-terrorism measures in the North Caucasus, especially in Dagestan (Kokcharov, 2018), it is of critical importance to Russia to have an additional stabilizing factor, such as the new naval base. Despite the fact that combating organized crime and fighting corruption and embezzlement of budget allocations do not fall within the Caspian flotilla’s field of competence, the mere presence of the strengthened naval forces in Dagestan could reduce illegal traffic and criminal activity.
In conclusion, the Caspian flotilla’s rebasing, if realized, would be the first naval headquarters’ relocation in Russia since the 1990s. There is no doubt that the construction of the new naval base capable of berthing all the flotilla missile ships equipped with high-precision weapons would become an important element of the Russian military-political strategy in both the Caspian region and the Middle East. However, the creation of a fully-fledged and weather-protected port infrastructure in Kaspiysk is a rather costly project. Moreover, the Kaspiysk port project envisages the construction of not only military naval facilities, but also the creation of an infrastructure necessary for commercial shipping activities. Therefore, the implementation of the new naval base project will largely depend on how effectively and timely the funds allocated by the Russian government will be expended. Nevertheless, it is quite obvious that the naval base relocation will further enhance Russia’s military dominance in the region, encouraging Moscow to continue implementing the long-term strategy of sheltering the Caucasus and Central Asia under the umbrella of land, naval, and air defense networks and bases.
Ahmadbayli, A. (2018). Why move Caspian flotilla to Middle Eastern theater? Retrieved from https://www.azernews.az/analysis/129908.html. Accecced on 19.04.2018.
Blank, S. (2017). Russia’s New Caspian Naval Base. Retrieved from http://www.caspianpolicy.org/news/russias-new-caspian-naval-base/. Accecced on 20.04.2018.
German, T. (2014). Russia and the Caspian Sea: Projecting Power or Competing for Influence? U.S. Army War College Press.
Kokcharov, A. (2018). Caspian Flotilla rebasing likely to improve deployability in support of Russian security interests in the Middle East. (IHS Jane’s Country Risk Daily Report). Retrieved from http://www.janes.com/article/79147/caspian-flotilla-rebasing-likely-to-improve-deployability-in-support-of-russian-security-interests-in-the-middle-east#. Accecced on 19.04.2018.
Kucera, J. (2015). Russia Launches More Cruise Missiles from Caspian to Syria. Retrieved from https://eurasianet.org/s/russia-launches-more-cruise-missiles-from-caspian-to-syria. Accecced on 20.04.2018.
Navy Recognition. (2017). Russia builds Naval Base in Kaspiisk for its Caspian Flotilla. Retrieved from https://navyrecognition.com/index.php/news/defence-news/2017/october-2017-navy-naval-forces-defense-industry-technology-maritime-security-global-news/5623-russia-builds-naval-base-in-kaspiisk-for-its-caspian-flotilla.html. Accecced on 15.04.2018.
Sputnik. (2018). Admiral Explains Why Russia Moving Caspian Flotilla HQ to Dagestan. Retrieved from https://sputniknews.com/military/201804031063158439-admiral-flotilla-relocation/. Accecced on 15.04.2018.
 The Caspian Flotilla was established in November 1722.
 Currently, the Caspian flotilla is headquartered in Astrakhan with the secondary base in Makhachkala.
 The main phase (2020-2025) of the new strategy includes the construction of new deep-water seaport facilities in Kaspiysk, the development of new investment projects on the territories with a special regime, as well as the development of trans-Caspian Sea cruise tourism and international trade, mostly with Iran.
 In total, the Caspian flotilla consists of 10 cruise-missile capable corvettes, six gunboats, eight landing boats, and seven minesweepers.
Lydiya Parkhomchik (nee Timofeyenko) was born on February 9, 1984 in Zelenodolsk city, located at the territory of the Republic of Tatarstan (Russia). Since 1986 she became resident of the Republic of Kazakhstan. She graduated the high school in 2001 and at the same year she admitted to Abylai khan Kazakh University of International Relations and World Languages. She graduated from International Relations Department with specialization of analyst with knowledge of a foreign language in 2006 and after that started to work as a lecturer at the Chair of International Relations of KazUIR & WL.