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A Fall from Glory: The Decline of The Russian Navy

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A Fall From Glory: The Decline of the Russian Navy


Glory Days of the Soviet Empire . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 3

Disposition of the Soviet Fleets . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 5

Russia's Navy . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 7

Looking to the Future . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 10

Bibliography . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 11

Endnotes . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 12


It used to be that in the olden days, one could walk into a tavern frequented by sailors and hear told grand and lively tales of past adventures; sea stories as they are often called, about ancient mariners, treacherous sea monsters, and old villainess enemies. These tales told of the battles fought against the Soviet Communists; though no real bullets were ever exchanged; a war did in fact occur. It was a cold war fought around the world in its oceans and on land in missile silos. It was the Soviet Communists versus the Capitalistic Americans, both the equal of the other. The war went on for many years; with one side stockpiling weapons and the other side responding likewise. Some called the war a game of chicken; the looser being the one who backed down the first. In the end though, the game's cost was too steep. Mr. Gorbachev tipped his King and Mr. Reagan accepted his acquiescence. The time passed, some pieces moved on and some remained.

Before the game was over, there was a time when the Naval Forces of the Soviet Union were regarded with both fear and respect. Ever since the days of Brezhnev, their military dominated the east and it was equaled only by that of the United States in the west. No one dared to directly challenge the power of the CCCP; not even the Americans. To do so would mean World War III and the destruction of the world by gigantic mushroom clouds over every major city. The Soviet Surface Fleet projected power wherever they went and their submarines glided through the depths of the oceans ready to launch nuclear salvos at a moments notice either in aggression or in defense. The sailors on the ships and subs were well disciplined and also well motivated. New ships and boats were constantly being built, in order to stay ahead of the adversary. At home, the Navy defended the Soviet people from their enemies: the Americans and her Capitalist NATO allies. Abroad, the Navy showed the world the greatness of the Soviet Empire and kept the peace. As such, the sailors held the pride and respect of the people of the Soviet Union. As far as they were concerned, the Soviet Navy was the biggest, most powerful, and all around best in the world.


The one true constant in the world is change. The cold war came to an end and with it came many hard decisions. The Soviet Navy was huge, but it was the Soviet Navy, not the Russian Navy. With the breakup of the Union came the task of what to do with the Navy. Which country or countries did it belong to? Boris Yeltsin had the idea to keep the Soviet military intact; one fighting force for all the countries of the former CCCP. His message was not well received. Russia had for so long dominated its neighbors that the idea of allowing Russia joint control of each of their militaries was appalling. The Ukraine and the other new republics firmly rejected that idea and in the end, even Russia started her own. Of what was once the Soviet Navy, Russia kept a significant percentage. The newly formed republics lay only to Russia's south and west which meant that the Soviet Pacific and North Sea Fleets belonged solely to Moscow. The contention came mainly with the Baltic and Black Sea Fleets.

"The breakup of the Soviet Union deprived the Baltic Fleet of key bases in Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia, leaving Kaliningrad Oblast as the Fleet's only ice-free naval outlet to the Baltic Sea." Kaliningrad Oblast lies between Russia and two other countries: Poland and Lithuania which clearly creates tensions between the Russians and its neighbors.

The divvying up of the Black Sea Fleet was much harder to do and ended up taking years of negotiation with Ukraine. In June 1993, Ukrainian President Leonid Kravchuk and Russian President Boris Yeltsin reached a preliminary agreement that split the fleet in half. It fell through. The agreement was renegotiated again in September 1993, again in April 1994, and finally the agreement was concluded on 28 May 1997. Its result was that Ukraine would rent the port of Sevastopol to the Russians for USD $100 million annually and split the Black Fleet's ships evenly between the two countries. The Russians ended up buying back some of the vessels that were to be transferred to Ukraine. In the end, the Russians kept four fifths of the ships and Ukraine got half of the facilities. The Russians agreed to keep a maximum of 25,000 troops at the Ukrainian bases and the bases would be nuclear-free.


The division of naval bases, ships, weapons, and men was the least of Russia's worries when it came to her Navy. It wasn't even any of her old enemies that proved to be the deadliest threat. It was money or rather the lack thereof. Today's Russia simply can't afford to maintain what they have let alone build a Navy for the 21st Century. What's left of the Russian Navy today is old. Most of her ships are tied to piers rusting away or already decommissioned. Nuclear Submarines with the radioactive materials still inside the engine-core still sit abandoned at the docks.

"Russia is unsuccessfully trying to run a first-world navy on a third-world budget." A severe lack of funding has resulted in an immense decline in the total number of Russian Naval vessels still operating. According to the Center



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