Russia and India Flex Their Navy Muscle In A Strategic Region of Middle East
May 01, 2003

Stratfor Intelligence


The Russian and Indian navies are conducting joint exercises off the island of Socotra in the western Arabian Sea. The exercises are as symbolic as they are substantive, aimed at highlighting the two countries' alliance and capabilities in an area Washington is clearly delineating as its sphere of influence. However, on both symbolic and substantive levels, the exercises are unlikely to raise much of an eyebrow in Washington.


Admiral Viktor Kravchenko, chief of the Russian navy's General Staff, said that the Russian and Indian navies would conduct exercises near the island of Socotra beginning April 30. Ships from both the Russian Black Sea and Pacific Fleets would practice maneuvers with India's Western Fleet before moving to the Bay of Bengal for further exercises with the Indian Eastern Fleet.

India has not released a list of its vessels that will take part in the exercises. Russian vessels involved include the Slava Class guided missile cruiser Moskva, flagship of the Black Sea Fleet. Also deploying from the Black Sea Fleet are the Krivak II Class frigate Pytlivy, the Kashin Class guided missile destroyer Smetlivy, and the Ropucha I Class tank landing ship Tsezar Kunikov. The Pacific Fleet has sent the Udaloy Class anti-submarine destroyers Marshal Shaposhnikov and Admiral Panteleyev.

Socotra, a Yemeni island off the Horn of Africa, was not chosen at random for the exercises. The island, on the Gulf of Aden, is some 1,300 miles from the Indian coast. It is a strategic location, overlooking seagoing traffic between the Persian Gulf and the Red Sea, and is home to a U.S. signals intelligence facility. From the waters off Socotra, the Russian and Indian vessels can attempt to monitor U.S. vessels that are homeward bound from the war in Iraq, as well as ongoing U.S. anti-al Qaeda operations in and around Yemen and the Horn of Africa.

Sources in the Russian navy headquarters report that the Moskva has a very good signals intelligence suite, as well as other electronic warfare capabilities. They claim it is capable of real-time tracking of U.S. military assets in the Middle East, as well as interfering with satellite transmissions and jamming cruise missile guidance and control signals. Other vessels in the Russian fleet have some limited electronic warfare capabilities as well. An Indian military source reports that the Indian navy vessels involved in the exercises will test some new indigenously developed listening devices and other electronic warfare equipment.

The chosen location, practically on the doorstep of current U.S. Navy operations, suggests the exercises intend to send a message to Washington that they remain powers to be reckoned with. Sources in both countries have expressed the fear that Washington is ignoring them or treating them as less than equal, and all the more so in the wake of the Iraq war.

Moscow and New Delhi wish to point out that they are still allies. Despite tolerable relations between Moscow and Washington, and improving relations between New Delhi and Washington, the alliance between India and Russia remains stronger than their respective relations with the United States. Therefore, they believe the United States should consider their combined geopolitical strength when dealing with either country ...