Russia Beats Sanctions, Obtains French Helicopter Carriers for $1
Politics has a way of distorting the strategic calculus behind military decisions and such distortions often lead to misapprehensions. This week, the powers-that-be in Washington fell into this trap. They misunderstood the reason that was sending the Russian carrier Admiral Kutznetsov to the Mediterranean.
The misconceptions began by characterizing the Russian vessel as an “aircraft carrier,” which raised images of US aircraft carriers, when there is no resemblance between the two types of vessel or their functions.
Whereas the US aircraft carrier fleet is designed to defend America’s interests on the world’s oceans, the Kutznetsov is more of a floating platform for assault planes, cruise missiles and sophisticated air defense systems to guard shores where Russia boasts interests.
This seaborne arsenal also defends Russian ground forces in coastal areas against attack by hostile submarines or landing craft.
Unlike the Americans, the Russians never built a fleet of carriers – just one, the Kurznetzov, although not for lack of funds. Similar Russian vessels were sold to China and India. Moscow never felt the need for gigantic ships, especially after the Soviet empire collapsed in the early 90s.
But then, as the United States began pulling out of the Middle East, a process accelerated during the eight years of Barack Obama’s administration, Russian military strategists and naval specialists began rethinking the possibility of acquiring seaborne aircraft- or helicopter-carriers, although at no time did they seek US-type nuclear-powered ships.
The new thinking in Moscow led to the signing with France in 2010 of a deal for the purchase of two Mistral class amphibious assault ships, which can double as helicopter carriers. These ships chimed with the Russian conception of its navy as a tool for protecting its territorial acquisition rather than support for its global strategy. Five years later, France cancelled the deal in compliance with Western sanctions against Moscow for annexing the Crimean Peninsula and invading eastern Ukraine. The French then sold the two helicopters to Egypt instead against a pledge of Saudi financing.
This deal is now revealed as one of the most barefaced international scams of recent years for Russia to dodge Western sanctions with the connivance of France, Egypt and Saudi Arabia.
The two French vessels were publicly paraded when they docked in the Egyptian port of Alexandria in late September and early October. After that, they disappeared from sight.
But last Friday, Oct. 21, Polish Defense Minister Antoni Macierewicz claimed out of the blue that Egypt had resold the two French carriers to Russia for the token price of $1.
When he dropped this bombshell in the Polish parliament, he assured skeptical reporters that his source was “very good” and the information “reliable.”
In other words, the two French helicopter carriers ended up in Russian hands, their original destination, and added a new dimension to the Kuznetzov’s deployment to the Syrian port of Tartus. Escorted by one or two French carriers, Russia has positioned an impressive flotilla in the Mediterranean.
But its mission is not as US military sources contend to expand Russia’s military intervention in Syria, but rather to shore up Russian territorial gains in Syria and its influence in the eastern Mediterranean at large, now that not a single American aircraft carrier is left in the Middle East.