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The Sea in Russian Strategy

21 Jul 23


(Manchester University Press – £14.99)

ISBN 978 1 5261 6878 8

246 pages

This is an important and timely book. The resurgence of the Russian threat to international security, driven by the neo-imperial ambitions of the Kremlin, has of course been most dramatically brought home by the renewed invasion of Ukraine in February 2022. However, the renewed Russian threat has not emerged overnight, and as The Sea in Russian Strategy discusses, includes a distinct naval component. Moreover, Russian behaviour needs, as this book explains, to be understood in a broader, longer-term context and that does not simply mirror-image a Western perspective onto a particular policy or concept.

Emerging from a 2019 workshop held at the Oxford Changing Character of War Centre, Pembroke College, Oxford University, this volume features contributions from a veritable who’s who of experts on the Russian Navy and strategy, including Professors Andrew Lambert and Geoffrey Till, Andrew Monaghan, Richard Connolly, Dmitry Gorenburg, Michael Kofman, Michael B Petersen, and Vice Admiral Sir Clive Johnstone. The book opens with a foreword by Cdr (rtd.) Eleanor Stack Royal Navy, who commanded HMS Duncan on deployment into the Black Sea in 2017 and 2018, and her first-hand experience of meeting the Russian challenge head-on. Following this, the book is divided into seven chapters, split into three sections: ‘Maritime Strategies in Historical Context’ (featuring Lambert and Till); ‘Russia’s Maritime Strategies and Capabilities Today and Tomorrow’ (encompassing Johnstone, Kofman, Connolly and Gorenburg); and concluding with ‘The Challenge: The Russian Navy in Practice’, featuring Petersen on ‘Toward an Understanding of Maritime Conflict with Russia’.

Across the seven chapters, the contributors provide a highly detailed, nuanced analysis of Russian naval history, strategic thinking, operational concepts, naval capabilities (both current and future), naval industrial capacity, wider Russian sea power, and the implications. As Sir Clive Johnstone writes in his chapter, “we should think hard about the Russian Navy and understand who they are, their function, and role in Russian strategy – how the navy will really be used”; this book does just this. The Sea in Russian Strategy sets out ably how to think about and understand what the Russian Navy is, and what it is meant to do. It does warrant mention that there a few very minor errors or points that need updating. For example, whilst noting the loss of the Slava-class cruiser Moskva on page 179, on page 190, Gorenburg refers to the “three Slava-class cruisers remaining in service”, with this also included in a table on the next page. This is a very minor point though and does not detract in any way from what is an excellent book. The Sea in Russian Strategy needs to be read widely, especially by those who need to understand the nature of the Russian threat, and is particularly recommended.