Since the announcement of the decision to relocate the Russian Caspian flotilla from Astrakhan to the new Caspian deep-water seaport in the city of Kaspiysk located 18 kilometers southeast of Makhachkala in Dagestan in April 2018, Russia’s Defense Minister clearly demonstrated its intention to focus on the further strengthening of the Russian presence in the region. In fact, the last international competition Sea Cup-2018 held in Baku in early August 2018 clearly demonstrated that Russia’s Caspian flotilla has both well-trained staff officers and well-equipped warships. In its attempts to transform the Caspian flotilla in the country’s most technically advanced naval facilities Moscow is making efforts to improve cooperation between its air forces, armed forces, and navy in the region.
For instance, Head of the Press Service of the Southern Military District, Colonel Vadim Astafyev reported that in late August 2018 the Caspian flotilla along with aircraft and coastal defenses participated in the drill, which included a maneuver dubbed the Wall. It was announced that a new tactic is aimed to counter a missile air attack. In fact, the method allows detecting low-altitude air targets, including cruise missiles (Teller Report, 2018). The Wall tactic was also applied during the latest maritime drills of Russia in the Mediterranean Sea in early September 2018, which were held with the participation of the battleships from the North Sea, Baltic, Black Sea, and Caspian fleets. Indeed, in early June 2018, Russia moved two naval vessels from its Caspian Flotilla to the Mediterranean Sea. The Buyan-M-class missile corvettes Velikiy Ustyug and Grad Sviyazhsk, known as Project 21631, left the Astrakhan seaport on June 4 2018. After passing through the Volga-Don Canal and the Kerch Strait the missile corvettes entered the Bosphorus Strait on June 16, 2018, and joined the Russian naval group in the Mediterranean Sea next day. Velikiy Ustyug and Grad Sviyazhsk warships carrying the Kalibr cruise missile systems took part in the number of naval drills in the targeted area near the Syrian shores. In fact, Velikiy Ustyug and Grad Sviyazhsk have already been involved in Russia’s military operation in Syria by launching Kalibr cruise missiles at targets in the war-torn country in October-November 2015 (Sott, 2018).
By joining the Russian naval task group, which operates near Syria’s Tartus port, the vessels of the Caspian flotilla temporarily became a part of Russia’s naval presence in the region. In fact, there is a chance that the Russian missile corvettes could become a part of the permanent naval presence in the Mediterranean Sea. Since there was no official announcement concerning the duration of their presence in the Mediterranean Sea, it is unclear whether the Buyan-M-class vessels will remain in the Caspian flotilla. In any case, it appears that the Ministry of Defense of Russia looks forward to retaining Velikiy Ustyug and Grad Sviyazhsk as an integral part of the Caspian flotilla. This also applies to another three vessels, namely, two Shmel-class gunboats (AK-201 and AK-248) known as Project 1204 and the Grif-M-class coast guard patrol boat (AK-326) known as Project 1400M, which were deployed in the Sea of Azov on May 23, 2018.
Indeed, the vessels were redeployed for operation in shallow waters of the Azov Sea, with the purpose to secure the Kerch Strait Bridge the official commissioning of which took place on May 16, 2018 (Kucera, 2018). Moreover, the expansion of the ship-based grouping of Russia in the Azov Sea at the expense of both the Black Sea and the Caspian fleets is aimed at addressing the tension that arose between Russia and Ukraine.
In order to compensate the redeployed ships, the Ministry of Defense of Russia decided to place the Caspian region under the security umbrella of the Kinzhal hypersonic missile system capable to deliver nuclear warheads. It became known that Russia’s MiG-31K fighter jets, the basic carrier of the Kinzhal hypersonic missiles, have been performing planned patrols over the Caspian Sea since April 2018. In fact, the air squadron armed with Kinzhal hypersonic missiles went on experimental combat duty in Russia’s Southern Military District from December 1, 2017 (Defense-Aerospace, 2018). The deployment of new strategic weapon systems, namely, a new generation of nuclear-capable missiles, in the Caspian region had demonstrated the importance of the region for Moscow to meet the target of increasing Russia’s defense capability.
Another way to compensate the temporarily absent warships is to continue the program of technical re-equipment and reorganization of the Caspian naval forces. As a result, in late July 2018, the Ministry of Defense of Russian announced its plans to equip the Russian Navy, including the Caspian flotilla, with the upgraded Molniya-class missile boats known as Project 1241 by 2019. It is already confirmed that one of the Molniya-class missile boats, which are currently built at the Vympel Shipyard in Rybinsk, is expected to operate in the Caspian Sea. It is expected that the new vessels will be equipped with modern navigation and communication means and the latest arms. Initially, the boats were armed with the anti-ship Mosquito missiles and automatic antiaircraft guns and manpads. However, in order to meet the military requirements, the boats will be armed with the Uran missile systems, which comprise eight anti-ship Kh-35 missiles, and Pantsir-M seaborne air defense system (Navy Recognition, 2018).
It is quite understandable that despite the re-equipment, the Molniya-class missile boats could not compensate the relocation of the Buyan-M-class missile corvettes capable of carrying Kalibr missiles, especially taking into account the fact that three more gunboats (Shmel-class and the Grif-M-class vessels) were relocated to the Azov Sea. However, it can be easily seen that Moscow strongly interested in maintaining the high operational effectiveness of its navy units in the Caspian Sea region. The frequency of marine exercise of the Caspian flotilla coupled with the measures to increase the number of warships carrying modern onboard weaponry and navy base relocation reflects the Moscow’s intention to hold another round of the Caspian naval unit regrouping. In fact, such activities do not contribute to the demilitarization process and could challenge and undermine the principle of a reasonable sufficiency of weapons and armed forces in the Caspian basin approved in the long-awaited Convention on the Legal Status of the Caspian Sea. Nevertheless, there is no foreseeable prospect that the other countries of the Caspian Five will openly voice their concerns in the maintenance of the Caspian flotilla. However, it remains to be seen if Russia will compensate the relocation of the Caspian flotilla’s vessels to elsewhere by a delivery of new military ships to the Caspian Sea or by rebasing its Caspian naval forces. On the other hand, it can be confidently stated that Moscow is encouraged to continue implementing the long-term strategy of further enhancement of Russia’s military dominance in the region.
Defense-Aerospace. (2018). Russian MiG-31Ks with Hypersonic Missiles Train with Tu-22M3 Bombers. Retrieved from http://www.defense-aerospace.com/articles-view/release/3/194911/russian-warplanes-working-up-with-kinzhal-missiles.html
Kucera, J. (2018). Russia Transfers Five Warships Out of the Caspian Sea. Retrieved from https://eurasianet.org/russia-transfers-five-warships-out-of-caspian-sea
Navy Recognition. (2018). Russian Navy to Get Two Upgraded Molniya-class Missile Boats. Retrieved from http://www.navyrecognition.com/index.php/news/defence-news/2018/july-2018-navy-naval-defense-news/6346-russian-navy-to-get-two-upgraded-molniya-class-missile-boats.html
Sott. (2018). Two Russian Ships Armed with Kalibr Missiles Enter Mediterranean. Retrieved from https://www.sott.net/article/388529-Two-Russian-ships-armed-with-Kalibr-missiles-enter-Mediterranean
Teller Report. (2018). Russian drills beating the drums of war in Idlib. Retrieved from http://www.tellerreport.com/news/–russian-drills-beating-the-drums-of-war-in-idlib-.HJeO6P_wm.html
 The Sea Cup competition usually is held in Baku within the International Army Games. 260 personnel was involved in the Sea Cup- 2018. The Russian team took the first place in the competition.
 The Kinzhal hypersonic missile system was presented by President of Russia Vladimir Putin on March 1, 2018. It was stated that the Kinzhal has an operating range of over 2,000 km with a speed of about 12,000 km/h. The Kinzhal hypersonic missiles could be launched from MiG-31 or Tu-22M3 jets.
 Project 1241 missile boats have been built for the Soviet Navy and its allies since early 1980s. They were designed to replace the Osa-class missile boats that served the Soviet Navy and its allies around the world. To date, the Russian Navy operates nearly 30 boats of Project 1241 capable to destroy surface warships, transport and landing ships in the littoral zones and open sea areas.
 The hulls for the upgraded Molniya-class missile boats were constructed under the contract for export in early 1990s. It took nearly two decades for the Russian military authorities to finalize the project after the contract was canceled.
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.