Today, it was announced that the aircraft-carrier Admiral Kuznetsov and its battle group will return from the Mediterranean Sea back to Russia.  Howver, the Kuznetsov’s time in the Mediterranean Sea has been plagued with problems since it was initially deployed back in October. 

Work began on the Kuznetsov in 1982 (commissioned in 1990) and it has experienced constant setbacks and failures.  For example, its water pipes have been known to freeze and burst during the winter time, leaving many of its cabins or toilets inoperable for part of the year.  In 1996, the US navy actually helped the Kuznetsov when they unexplainably ran out of drinking water. And due to its old age, the carrier is followed (of course out of sight) by a fleet of tugboats in case the ship inevitably breaks down.

During its most recent deployment in support of the Assad regime, Russia experienced even more embarrassment.  Within the time span of only a few weeks, 2 planes crashed as a result of the problems with the Kuznetsov.  A Mig-29 ran out of fuel while waiting for the carrier to complete repairs; and then a Su-33 type bomber crashed while attempting to land.

Despite these problems, the deployment of the Kuznetsov and its battle group was the biggest Russian military deployment since the end of the Cold War.  The Kuznetsov left Kola Bay with the entirety of Russia’s Northern Fleet as well and a majority of the Baltic fleet.  But why would Russia go through the hardships and inevitable embarrassments of deploying this carrier?

  • The projection of power

Above all else, Russia desires its former status as a great power.  A ‘great power’ is much harder to define in today’s world than it was in the early 1800s, when the notion of power was strictly tied to offensive/defensive military capabilities.  Today, a ‘great power’ is a mix of material power (military, economics, resources), social recognition, geopolitical strategy and the willingness to assume the role of a great power.

In the case of the deployment of the Kuznetsov, Russia is assuming the role of a great power by intervening in the affairs outside of its typical sphere of influence.  But Russia cannot simply call itself a ‘great power’ and be done with it because anyone can make that claim.  Instead, the title of ‘great power’ is bestowed upon a country by other peers.  So, regardless of how inept Russian naval training and standard operating procedures may be – Russia pursues these types of foreign policy stunts in order to achieve a certain inter-subjective understanding between itself and other great powers around the world by acting as how Russians believe to be is an appropriate role for a ‘great power.’

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