Russian Naval Expansion Threatens U.S. Influence in the Western Hemisphere

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On Wednesday, April 20, 2016, the New York Times reported that the most Russian attack submarines, in two decades, are patrolling the coastlines of “Scandinavia and Scotland, along with the Mediterranean Sea and the North Atlantic.” This increased area of patrols and the Russian’s build up of arms is approaching Cold War levels, and signals the increasingly competitive and uneasy relationship between the U.S. and Russia.

Along with increasing its patrol routes, the Russian government has been building up its number of attack submarines in its arsenal. The Putin government has “has spent billions of dollars for new classes of diesel and nuclear-powered attack submarines that are quieter, better armed and operated by more proficient crews than in the past.”

Russia’s activity within the Western Hemisphere has increased since the beginning of he Obama Administration. Russian activity in the Western Hemisphere first began with the sale of military equipment to Venezuela that soon transitioned into the two nations participating in joint naval exercises. It was believed that the Russia decision to launch the exercise came after the U.S. announced it would be reforming the 4th fleet to patrol the Caribbean.

This was a direct sign that Russia would not abide by U.S. norms. The U.S., since the early 1800s, has stated that it would allow no European powers to assert its influence in the Western Hemisphere. The Russians openly disregarded this by moving part of its fleet into South America.

Just a year after the Russian and Venezuelan naval exercise, the U.S. spotted Russian attack submarines patrolling off the coast of the U.S. The Russian subs made it 200 miles off the East coast of the U.S., operating in international waters. Press secretary Geoff Morrell stated, “It doesn’t cause any alarm within this building (referring to the Pentagon), it doesn’t pose any threat.”

Morrell may have downplayed the significance of this event, but he went on to say it appeared to be part of an effort “to project force around the world, or at least to take excursions around the world.” This force projection was a clear message to the U.S. that they are capable to operate anywhere around the world, even in the U.S.’s back yard.

Russian subs were detected operating incredibly close to U.S. data cables in 2015. While data cables near the U.S. coast commonly experience breaking or malfunctions, these cables are fixable within days. The fear from U.S. officials arose if the Russians cut a cable at extreme depths. The damages to these cables are much more difficult to find and fix, which could result in communications and internet access being down for weeks or even months.

In September of 2015, the Russian research vessel, Yantar, sailed into the Caribbean around the same time the U.S. sub the Wyoming docked in Scotland. The Yantar is equipped with cable cutting equipment, but more importantly it is believed to have been conducting anti-submarine warfare operations against U.S. ballistic missile submarines based at Kings Bay, Ga.

Russia has not just sought out a larger presence in the Western Hemisphere, but also Asia. Russia has engaged in joint naval exercises with China, and seeks to establish bases in Vietnam and Singapore. With the U.S. attempting to counter Chinese expansion in the South China Sea, the Russians may be looking to aid the Chinese.

Aside from expanding its naval presence, Russia has also sought to strengthen its relationships with South American governments. Outside of Venezuela, Russia has entered into discussions about using military bases with Nicaragua and Cuba. The Russian government has also sent military hardware to Argentina, Brazil, Columbia, Peru, and Ecuador. All of these efforts are made to increase Russian influence in the region, and at best turn these nations against the U.S.

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