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Spain: The Russians Are Coming

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Spanish newspaper El Pueblo de Ceuta reported[1] on Sunday the arrival of two ships of the Russian Navy, the Alexander Shabalin and the Ivan Bubnov. The Shabalin is a 4,000 ton amphibious landing ship assigned to the Baltic Sea Fleet while the Bubnov is a fleet replenishment tanker with a fully-loaded displacement of 13,500 tons serving in the Black Sea Fleet. Both ships docked on Sunday and are expected to remain until Tuesday the 23rd of June replenishing their stores and providing their sailors with shore leave.

bubnov

These are not the first Russian vessels to visit the North African city. Both El Pueblo de Ceuta and rival La Verdad de Ceuta confirm[2] that Russian warships have visited the port a total of 9 times in 2015, including the Shabalin/Bubnov call, and 13 times in 2014. The previous visit was by the Severomorsk, an Udaloy-class anti-submarine warfare destroyer.

From what I’ve been able to gather, the partial list of ships and port calls is as follows:

2015: 9 port calls

  • 21 to 23 June 2015. Landing ship Alexander Shabalin, medium oiler Ivan Bubnov.
  • 07 to 10 April 2015. ASW Destroyer Severomorsk, medium tanker Dubna, salvage tug SB-460.
  • 09 to 12 February 2015. ASW Frigate Yaroslav Mudry, oiler Kola.

2014: 13 port calls

  • 21 to 24 December 2014. ASW Frigate Vice Admiral Kulakov, salvage tug SB-406
  • 18 November 2014. Landing ship
  • 22 October 2014. Landing ship
  • 20 August 2014. ASW Frigate Yaroslav Mudry.
  • 29 June 2014. ASW Destroyer Admiral Levchenko.
  • 16 June 2014. Landing ships Olenegorskiy Gornyak and Georgiy Pobedonosets.
  • 28 April 2014. ASW Frigate Vice Admiral Kulakov, medium tankers Dubna and Sergei Osipov.
  • 02 January 2014. Landing ship Alexander Shavalin and salvage tug

2010 to 2013: 31 port calls in total

udaloy

There is nothing particularly sinister about these visits; Russian warships stop in many ports while on duty. They have been regularly visiting Ceuta since 2010 at a relatively constant rate of 10 to 15 port calls per year. The city fathers are happy to have 2,000 sailors visit their city and spend their pay in pursuit of “shore leave”, not to mention the money made in fuelling and victualing the ships.

Under normal circumstances, this wouldn’t even be newsworthy. But we are not living in normal times and our relations with Russia can hardly be described as “warm.” So there are a few points that bear mentioning:

  • The Straits of Gibraltar are a vital shipping route and having Russian warships a familiar sight in those waters isn’t something NATO should be happy about. In the admittedly far-fetched case of a conflict breaking out with Russia over Ukraine or the Baltic States, Russian warships would be well-positioned to launch an attack on the British naval and air facilities at Gibraltar without warning. Ceuta is only 17 miles (27 kilometers) from Gibraltar;
  • It is also hypocritical and particularly unhelpful for the Spanish government to protest the port calls of British warships at the British naval base of Gibraltar while welcoming the Russian Navy with open arms to Ceuta and at the same time applying sanctions against Russia for their aggression in Ukraine. It leaves one wondering what kind of ally Spain would make in the case of an expansion of the NATO-Russia stand-off to include “little green men” in the Baltics states…which are full NATO allies and subject to Article 5.

That is undoubtedly why Spanish media on the peninsula don’t usually report the arrivals of Russian ships. There are a few mentions, but the only regular notices come from the two local dailies cited at the beginning of this article.


Sources and Notes

[1] “Dos nuevos buques de la armada rusa se avituallan en la ciudad,” El Pueblo de Ceuta, 21 June 2015

[2] “Dos buques de la Armada rusa realizarán una escala en el puerto a partir del sábado,” La Verdad de Ceuta, 18 June 2015

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Discussion

5 Responses to “Spain: The Russians Are Coming”

  1. “It leaves one wondering what kind of ally Spain would make in the case of an expansion of the NATO-Russia stand-off to include “little green men” in the Baltics states…which are full NATO allies and subject to Article 5.”

    Spain has Eurofighters patrolling in the Baltic States as we speak.

    Also, do you see the grey area next to the town called “El Puerto de Santa Maria”? That’s Rota Naval Station, with a huge US Navy Presence.

    Posted by Picu | June 22, 2015, 22:28
    • Yes, I’m aware of these facts, as well as the recent agreement to expand the permanent US presence at Morón de la Frontera. These are all positive developments and proof of a good relationship between the United States and Spain. I never questioned that.

      But sending a few Eurofighters to patrol Baltic airspace and having some joint exercises for an African Rapid Reaction force is not the same as going into a shooting war with the Russians. Nor do I think that Mr. Putin would so conveniently provide Europe with a smoking gun, a clear Article 5 violation to force Europe’s hand. I am painfully aware of the low levels of support among Spaniards – and Europeans in general – for military action even in mutual defense (see Brookings article“>Brookings article) as well as the ridiculous state of readiness of most NATO forces. So no, I have little confidence that Spain – or Italy, or Germany – would give unconditional backing to a member state that was facing “domestic unrest” among their ethnic Russian population.

      Posted by fdbetancor | June 23, 2015, 08:44
  2. Do you really think NATO and Russia are going to fight? In the so small possibility that it happen, it wouldn’t matter if russian ships are in Gibraltar strait or wherever as the war would be so heavy that it would last very short and vessels would be the last problema to NATO.

    Nuclear is the Word, and the 4th world war will be with sticks and stones for sure.

    Posted by Carles | June 22, 2015, 22:00
    • Dear Carles,

      No, I don’t think Russia or NATO plan to fight… but no one did in 1914 either. Even in 1939, Hitler wasn’t planning a world war; he was planning on forcing Britain and France into a Second Munich over Danzig. But miscalculations in both cases led to catastrophic, if unintended, consequences. Something similar could happen in Europe today. Nor do I agree that this would result in nuclear war; Putin is not a madman, nor are the leaders of the Western nuclear arsenals. No one would threaten to invade Russian territory, I think, which is the only way a hypothetical war would turn atomic.

      But in any case, NATO must plan for many eventualities; and having RAF Gibraltar blasted to smithereens and the Straits mined on Day One is not a promising scenario. NATO planners should be concerned.

      Posted by fdbetancor | June 22, 2015, 22:43
      • Don’t doubt that any war between Rusia and NATO would turn nuclear from moment 0.

        Simply because NATO forces are large enough to dwarf russian, and the only chance of having some success by russian part would be to throw all crap on NATO countries.

        I would be more concerned of China than of Russia, a country with a GDP of the size of Italy like Russia has limited resources and possibilities. China is investing large amounts of money for upgrading and enhacing its army.

        Posted by Carles | June 25, 2015, 00:41

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