The Russian Navy doesn’t need to sail around NATO-allied seas anymore, thanks to its inner waterways connecting the Neva River in St. Petersberg to the White Sea.

The Russian Defense Ministry reported completing its Barents Arctic exercise last week, highlighting the successful maneuver of its small yet highly potent guided missiles without sailing around NATO-controlled Scandinavia.

In event of a war between NATO and Russia, the Baltic Sea would be very difficult for the Russian navy to transit in order to enter the North Atlantic. Russian warships attempting to force their way through the narrow straits in Denmark would have to run a gauntlet of coastal defenses by Finland, Estonia, Latvia, Poland, Germany, Norway, Lithuania, and Sweden before even reaching the Denmark Straits, where just 2 or 3 NATO submarines could stop anything trying to make it into the North Atlantic.  By using the Neva river instead to move into the Barents Sea Russian warships would be inside friendly territory and under the air cover of Murmansk and Monchagorsk airbase.

According to a report, the corvette “Mytishchi” (ex-Uragan) of the Karakurt-class had sailed an estimated 3,700 km through the Neva River in St. Petersburg, through Lake Ladoga, Lake Onega, and into the White Sea-Baltic Canal. The small warship then navigated across Lake Vygozero and into the river leading to the town of Belomorsk, where the coast of the White Sea awaits. From there, the Mytishchi launched its Kalibr cruise missile towards a coastal target at the Chizha shooting range at Cape Kanin in the eastern Barents Sea.

Google Earth
Russian corvette Mytishchi’s inner waterway route from the Neva River to the White Sea during the Northern Fleet’s Barents-Arctic exercise. (Screenshot from Google Earth)

The Kalibr cruise missile was initially designed for submarines, aircraft, or surface vessels and was actively used in the wars in Syria and, most recently, in the invasion of Ukraine. This purpose-built Mytishchi projectile has a range of up to 500 km, can fly with a supersonic speed of Mach 2.9, and carry a 200 kg warhead.

Russian Navy’s Small But Potent Coastal Defence Corvettes

A Corvette is generally the smallest class of warships a navy sends to sea, they are a step down from a Frigate in terms of size, endurance, armaments, and crew size.  Quite a few maritime countries in Europe build corvettes as coastal defense vessels, and Russia operates the largest number of them on the continent. By contrast, the United States does not build corvettes relying instead on the Cutters of the Coast Guard for coastal patrol duties along with an extensive network of Navy and Air Force bases to patrol the sea by air.

The leading vessel of Project 22800, also known as the Karakurt-class, the corvette Mytishchi, made its maiden sail in July 2017 as soon as the Pella Shipyard in St. Petersburg completed its build. It entered service in the Russian Navy in December 2018 as part of its Baltic fleet in Baltiysk.

The Russian warship measures an overall length of 67 meters, a width of 11 meters, a displacement of around 800 tonnes, and a top speed of up to 30 knots. Armament includes Oniks and Kalibr anti-ship missiles, naval guns, a Pantsir-M close-in weapon system (CIWS), and 14.5mm machine guns. All corvette under Project 22800 features stealth technology powered by twin M-507D-1 diesel engines and proven to last at least 12 days at sea. The National Interest added these vessels are notable for their “increased seaworthiness, high maneuverability, and low radar signature of the superstructure and hull,” an outstanding feature for initiating attacks against coastal defenses.

Moreover, the corvette can carry an Orlan-10 unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) deployed for intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) missions. As of writing, there are four variations of the corvettes by the Pella Shipyard, including Mytishchi‘s twin sistership Sovetsk (Ex-Taifun) and Odintsovo (ex-Shkval), launched in May 2018, and Burya launched in October 2018. All the first three ships are assigned to the Baltic fleet, while the latter is expected to join sometime this year.

Deterring attacks from the Barents Sea

Last week Barents-Arctic naval exercise was conducted by more than ten warships and submarines from the Northern Fleet, including the large, nuclear-powered battle cruiser “Pyotr Velikye,” which launched a Granit cruise missile from the Barents Sea at a target on Novaya Zemlya. Due to the exercise, an area of over 50,000 km2 was closed off for civilian navigation at sea and airspace.

“It is planned to carry out a number of firings with naval missiles, artillery, and anti-submarine weapons at surface, underwater and air targets in the Barents Sea,” the Northern Fleet informs. In its initial warning sent on August 19-20, it didn’t specify what type of weapons it would be using, but as the exercise commenced, it was noted that the Northern Fleet exercised its guns, rockets, and cruise missiles in live fire drills.

Aside from the Navy, the Russian air force and coast air defense units were also present to support the fleet. As reported by the Barents Observer, the fleet was playing into the scenario in which it deters an enemy attack on Russia from the Barents Sea while circumventing attacks on the country’s Arctic islands.

Keeping A Close Eye

Northern Fleet test cruise missile
A Granit cruise missile flew off Russia’s flagship vessel Peter the Great, and headed towards a naval target near the Novaya Zemlya archipelago on August 24, 2022. (Screenshot from Russia Intel/YouTube)

NATO countries, like the United Kingdom, Norway, and the U.S., all kept an eye on this extensive week-long Russian naval exercise. Earlier this week, the U.S. and the U.K sent reconnaissance aircraft along the coast of the Kola Peninsula to monitor their activity.

A Russian MiG-31 was reported scrambled on August 22 when it unexpectedly met a British RC-135, which the Kremlin said violated Russian airspace.

“The aircraft violated the state border of the Russian Federation in the area of Cape Svyatoy Nos,” Defense Ministry said in a short statement.

On the other hand, the British government denied the accusation of border violations, explaining that “the UK aircraft was in communication with Russian civilian air traffic control and its crew operated in a safe and professional manner.”