THE Soviet Union is the "Heartland" of the dreams of geopoliticians -- the land from which the "Superpower" will emerge to rule the world. They assumed that the Heartland could subdue and organize Europe, Asia and the whole of Africa by the use of land power, while nations not directly attacked looked benevolently on. Then it would build a navy for the conquest of the rest of the world.

The Haushofer school of geopoliticians inspired a German attempt at world conquest which was to be accomplished through Germany's alliance with, or conquest of, the Heartland. Soviet Russia did not fall into the trap of such an alliance, which would have made her a German vassal; and the Nazis were unable to conquer her. The Nazi alliances with Italy and Japan, important as they were, were insufficient to produce the desired results, and the German effort ended in catastrophe.

Must we, sooner or later, expect another bid for world hegemony from the Heartland? It is said that if the victorious Powers will not or cannot organize the world for peace on a mutually satisfactory basis, the logic of the situation makes this inevitable. Prophets of gloom point at Russia, and in particular scrutinize every item of news and every rumor having to do with the Red Navy. An effort at unimpassioned analysis of Russian naval policy seems most desirable.

As their songs and their literature suggest, the Russian people were originally a river folk. Rivers were their first highways, and a knowledge of the rôle which rivers have played in their history is necessary for an understanding of how and why the Russians expanded over one-sixth of the land surface of the globe. Descending these rivers or portaging from one river system to another, the Russian people reached the five seas: the White, the Baltic, the Black, the Caspian and the Pacific. The urge to the sea became almost a national fixation. Access to open water meant in Russian eyes national independence. And in fact, had Russia remained landlocked, as she was in the fifteenth century, she would indeed have become a vassal state.

Peter the Great, the father of the Russian Navy, once said "the future of Russia lies at the mouths of the Neva, the Don and the Amur." Through childish exploits on rivers and lakes, he conceived the idea of building a Russian navy. This he began to do at Voronezh, and he sailed the first Russian fleet down the Don to seize Azov at its mouth from the Turks. He foresaw the need of canals to link up the various river systems, and himself completed the construction of some of them. These -- the White Sea-Baltic Canal, for example -- were projected from the point of view of naval power as well as of commerce. Peter the Great made his advance against the Swedes along this route; he eventually acquired a solid footing for Russia on the shore of the Baltic, and built St. Petersburg at the mouth of the Neva. In the reign of Catherine II, Russia acquired territorial access down the Don and the Dnieper to the Black Sea; and under Alexander II access to the Pacific was obtained down the Amur.

Russia possessed an abundance of wood, flax and naval stores, which meant that in the age of wooden ships and sail, extending into the middle of the nineteenth century, she might have possessed a relatively large navy, had it not been for her technological backwardness. With Dutch, British and American technical assistance, she did develop her navy somewhat, especially under Catherine II; but when steam and ironclads were introduced she fell far behind the other major Powers in naval strength.

In the Peace of Paris in 1856, after the Crimean war, Britain insisted on the neutralization of the Black Sea, and from then until 1871 Russia was not allowed to have warships, naval bases or arsenals there. Even when this disability had been removed, the Turkish Straits remained closed by international agreement, and the best ships then in the Russian Navy could not be used outside of the Black Sea. The Battle of Tsushima, in the Russo-Japanese War, demonstrated the seriousness of this restriction, and showed how feeble and insufficient Russian naval power was. In 1914, the tonnage of the Russian Navy in the Baltic and Black Seas was 390,000, with 346,000 tons in process of construction. It will be remembered that, on the eve of the First World War, the Minister of the Navy said in one of the secret conferences on the Straits that Russia would not have a Black Sea fleet superior to that of the Turks until 1916; the fact was cited as a reason for avoiding war against Turkey. During the First World War the effective tonnage of Russia's Navy mounted to 540,000; but she still was last, or eighth, in naval strength among the Great Powers, ranking after Italy and Austria-Hungary.

During the period of revolution and Allied intervention which concluded Russia's participation in the First World War, the Russian Navy virtually disappeared as a factor in world sea power. Some ships were destroyed and others were taken to foreign ports by the intervening forces. At the Naval Conference of Rome, in 1924, the Soviet delegate demanded 490,000 tons for the U.S.S.R., noting that this figure was 50,000 tons less than the former Russian fleet. He agreed, however, to reduce the total to 280,000 tons under the following stipulations: (1) that the Council of the League of Nations be replaced in the draft of the international agreement by another organization; (2) that the Bosporus and the Dardanelles be closed in accordance with the proposal which Russia made at the Lausanne Conference; (3) that vessels of war belonging to non-riparian states of the Baltic be forbidden access to the Baltic by the Sound and the Belt; (4) that the Straits of Korea be disarmed; (5) that the vessels of war then retained at Bizerta as a result of the intervention be restored to the Soviet Union. The demand for the closure of the Baltic and the Black Seas to non-riparian powers and for the disarming of the Straits of Korea was a product of the disappearance of Russian naval strength and the defenselessness of Russian shores.

The Soviet Union began to rebuild its commercial and naval tonnage almost from scratch during the three five-year plans which dated from 1928. First of all a modern shipbuilding industry had to be created. During the first Five-Year Plan, construction of transports and merchant ships was stressed. The second Five-Year Plan placed emphasis on the building of submarines and the modernization of old Tsarist warships. Before this plan was finished, Japan in 1932 had ensconced herself on the south bank of the Amur in north Manchuria, thus endangering Russia's only real access by rail and river to the Pacific; and in 1934 Japan denounced the 1922 Naval Treaty of Washington. In 1935 Germany unilaterally abrogated the naval limitations of the Treaty of Versailles and made a naval agreement with Britain which put the other continental Powers at a disadvantage. In 1936 Germany and Japan concluded the Anti-Comintern Pact, ostensibly directed against the Third International but actually at Soviet Russia, and, in the last analysis, against the rest of the world.

Although Russia adhered in 1937 to the main principles of the Washington Naval Conference, the two Powers most dangerous to her -- Japan and Germany -- began a program of unlimited naval building which was bound to have a serious effect on her position. Coming as it did in the midst of the second Five-Year Plan, the threat produced a great increase in the tempo of Russian naval construction. According to Russian sources, the first two Five-Year Plans brought shipbuilding "to the level of the foremost branches of Soviet industry." In the third Five-Year Plan, Soviet Russia embarked upon "a colossal program of naval construction." Russia was to continue the building of submarines and to begin the construction of larger and heavier warships. Ports, wharves, and docks were to be modernized or built.

A purge of the Navy followed, to some extent as part of the general Russian purge of 1936-1938, but in part as a result of a change in Russian naval policy. Up to 1936, the concept of a defensive navy -- one which could protect the shores of the Soviet Union in its own waters -- had been the basis of Russian naval strategy and naval construction. It has been argued from the public declarations of Russian officials that at this time Russia adopted a policy of aggressive military and naval strategy based on the idea that the best defense is an offensive on the enemy's territory and the seas which wash its shores. Russian leaders pointed to the enormous naval construction on which the other Great Powers were engaged, noting that some 2,000,000 tons, chiefly of ships of the line, were built or were being constructed. And on January 15, 1938, at the first session of the Supreme Council of the U.S.S.R., Commissar Molotov declared in a significant address that the "mighty Soviet Power must possess a sea and ocean navy adequate for its interests and worthy of our great cause." The words "ocean" and "cause" in this sentence immediately caught the attention of observers. A half-year later, President Mikhail Kalinin stated before a meeting of shipyard workers in Leningrad that Soviet Russia "must outdo" the strongest capitalist naval Powers, expressly naming England, the United States, Japan, France, Germany and Italy.

Whatever else may be read into these declarations of policy, it is certain that Russia found herself in an alarmingly exposed position in the midst of the greatest naval and military armament race in history. In 1938 both Nazi Germany and Japan were contemplating a war on the Soviet Union. The western democracies were unwilling or unable to organize collective action to stop aggression. That was the year of the Munich Conference. The Russian Navy of about 300,000 tons -- for the most part old ships -- was still the smallest of any of the Powers. The statements quoted may or may not indicate that Soviet Russia was embarking upon the policy of creating "a navy second to none" to compete for the command of the high seas. We may also properly remember that the use of such hortatory phrases is frequently resorted to in the U.S.S.R. to achieve greater production and to fire officials with the zeal to propagate a new program among the masses. Only subsequent events will prove one thesis or the other.

The purge liquidated, among others, the highest officers of the Red Navy, on charges that they were "hampering" naval development and preventing "the addition of new surface warships," in other words, that they were opposed to the building of a navy capable of taking the offensive. The personnel of the Red Navy was thoroughly reorganized. Officers and men whose party views were well-known were brought in to replace those liquidated. The purge was undoubtedly intensified by the hysteria of mistrust accompanying the development of the international crisis -- in which the Soviet Union found itself isolated in a world on the way to war. Obviously a navy officered by men supposed to be willing to blow up their ships was an object of grave concern and therefore of resolute action. Regardless of whether this action was justified, it does not necessarily prove that the Soviet Union had started out to compete for command of the high seas.

The speeches of Molotov and Kalinin were magnified by other officials and by the party organs. Tevsoyan, the Commissar of the Shipbuilding Industry, hinted in 1939 that Stalin passed on every detail of naval policy and construction, which was carried on with the utmost secrecy. It was reported that year that the Soviet Union had more submarines than Germany and Japan combined. From that time until the attack of the Germans in June 1941, it was evident that the Russians had greater success in building small units than in building large warships, although several of the latter were on the way to completion. Before their agreement with Nazi Germany in August 1939, the Russians began negotiations for the purchase of large warships through the Carp Corporation in the United States, but were unable to bring them to a successful conclusion.

A description of the Red Navy as of June 1941 must be based chiefly on guesswork. It probably consisted preponderantly of light warships totalling about 500,000 tons. Among the larger warships were included one aircraft carrier of 12,000 tons, three modernized Tsarist battleships of 23,000 tons each, two new battleships in construction, and about nine cruisers (two of them dating back to 1915-1916) ranging from 10,000 to about 7,000 tons. Six of the cruisers of the Kirov class displaced 8,800 tons each. Eighty destroyers and "over 200" larger submarines, as well as possibly 70 small submarines of the Malutka class of 200 tons, made up the bulk of the light vessels. In addition, there were at least 50 minesweepers and more than 130 motor torpedo boats, as well as an undisclosed number of icebreakers. In 1943, it is believed, there were two battleships and several cruisers of the Kirov class in the Baltic, and one battleship, several cruisers of the Kirov class, and other cruisers in the Black Sea. In the Far East, the Red Navy consisted chiefly of submarines of which the exact number is not known, but which was estimated as more than 70.

The rôle of the Red Navy in the Second World War was primarily a defensive one, fought in close coóperation with the Red Army. It played a part out of proportion to its size. The task of the Northern Fleet in the White and Barents Seas was to keep open the sea route to Britain and the United States. This fleet, which consisted chiefly of submarines, cutters and naval aircraft, rendered an important service in assisting convoys and in attacking German shipping; it claims that it sank 500,000 tons of German ships. The Baltic Fleet heroically defended Leningrad and dominated the region of Hangö in Finland; and it assisted the Red Army in the drive to the Baltic coast, especially at Tallinn and off the shores of East Prussia. The Black Sea Fleet distinguished itself before Odessa and Sevastopol and along the coast of the Caucasus region. In no instance did the Red Navy permit landings of hostile forces in the Black or Baltic Seas behind Russian lines. In the first three years of the war, the Red Navy is reported to have sunk one auxiliary cruiser, two armorclads of coastal defense, 37 destroyers, 50 submarines and numerous enemy light craft. The Red Naval Air Force brought down more than 6,000 enemy planes. In these critical operations considerable losses were incurred. Russia expects at least to make good these losses by sharing in the remnants of the Italian, German and Japanese fleets. The transfer during the war of the British battleship Royal Sovereign (renamed the Archangelsk) and of the American cruiser Milwaukee (renamed the Murmansk) was made in lieu of ships from the Italian Navy.

For Navy Day, July 22, 1945, Stalin issued an "Order to the Red Army and Navy" in which he praised the Red Navy as "the loyal helpmate of the Red Army in the war against Germany." It had, he said, effectively protected the flanks of the Army which rested on the sea, struck heavy blows at the enemy's merchant fleet, and assured uninterrupted functioning of Russia's communications. After indicating that the Red Navy in this war had written "new pages in the book of Russian naval glory," Stalin declared that "the Soviet peoples wish to see their Navy still stronger and mightier. Our people will create new fighting ships and new bases for the Navy. The task of the Navy is tirelessly to train and improve the cadres of seamen, to master fully the experience gained in the patriotic war, and to raise still higher the naval skill, discipline and organization."

In this statement Generalissimo Stalin indicates the main lines of future Russian naval policy. Russia is to have a "still stronger and mightier" Red Navy than she had when the war ended, which, as we have noted, may have been about 500,000 tons. It would be difficult to take this statement to mean a Soviet Navy "second to none." Stalin's description of the task of the Navy explains a note which had been creeping into the remarks of the Soviet leaders responsible for carrying out naval policy since December 31, 1937, when a special Navy Commissariat was established. Stress continued to be laid on the creation of a "large fleet," but, as Major-General Zvyagin declared last spring, "serious problems are facing the fleet" and there is need "of a more thorough study of contemporary naval science." Naval education is to be developed in the 11 naval colleges which have been founded. In short, a nation does not become a great sea power merely by building ships; and both shipbuilding and general education on naval matters will take much longer than was at first believed.

Russian naval power must function under certain serious disabilities, partly geographical and partly human. The Red Navy must operate in four widely separated seas: in the White and Barents Seas in the north, in the Baltic Sea, in the Black Sea and in the Sea of Japan. Its primary objective is to defend Russian national interests in these waters. To obtain command of the high seas -- an objective which may be regarded as fantastic on the premises, and as representing an adventure beyond possibility of achievement in the immediate future -- Russia would not only have to subjugate and organize Europe, Asia and Africa, and create immense strategic air forces, but also build her navy up to a point where it would be as large as, or larger than, the combined fleets of the United States and Britain. Without some such grandiose development, Russia could not link up her fleets for offensive purposes. To think in such terms is to think in terms of a world revolution and a Third World War.

The Red Navy must be distributed in the four seas in accordance with the importance of each to Russia's security and commercial interests. Under certain conditions, a Red fleet in the White and Barents Seas can be very important. The maintenance of communications with Britain and the United States in those areas was vital in the two world wars. In spite of the acquisition of Petsamo and the assured neutrality of Finland, it would be unwise for Russia to make Murmansk -- the only ice-free port in the north -- her chief naval base. Murmansk is too far from the center of Russian industrial power, its railroad connections are precarious, weather conditions there are forbidding and other sea Powers might impose limitations upon its usefulness. Iceland, Norway and Spitsbergen are important in this connection.

The greater part of Russian imports have passed through the Baltic in recent years; but the bulk of Russian exports have gone through the Black Sea. The Black Sea route is really Russia's lifeline, and it seems likely that the strongest Russian fleet in European waters will be based there.

Russia's acquisition in this war of the Finnish coast beyond Viborg and the lease of the Porkkala headland, her annexation of the three Baltic states, as well as of a strip of East Prussia which includes Koenigsberg, provide sufficient assurance that central Russia will have access to the Baltic. With Poland friendly and claiming a seacoast to and including Stettin, and with Germany eliminated as a sea power, Russia undoubtedly controls the Baltic. The Kiel Canal (which we have proposed to internationalize) and the Sound and the Belt lead to the North Sea. Here British and Russian naval power meet, and in this area agreement between them is essential. The vital interests of Britain will not permit Russian control of the gates of the Baltic.

The Black Sea, which will most likely contain the strongest Russian fleet, empties through the Turkish Straits into the Ægean and the Mediterranean. With Rumania and Bulgaria in her orbit, Russia controls the greater part of the shores of the Black Sea, Turkey the smaller part. The Russo-Turkish Treaty of 1925 has expired and Russia has demanded a new treaty answering to the new conditions created by the war. As reported, this demand is linked with a demand for Russian bases which will control the Straits. This raises the question of the revision or abrogation of the Montreux Convention of 1936, which gave Turkey actual control of this vital waterway running through its territory. The United States has proposed a revision of the Convention of Montreux in the sense, first, that "the Straits should be open to the warships of the Black Sea Powers at all times," instead of allowing a neutral Turkey to bar the warships of any belligerent power; and second, that "except for limited tonnage in peacetime, warships of non-Black Sea Powers would be denied passage through the Straits unless the Black Sea Powers consented or the United Nations granted authority for passage." The present convention sets a limit of 45,000 tons as a maximum for the warships of non-Black Sea Powers in peacetime.

Was it to secure control of the Straits that Russia hinted at a desire for the Dodecanese Islands and suggested a Russian mandate in Italian North Africa? These hints, Foreign Secretary Bevin remarked, struck at the throat of the British lifeline through the Mediterranean. In two wars, Russia has been deprived of the use of the Straits. Lloyd George once declared that the closure of the Straits extended the First World War by two years and brought about the Russian Revolution. In this war, assistance to Russia had to go around via Iran or by the dangerous route to Murmansk. It would, therefore, not be a surprise if the Russians insisted on two fundamental conditions in any further attempts to internationalize the Straits. First, Russia will seek to have the decisive voice in preventing warships of non-Black Sea Powers from entering the Black Sea, which she is determined to control. Next, to make certain that the Straits are never closed to her, she will insist on a decisive share in whatever military, naval or air forces are designated to control them. Her predominance in Bulgaria and Jugoslavia assures her that the Straits will not fall into the hands of a hostile Power. British predominance in Greece and the Ægean assure Britain that her lifeline can be protected. The disputes about Trieste and Saloniki can be best understood in the light of this meeting of vital interests. Our increasing interest in the oil of the Middle East, and the important rôle which the British Empire plays in our own security, make it likely that we shall support the British here.

Russia's naval position in the Far East has been considerably improved and its possible area of action extended as a result of this war. By her recent treaty with China she secures a joint lease for 30 years on the naval base at Port Arthur and joint open port privileges at Dairen (Dalny). In addition, she will reacquire the southern half of the Island of Sakhalin, obtain a share in the international tutelage of Korea, and gain the Kurile Islands, which in hostile hands would block the sea route from Siberian shores to the naval base of Petropavlovsk on the peninsula of Kamchatka. Russia will in all probability insist on the neutralization of the Korean Straits and will perhaps demand a naval base at the relatively ice-free port of Rashin in Korea.

Plainly, Russian and American naval interests meet in the triangle between the Aleutians, Kamchatka, and the Kuriles. They may also meet in the Yellow and East China Seas, if an American air and naval base is established on Okinawa or near it. Russia and China have a long common land frontier, the United States and China have a long common sea frontier. Each frontier is vital to the security of these two greatest Powers. Agreement between them in the problems of China and Japan is vital to the peace in Asia and in the Pacific. Just as no one of the Great Powers occupying Germany will allow a single Power to control that country, so in the Far East no one of the Great Powers concerned will allow another to control either Japan or China. Coóperation among the victorious Great Powers is the only road to future peace, in Europe or in the Far East.

What are the elements of a Russian naval policy which would fit into these requirements? They would include the defense of Russian shores, the control of the Baltic and of the Black Seas, cooperation with Britain at the gates of the Baltic and in the Ægean, and cooperation with the United States in the western Pacific. For these objectives Russia may need a "still stronger and mightier navy," as Generalissimo Stalin stated on Russian Navy Day last July. That the Russian Navy may have weight in diplomatic negotiations goes without saying. But it is also clear that for Russia to aim at the command of the high seas, with a "navy second to none," would mean that she had abandoned her policy in the Second World War of acting as a Great Power in line with her national and vital interests and in coöperation with the United States and Britain. If that were to take place, it would be a decisive turning point in the history of the world.

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  • ROBERT J. KERNER, Professor of Modern European History in the University of California; member of the American Delegation at the Paris Peace Conference; author of "The Urge to the Sea," "The Russian Adventure" and other works on Slavic affairs
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