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Oct 16, 2008 | 20:12 GMT

3 mins read

Russia, Yemen: Naval Ties Past and Present

KHALED FAZAA/AFP/Getty Images
Russian Federation Council speaker Sergei Mironov raised the prospect of a renewal of military cooperation and the use of Yemeni ports by Russian warships during a visit to Yemen on Oct. 16. While Mironov is close to Putin and wields considerable power as Federation Council Speaker, he is also known for more than his share of rhetoric. Nevertheless, the history of Soviet involvement in the former South Yemen makes for an important context as the flagship of the Russian Baltic Fleet steams for the Somali coast. The 1960s saw uprisings against British rule in what was then known as the Aden Protectorate. Independence was declared in 1967 when the anti-British National Liberation Front (NLF) drove out the British. A Marxist group within the NLF took power in 1970, ruling Aden for two decades. Marxist South Yemen emerged partially as a result of the then pro-Russian Egyptian military's involvement against forces backed by both the British and Saudi Arabia. Though relations between North and South Yemen were not as overtly hostile as in many Cold War battlegrounds, Soviet and Warsaw Pact support of the South was strong. This training included active training and technical assistance by East Germany and other Soviet and Warsaw Pact personnel. (A Yemeni civil war broke out after unification in 1994.) A crucial coaling station on the route to India for the British fleet for more than a century, the Yemeni port of Aden remains situated on some of the world's busiest shipping lanes. Though a tenuous hold given the superior U.S. naval presence in the Middle East, Aden gave the Soviets a foothold and a naval base of operations in the region, allowing them to have naval forces — and the capability to sustain them — on both sides of the Suez Canal. While even an aggressive stationing of Russian naval forces in Aden would hardly give Moscow the capability to close the Suez in a shooting war against concerted U.S. opposition, it does allow the Kremlin to place the crucial canal at risk. Mironov's statements are not necessarily representative of Russian state policy. Nevertheless, his visit to Yemen — and an upcoming visit by Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh to Russia — and his statements suggest that at least the groundwork is being laid. And with the Russian frigate Neustrashimy (712) currently en route to the Somalian coast to assist with counterpiracy operations, a port call in Aden is certainly a possibility, if not likely. But with one major deployment to the Mediterranean this year already, another en route to the Caribbean and a need to sustain the operational strength of the Black Sea Fleet, the Kremlin must make choices about when and where to establish and sustain a naval presence. Thus, it is not yet clear that Aden will be seeing even regular port calls by Russian warships.

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