Russia moved Karakurt-class warship to Caspian via inland waterways

Observers monitoring the activities of the Russian Navy have noticed that the Tucha Corvette of the Karakurt class [a class of small missile ships] is no longer docked at the Black Sea Fleet in Novorossiysk. On May 2, a satellite image revealed that Tucha had already joined the Russian fleet in the Caspian Sea. 

The Caspian Sea is landlocked, meaning it’s an inland sea accessible to both Russia and other countries including Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan, and Iran. Analysts suggest that Tucha’s relocation reflects key maritime strategic dynamics. 

Given the Caspian Sea’s enclosed nature, surrounded by land on all sides, the mystery remains as to how Tucha was relocated. An obvious suggestion would be a body of water, perhaps a deep-sea river, providing a more direct route between Norovoriisk and the Caspian Sea. Russia is known to frequently utilize inland waterways for such transfers, accommodating not just military but also small commercial vessels.

Russian corvette Tucha mysteriously appears in the Black Sea - Karakurt class
Photo credit: Evgeniy Babanov

Kerch Strait

Unfortunately, there is no direct channel for such a transit. One of the feasible solutions, though fraught with risk, is for Tucha to cross the Kerch Strait, under the watchful eyes of the Ukrainians. Following this route, the corvette would reach the Sea of Azov. From there, Tucha could easily access the Don River. The river has several tributaries, but notably, a specific channel was constructed to link the Don with the Volga River. This is known as the Volga-Don Canal. 

When Russia needs to move a ship from Novorossiysk to the Caspian Sea, it utilizes the Volga-Don Canal. This canal connects the Volga River with the Don River, facilitating access to the Caspian Sea through the Volga River system. Additionally, there is the Volga-Baltic Waterway to consider. This waterway ties the Volga River with the Baltic Sea, creating another route for ships aiming for Novorossiysk. These inland waterways play an integral part in Russia’s transport infrastructure, enabling the transit of warships, goods, and vessels amongst diverse regions. 

Probably, this was indeed the transit route. The assertion gains weight from the fact that Tucha corvette is undertaking a similar transfer for the second time. However, the destination this time is different. As some may recall from the events in early December, satellite imagery revealed that Tucha had surprisingly emerged in the Black Sea. Nonetheless, this repositioning seems more straightforward, given that the Zelenodolsk shipyard is conveniently located on the Volga River.

Complex transfer

The Corvette Tucha is currently in service with the Black Sea Fleet of the Russian Federation. Its transfer to the oldest Russian flotilla, namely the Caspian flotilla, undoubtedly carries strategic and geopolitical significance. Turkmenistan, Azerbaijan, and Kazakhstan maintain amicable relations with Russia both politically and socially without any active conflict. 

Similarly, Iran, while not in conflict with Russia, serves as the Federation’s most reliable ally in connection to the conflict in Ukraine. Thus, the suggestion that Russia is deploying its Tucha corvette to support Iran in anticipation of a potential escalation with Israel and the US is highly unlikely. Iran, in its own right, boasts an impressive fleet in the Caspian Sea. 

Could it be conceivable that Russia permitted the incorporation of Iranian naval artillery or other weaponry into Tucha? While improbable, it remains feasible, particularly when considering Russia’s acquiescence to Iran testing its weapons systems in Ukraine via the former’s military. 

Alternatively, the possibility exists that Tucha is conducting unplanned maneuvers that provide instructive insights into the complexity of sea transfers. The task of moving a ship from Novorossiysk to the Caspian Sea in the face of current conditions in the Sea of Azov exemplifies the complexities and challenges involved in such a process.

The Tucha corvette

Russian corvette Tucha mysteriously appears in the Black Sea
Photo credit: Defence Express

The Tucha Corvette forms part of the Karakurt-class of warships from the Russian Federation. This class of small missile ships is celebrated for its compact stature and formidable firepower. Like its counterparts, the Tucha is engineered to operate within littoral zones- areas in proximity to the shore. Its primary function revolves around engaging with enemy surface vessels and submarines. Additionally, it is mandated to provide artillery support during amphibious assault operations. 

The dimensions of the Tucha Corvette are impressively compact for its category of warships. It showcases a length of around 67 meters, complemented by a beam of around 11 meters, and sports a draft of approximately 4 meters. The ship’s primary armament system is the Kalibr-NK cruise missile system, capable of deploying anti-ship, anti-submarine, and land-attack cruise missiles. Moreover, it is armed with the Pantsir-M air defense system, effectively engaging with aerial threats such as aircraft and missiles. For close-range interactions, the ship is equipped with a 76.2mm AK-176MA naval gun. 

Among the other armaments sported by the Tucha Corvette are two 30mm AK-630M automatic cannons and a pair of 14.5mm MTPU machine guns. Additionally, it can deploy anti-submarine warfare [ASW] torpedoes. It can also house a Ka-27 helicopter for extended ASW and anti-surface warfare [ASuW] operations. Uniquely, this corvette operates with a relatively lean crew. Given its advanced automation, it cuts down on the required personnel to around 39 members.

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