Wary of War in Ukraine, Defense Planners Watch Russia's Amphibs

Ropucha-class landing ship in an exercise (Russian Navy file image)

Published Jan 17, 2022 9:01 PM by The Maritime Executive

The Russian military buildup along the borders of Ukraine amidst preparations for an invasion has forced its neighbors to pay close attention to the Kremlin's every move, including everything from suspicious cyber activity in Ukraine to the activation of armored units in far-flung Siberia to the deployment of amphibious assault ships from the Baltic Fleet. 

The Ropucha-class tank landing vessels Kaliningrad, Korolev and Minsk departed Russia's Baltic Sea territory of Kaliningrad on Saturday, and they passed under Denmark's Great Belt bridge at about 1100 hours on Monday morning, bound for the Atlantic. They were not broadcasting AIS, but amateur ship-spotters recorded their movements clearly. 

All three are normally attached to the Baltic Fleet. Their final destination is not known, but their movements have raised concerns. The Ukrainian military expects an amphibious assault at Odessa in the event of a wider Russian invasion, and the three Ropuchas would add beach landing capacity for the Black Sea Fleet. 

Each Ropucha-class is capable of carrying up to 12 amphibious APCs and 340 troops or up to three main battle tanks. They are fitted with a bow door for true beach landing capability, but can also operate in well-deck mode offshore. The class was a familiar site in the Bosporus during the height of the Syrian Civil War, when Ropucha-class landing ships ferried weaponry to Syria in support of the Syrian government side. 

Concerned neighbors

Russian naval movements in the Baltic have also been a concern to neighboring Sweden, which dispatched additional troops to the strategic island of Gotland last week in response to naval activity that "deviates from the normal picture.”

The operations manager of the Swedish Armed Forces, Lt. Gen. Lief Michael Claesson, told AP that a concentration of Russian landing craft off the coast of Kaliningrad - including three vessels from the Northern Fleet - raised concerns for the security of Gotland. In addition to the landing craft, several of the civilian vessels used for building Russia's Nord Stream 2 pipeline had redeployed from the Russian naval base in Kaliningrad to new positions near Gotland, far from the pipeline route.

Swedish military planners have long kept an eye on the strategic island's defense, as it would make an ideal location for basing Russian air-defense batteries in the event of war in the Baltic.