Date of Award

Fall 12-2022

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Political Science & Geography


Graduate Program in International studies

Committee Director

Regina Karp

Committee Member

Simon Serfaty

Committee Member

Austin T. Jersild

Committee Member

Lyle Goldstein


The Syrian operation of 2012 was the first successful employment by Russia of expeditionary warfare, narrowly defined as naval support to Russian (or Soviet) ground forces in a war away from their periphery (i.e., in a country that does not border them), from the sea. This was brought about in part by the development of two types of cruise missiles: advanced anti-ship missiles (which protects their expeditionary force from NATO naval units, enabling local sea control) and new land attack cruise missiles (similar in design and capability to the U.S. Tomahawk). In the past geographical, technological and political constraints have kept Russia from employing its navy in this manner.

To prove this, Russia’s unique geographic situation must be understood, along with the development of naval warfare (in particular the concept of sea control). A review of Russian naval history will show that, though they aspired to such a capability, neither Imperial Russia nor the Soviet Union were able to accomplish this. In the "modern age" (defined as the turn of the 20th Century), two cases can be identified that involved a Russian/Soviet attempt at such expeditionary operations --- the Russo-Japanese War and the Spanish Civil War. In the former, though armed with what was considered a “great power” navy, geography and politics assured Russian naval defeat (leading to their defeat on land). In the latter, the lack of a great power fleet ensured that they were once again unable to support their ground forces, leading to withdrawal (and failure to achieve their objectives in Spain).

In Syria, Russia was able to successfully support expeditionary ground forces, using amphibious transport protected by a balanced fleet of escorts with advanced-technology missiles, in addition to providing for the direct support of ground forces through employment of land attack cruise missiles. Both the case studies and late-Cold War doctrinal writings show that this has always been on the minds of the Russians, but the confluence of geographic realities, doctrine, and economic or technological shortcomings assured their inability to realize these objectives. As a result of this new capability, the modern Russian navy will continue to enjoy a more significant place in Russian military strategy, even following the Syrian conflict.


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Copyright, 2022, by William Emerson Bunn, All Rights Reserved.