Streetwise Professor

November 15, 2007

Even the AP Gets It

Filed under: Military,Politics,Russia — The Professor @ 11:24 am

What’s up with the AP these days? Are they just the proverbial blind hog luckily rooting a few acorns, or have they taken off their blinders?–at least on some things. Here’s an AP story on Putin’s Potemkin Military:

President Vladimir Putin’s government has failed to reverse a steady post-Soviet decline of the armed forces despite repeated pledges to strengthen military might, a group of independent experts said in a report released Tuesday.

The military continues to suffer from rampant corruption, inefficiency and poor morale, the report said. The Kremlin has also failed to deliver on its promises to modernize arsenals, it said.

Putin owes his broad popularity to an oil-fueled economic boom that has helped increase wages and pensions, as well as efforts to revive Russia’s clout. But critics say that the Russian military is only a shadow of the Soviet Army and that bellicose statements from the Kremlin mask a steady decline of its potential.

“The revival of Russia’s military might under Putin is merely a myth,” Stanislav Belkovsky, who head the Institute for National Strategy, said at a presentation of the report. “The Russian armed forces have degraded completely under Putin.”

If the current trends continue, the report warns, Russia’s nuclear arsenals would shrink from about 680 intercontinental ballistic missiles now to between 100 and 200 missiles over the next 10 years.

“It’s impossible to reverse these trends under the current policy,” it added, pointing at a steady decline of the Russian military-industrial complex that would make it impossible to increase weapons production without huge investments.

Alexander Khramchikhin, an expert with the Institute for Military and Political Analysis, said the continuing decline of nuclear forces meant that they would shrink to a level far below that of the United States and would be comparable to China’s.

“Russia’s strategic nuclear forces have seen sharp cuts under Putin,” Khramchikhin said.

He added that the sea-based component of Russia’s nuclear forces had undergone particularly drastic reductions.

Blaming corruption as the root of the problem, Khramchikhin and others said increasing military budgets under Putin actually bought fewer weapons than in the era of President Boris Yeltsin.

“Because of corruption, the military gets a lesser number of weapons at a higher cost,” Khramchikhin said.

Amid the increasing cold spell in relations with the West, officials cast the United States and NATO as the main potential enemy, neglecting a rising threat from China, experts said.

Moscow and Beijing have developed increasingly close ties since the Soviet Union collapsed in late 1991, building what they described a “strategic partnership” based on their shared opposition to perceived U.S. global domination.

China has also become the top customer for Russia’s military-industrial complex, buying billions of dollars’ worth of jets, submarines and destroyers. “Thanks to Russia, China has practically overcome the lag in military technologies which was pretty big in the late 1980s,” Khramchikhin said.

A growing population and limited resources in China, he added, will make it a potentially difficult neighbor in the future. Some people in Russia have voiced similar fears, pointing at increasing numbers of Chinese migrants in scarcely populated Russia’s Far East and Siberia. Officials have dismissed such concerns.

Several comments. First, the article is in accord with several earlier SWP posts; most interesting is Khramchikhin’s statement that much of the supposed largesse showered on the Russian military is actually being siphoned off via corruption. Second, it raises the question of why nobody calls Putin’s bluff. There is nothing more dangerous to a dictator–or a would-be one–than losing face, or backing down in a confrontation. Third, the last paragraph is very interesting. Lenin said that capitalists would sell the rope by which they were hung. Perhaps Russia has sold China the proverbial rope–or at least the means by which China wrests control of Siberia from Russia. For all of the paranoid talk about the US seizing Russia’s mineral wealth (talk spurred by a fabricated quote from Madeline Albright), the real threat lies not across the Bering Strait, but across the Amur River. For all of the current chumminess between Russia and China (the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, etc.), the longer run interactions between the two are unlikely to be all that collegial. Right now, they have a common interest: epater les Americains. Over the longer run, haggling over the terms of energy trade under the shadow of increasing Chinese military and political clout, and Russia’s existential demographic crisis, are likely to make the relationship much testier–or something way beyond testy. In the event, Russia may well rue its role in arming China. But perhaps this is just another manifestation of the very short time horizon that seems implicit in virtually every recent Russian geopolitical decision.

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