Streetwise Professor

February 14, 2008

Bizness as Usual

Filed under: Military,Politics,Russia — The Professor @ 9:56 am

In Nezavisimaya Gazeta Alexander Khramchikhin and Igor Plugatarev provide detailed corroboration of a familiar SWP theme: the Potemikinesque nature of Russia’s military “resurgence.” (H/T JRL.)

The most alarming point is the critical condition of the Strategic Nuclear Forces – responsible for upholding Russia’s full security and sovereignty. As at the start of 1992, the Russian Federation had 6,347 nuclear warheads. When Boris Yeltsin resigned at the end of 1999, he left his successor 5,842 warheads. As at the start of 2007, Russia had 681 ICBMs (including ICBMs carried by submarines) with 2,460 warheads, and 79 strategic aircraft with 884 cruise missiles. That’s a total of 3,344 warheads.

If current trends persist (new missiles are being built at an extremely slow rate, while the withdrawal of old missiles is accelerating), the Strategic Nuclear Forces might have no more than 300 ICBMs by the middle of the next decade, with no more than 600 warheads. [As I said before, on the road to being Upper Volta without missiles.]

According to official propaganda, as related by some senior federal officials, the aviation group of the Strategic Nuclear Forces will be increased to 50 Tu-95MS and Tu-160 bombers by 2015. The Russian Air Force has 79 of these aircraft at present; in other words, a reduction of 29 aircraft is being portrayed as an increase.

In terms of conventional weapons, there has been a substantial (several-fold) decrease in the volume of arms procurement as compared to the 1990s; state rearmament programs have failed to meet their targets, and the content of these programs has deteriorated. In 1992-99, for example, the Ground Forces took delivery of 120 new T-90 tanks (four battalions) and up to 30 T-80U tanks (one battalion). In 2000-07, no more than 90 new T-90 tanks (three battalions) were delivered. The Ground Forces have a total of around 200 tank battalions. If the rate of new tank acquisition is so slow, why bother doing it at all?

The situation in the Air Force is much worse. In the Yeltsin era, the Air Force received up to 100 new aircraft. In 2000-07, only two new Su-34 planes were purchased. The situation in ground-based air defense is similar. Starting from 2000, official Armed Forces representatives kept declaring that new S-400 air defense systems would be delivered “this year” or “next year.” But these deliveries didn’t actually start until 2007. Yet the planned acquisition quantities for the S-400 aren’t even sufficient to cover the Strategic Nuclear Forces, let alone Russia’s main administrative and industrial centers.

At the same time, the Russian military is acting in a much more aggressive and provocative manner. From the LA Times:

The Pentagon is trying to assess whether a low-level flight by a Russian bomber over American warships in the Pacific Ocean last weekend was a sign that Moscow is returning to a worrisome “Cold War mind-set,” a top Defense official told Congress Tuesday.

Recall too that it was recently announced that Russia will resume the Soviet tradition of Red Square military extravaganzas/parades.

And, just yesterday, Putin found another country at which to aim his diminishing missile arsenal: Ukraine. (I like the comment of the Polish foreign minister, if I recall correctly, who asked Lavrov, again if I recall correctly, that the head of the Russian military ration his threats to use nuclear weapons to one every three months.)

The yawning gap between walk and talk persists.

It seems that the Russian military-industrial complex is producing as much as possible for export sale, while little of the new equipment is actually going to the military. Not that I object that much, mind you. But it does speak volumes about the priorities of the power structures. Threats of force are cheap, and seem to work, even if the Russian military has little capability to back them up; and selling weapons overseas for real money is a lucrative line of bizness.

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