Streetwise Professor

November 28, 2007

Putinkin’s Military, Again

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

From Dmitri Trenin’s FT Q&A:

A resurgent Russian economy has precipitated a vast increase in state spending. Has there been a corresponding increase in military spending? And, generally, how does the leadership of the armed forces view Putin and Russia’s future?
Louis Godena, Providence, Rhode Island USA

Dmitri Trenin: Yes, indeed, Moscow has embarked, for the first time since 1991, on a major program to modernize and rearm its Armed Forces. The budget allocates something around US$200 bn (actually, more, with the dollar’s value falling) toward that goal through 2015. The appointment earlier this year of Anatoly Serrdyukov, a former head of the Tax Police, as Russia’s defense minister, shows that the Kremlin is concerned about the actual spending of the allocated funds. So far, however, the rate of rearmament has been moderate to slow. The Russian military still mostly has to rely on Soviet-era hardware.

As for the military leadership’s response to Putin’s policies, they see him as the first leader in nearly 20 years who is serious about Russia’s national interests, national security and national defence. His leadership was also key, in their view, to succeeding in Chechnya where others had failed. The military leadership sees Russia as a great power with strong armed forces. In the strategic sphere, they want to be equals (which does not have to be equal numbers) with America; and they want to be able to assure Russia’s security vis-à-vis China, a friend today, but a mighty and growing power, nonetheless.

Three key things: (1) another confirmation that the rumble bought per ruble spent on military hardware is low, (2) corruption is a big part of this problem, and (3) Putin’s appointment of a tax policeman to head the Defense Ministry is an acknowledgment of (2). I chuckled at reading the oblique reference to corruption in procurement: “the Kremlin is concerned about the actual spending of the allocated funds.” You don’t say.

From Strategy Page, further information regarding the Potemkinesque nature of the “rebuilding” of the Russian armed forces:

The Rot Continues
November 27, 2007: Although Russia has announced ambitious military construction and rebuilding programs, when you do the math, you realize that the Russian military is still in decline. For example, Russia’s aging ICBM force, which has gotten little money in the last decade, is still wasting away. This despite some new missile construction. Over the next decade, Russia’s ICBM forces will decline from nearly 700, to under 200. Similar declines are underway for ground, naval and air forces. Aiding this collapse is the continuing corruption, particularly when it comes to procurement. All the stealing means that the military pays more than it should, for less than it is supposed to get. This is one reason for increasingly hostile diplomacy in response to NATO forces on Russia’s borders. After three ruinous invasions in the past two centuries, such paranoia (“of course NATO is planning to invade us”) has become acceptable in Russia. The decline in Russian ICBM forces is one reason Russia is so opposed to the anti-missile system the U.S. is building in Eastern Europe (to protect Europe from Iranian ballistic missiles.)

This indeed puts the Russian conniptions over the missile defense in Poland and the Czech Republic in a somewhat different perspective. Note again the emphasis on the stealing in the procurement process. I have read recently of another failure of a Bula va SLBM test (and predictable attempt to cover up the same.) Hey, if this continues, one won’t be able to say any more that Russia is like Upper Volta with missiles. One will be able to economize on words and say that Russia is like Upper Volta. Period.

All of this further highlights–as if additional confirmation were needed–the yawning disconnect between Putin’s strutting and reality. It does raise questions, all of them disturbing. Does he know the true situation, and is just running a huge bluff thinking that the US is distracted by Iraq, and that the Europeans are weenies? [Note to VP: the tide is turning in Iraq, old buddy, and tomorrow our distraction, loss of moral authority, imperial overstretch, yadda, yadda, yadda is going to be so yesterday that anybody making bets on these conditions continuing for long is in for a big, nasty surprise. Sell at the top, dude, ‘cuz you’re not going to like the crash.] [Betting on the Euros to be weenies, on the other hand, is a consistent winner.] Or is he living in some fantasy world, thinking that Russia is a serious military power? Beats me–the evidence is consistent with either alternative. And either alternative is fraught with serious potential for miscalculation, which will not be good for anybody, but will be worst for Russia.

Update. Here’s a link detailing the most recent Bulava test failure. [Spelling corrected in original post.] It’s interesting to see that the early tests were successful (although they appear to be preliminary tests), whereas none of the recent tests are undisputed successes.

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