Streetwise Professor

December 22, 2007

The Putinkin Military, III

Filed under: Military,Politics,Russia — The Professor @ 10:47 am

This article from Bloomberg recapitulates many of the points I’ve made regarding the mirage of Russian military resurgence. This Paul Goble post lays out the details of the Russian military’s pressing manpower problem. Demography may not be destiny, but it can sure create daunting problems in maintaining force levels.

It’s not like this demographic problem is news; the Soviet military began feeling the pinch in the late-80s (see William Odom’s The Collapse of the Soviet Military.) Draft dodging has been rife since late-Soviet times. Yet, facing this crunch, Russia has reduced the term of service from two years to one, which essentially doubles the difficulty of maintaining force levels. The decision to cut the term of draftee service despite the dwindling numbers of eligible conscripts and the difficulty in getting them to report almost certainly reflects the pernicious direct and indirect effects of dedovshchina. This cancer, which began growing with changes in the Soviet conscription system in 1967 quickly became so deeply rooted that it survived the concerted efforts of Marshall Yazov, Soviet MOD under Gorbachev, to eliminate it.

It is increasingly clear that there is a yawning disconnect between Russian rhetoric and reality. Putin suspends Russian participation in the CFE treaty with great fanfare, but it is evident that as a practical matter this is irrelevant because Russia has neither the resources (most notably human) nor the inclination to expand its conventional forces beyond the limits imposed by the treaty. Ivanov makes bold statements (which his underlings tried to walk away from) about the necessity of Russia maintaining nuclear parity with the US–at a time when, as the Bloomberg article and other sources make clear, Russia’s strategic forces are continuing to erode.

Is this rhetoric for internal consumption? Is it a bluff directed at foreigners (not just the West, but China)? Hard to say. What is clear, however, is that the bold words bear little relationship to the actual situation.

The reality does help to make sense of recent statements by high ranking Russian military officers. These statements are bursting with paranoid rantings. The paranoia likely reflects (a) a keen awareness of Russia’s true military weakness, and (b) an intent to get the government to pony up more money to actually buy, you know, weapons and stuff.

In any event, it is always bizarre to see such a gap between public pronouncements and verifiable reality. The Emperor has no clothes, as it were. Or, perhaps more accurately, the Tsar has no uniform.

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