Never mind ļ¼look at Russiaās Military Postureļ¼hope in Obama
The decline of the Russian military during the 1990s was regarded as a natural consequence of the fall of the Soviet Union, a crippled Russian economy and a political leadership searching for identity. Many of Russiaās military assets were allowed to fall into disrepair; while the modernisation of capabilities, or attempts at reform, were minimal. Of what military industry remained in Russia, inefficiency and corruption were rife and it suffered from over-capacity and a lack of R&D investment in advanced weapons systems. Russia has subsequently not relied upon its industrial base to design or mass manufacture much modern, technologically advanced equipment for nearly 20 years.
The election of Vladimir Putin as President in 2000 precipitated a fundamental shift in Russian society, its politics, its economy and ultimately within its military. Putin once lamented that the collapse of the Soviet Union was the greatest geopolitical disaster in history and subsequently under his leadership Russia has once more sought to carve out its place in the world. There has been a revival of national self confidence and a renewed belief in Russiaās right to be a great power, the military being the ultimate symbol of that status, and those traits look certain to continue under the leadership of President Dmitry Medvedev.
Current Russian military doctrine is predicated upon a document published in 2000 alongside the new Foreign Policy Concept and National Security Concept of the Putin administration. That doctrine acknowledged that while the threat of direct military aggression against the Russian Federation had declined, both external and internal threats to security had continued to persist, and in some areas were increasing. The doctrine advocated, therefore, what was essentially regarded as a defensive military strategy with a strong emphasis upon āadherence to peaceā, albeit with a āfirm resolve to defend national interests and guarantee the military security of the Russian Federation and its alliesā which it identified as āthe most important area of the stateās activityā. Maintaining Russiaās status as a nuclear power in order to deter aggression was subsequently outlined as one of Russiaās key military priorities.
Various attempts to revise that document have been established over the last nine years, although no formal revision has emerged. However, the new doctrine has been considered likely to adopt a much harsher tone toward the US and NATO, reflecting Russiaās concerns over the Allianceās expansion into āpost-Soviet spaceā; and advocate the pursuit of military modernisation at any economic cost. Current indications from the Russian government suggest that a revised version of the Military Doctrine will be published toward the end of 2009.
In the meantime observers have commented on the more confident and assertive tone adopted by Russia in its foreign policies over the last few years. Western observers have pointed to the Russian military response to Georgian actions in South Ossetia in August 2008; the public spat between Russia and the West over NATO enlargement and the US missile defence proposals in Eastern Europe; the public overtures of co-operation and friendship to countries within the USās traditional sphere of influence; and the resumption of strategic bomber patrols and the āblue waterā deployment of the Russian navy as evidence that that rhetoric has increasingly taken on a practical element, with the military becoming increasingly utilised as a diplomatic tool in the war of words between east and west.
That increasingly overt military posture has, in part, been enabled by large real term increases in the Russian defence budget over the last few years, a rate of growth that has broadly matched the growth of the Russian economy as a whole and has been attributable to high oil and gas prices. Since 2001 the defence budget has accounted for 2.4% to 2.6% of GDP.
Given the diversity of Russiaās strategic interests, its military forces are extensive and configured accordingly. Russia has over one million active personnel and 20 million personnel in reserve, a reflection of the importance of compulsory military service within Russian society. With respect to active personnel, the Russian military is currently the fifth largest in the world, exceeded only by China, the US, India and North Korea. However, if Russiaās reserve contingent is taken into account, Russiaās military becomes the largest. Yet, the majority of Russian military equipment are ageing, Soviet-era assets. Modern equipment accounts for only 10% of the militaryās existing capabilities and as witnessed during the campaign in Georgia in August 2008 has left a number of strategic weaknesses in Russiaās overall capability. The perception that Russia relies heavily on its nuclear deterrent as a means of power projection and offsetting its conventional weaknesses has, therefore, been a longstanding preoccupation of analysts. Indeed the retention of a nuclear capability has been regarded as the sole reason to justify continuing to view Russia as a military superpower. Yet it has also been widely acknowledged that the small amount of advanced weaponry that the Russian military does possess is state-of-the-art technology and that within a regional context and against adversaries in its near abroad, Russia has both the capacity and technological edge to pose a significant threat.
In order to meet Russiaās ambitious aims for its Armed Forces a programme of intensive military reform and modernisation has been undertaken over the last 15 years. Advanced significantly under the Putin administration, that reform effort has focused on the modernisation of military capabilities, the professionalisation of the Armed Forces, readiness, deployability and interoperability. In order to support that agenda, the Putin administration has also pushed for reform and consolidation within the military-industrial complex.
At the end of 2008 proposals for the next phase of military reform and re-armament were announced which amount to an ambitious and large scale overhaul of the structure and composition of the military in order to establish more efficient and combat ready forces, including the loss of 200,000 officer positions from across the military. As part of that programme the Russian government has indicated its intention to spend approximately 5 trillion roubles (US$190bn) on a weapons modernisation programme that would replace 45% of its entire arsenal. Although the plans are wide ranging Russiaās nuclear and ballistic missile programme and naval capabilities are set to be the biggest beneficiaries. The objective is to achieve a level of advanced weaponry equating to 30% of Russiaās total military assets by 2015 and 70% by 2020.
However, the programme of structural reform has already met with significant opposition, largely from within the military itself. A number of senior military figures have resigned over the proposals, while others have argued that the recommendations as currently proposed will destroy Russiaās military capabilities and have called for the Russian Defence Minister to be sacked and prosecuted. One of the bigger questions is whether Russia is capable of affording both a comprehensive programme of capabilities modernisation and massive structural reform of the Armed Forces, given the current global economic situation. On 12
February 2009 the Russian Government announced that a 15% cut in the military budget for 2009 would be made in response to the financial crisis Further cuts have not yet been ruled out with some analysts considering that up to 30-40% of the defence budget could be cut in the next few years. The ability of the military-industrial complex in Russia to match the technological demands of the modernisation programme has also been questioned.
As a result of these diverging pressures many analysts have concurred that reform, however ambitious initially, is likely to be watered down and any changes that do come will occur only gradually. Compromise between the differing strands of reform is also a possibility with issues such as the improvement of terms and conditions of service personnel potentially taking a back seat to greater perceived priorities such as capabilities modernisation.
The prospects for the Russian military, and the ability of the Kremlin to continue using it in pursuit of its foreign policy agenda, arguably depends upon the success of the modernisation agenda and specifically Russiaās rearmament programme. These in turn rely heavily upon a Russian economy that is largely resource dependent and therefore affected by rises or falls in global energy prices, and on the attitude of the military establishment with respect to reform and whether the Russian government will retain the political will to push through some unpopular proposals or yield to domestic pressure to either abandon them or make compromises as a means of securing the continued support of the military within the Kremlin.