Monthly Archives: December 2007

EDITORIAL: John McCain for President

A Tiger Named Tatiana

EDITORIAL

John McCain for President

Zoo personnel dispatch now say there are two males who the zoo considers 800. But one is in fact bleeding from the back of the head at the Terrace Cafe.

“800.”

That’s police code for “mentally ill.” On Christmas day, a Bengal tiger named Tatiana broke free of her enclosure at the San Francisco zoo and killed one visitor, sending two more to the hospital. Responding to the scene, police officers were initially told by Zoo officials that the complaining victims were crazy, even though one of them was bleeding from a tiger bite to the head. Later, it turned out that the fence enclosure built to retain Tatiana was only 12 feet hight, far to low, making it easy for her to vault over it when she fancied a bit of dinner. At first, though, Zoo officials had claimed the fence was 18 feet high. The Zoo in nearby Oakland has a tiger fence of similar height, and is now saying it will be raised even though “it’s not like the last foot or so is the difference between escape or no escape, but we are not interested in playing it that close.”

We have disturbing a sense of deja vu when we read about this tragedy, which more and more begins to sound like it needs the word “outrage” instead. It’s ironic that this tiger had a Russian name, because we’ve been warning the world about the danger that neo-Soviet Russia will jump its too-short fence and maul the world for some time now, and when we first started there was no shortage of people who called us crazy, too. And it’s still the modality of choice for the neo-Soviet minions, who are busily grabbing their adversaries and chucking them into insane asylums — as recently described by Paul Goble and Grigori Pasko on Robert Amsterdam — just as was done in Soviet times. Many Russophile wackos really, genuinely believe that anyone who dares to suggest that Russia is dangerous must be mentally ill. It’s this kind of “thinking” that caused the USSR to go the way of the dodo.

Word emerged last week of Russian plans to sell Iran yet another sophisticated missile system designed to help it fend off a NATO attack should it be determined that it has developed a nuclear weapons capacity, something that is possible only because of Russian assistance with its nuclear program. Even as the Kremlin was issuing a pathetic series of denials after the Iranians started bragging about the deal, it was being reported that the Kremlin had launched a whole new set of initiatives aimed at expanded military cooperation.

There’s no way that any words (other than perhaps “neo-Soviet”) can do justice to the hubris and hypocrisy that are necessary to undertake these actions: Even as Russia provides missile systems to Iran, it objects to the United States providing such systems to its former slave states in Eastern Europe, which would tend to undermine Russian efforts to reassert the Iron Curtain against those states. And can you imagine — do you dare — Russia’s reaction if America were to try to provide dangerous weapons to a place Russia hates and fears as much as Americans hate and fear Iran — Chechnya, for instance? What did the Kremlin expect the West to make of its childish denials — that if/when it acts to undermine our security, it will frankly tell us about it? Only a neo-Soviet mentality can descend to this level of sophomoric imbecility.

So now, everybody in the world (who has a lick of sense) is singing our tune. We report below a new column from the pages of the Wall Street Journal, probably America’s most powerful and well-respected newspaper, entitled “Putin’s Cold War.” The terms “cold war” and “neo-Soviet” that we began using long ago, and which then were considered questionable or extreme, are now conventional wisdom, and in fact it’s quite easy to argue that they will soon become too moderate to truly describe the atrocities now being perpetrated in Russia.

In other words, this is only the beginning, as we’ve been saying before there was any beginning, back in April of 2006 when we began this blog.

Just as Tatiana the tiger was harmless when behind the walls of her enclosure, the West has nothing to fear but fear itself when confronting Russia, and should not allow Russia to blind it with neo-Soviet propaganda designed to intimidate it and stay its hand while Putin consolidates and bolsters his malignant regime. And it must act now; otherwise, sooner or later, Russia will figure out how to jump its fence and then we will find the Russian bear right in our own back yard, wrecking havoc.

Today, the Kremlin is constrained by two important and undeniable facts: First, it hasn’t yet fully consolidated its power by making the transition between Putin I and Putin II. This won’t occur for a few more months yet, although most of the transition is already complete (the parliament and local government have both been brought to heel, and the media establishment as well), so the Kremlin is still a bit shy. And second, it is still faced with massive economic limitations, revenues from oil sales being just a drop in the bucket in terms of what is needed to recreate a totalitarian state and wage cold war with NATO. As we report below, Russia’s military is simply to puny to truly intimidate the West. Putin’s mouth is writing checks his fists can’t cash — so he must rely on guile and misdirection, hoping to put off the actual confrontation for another day. He’s counting on us leaving our fence at 12 feet.

Russia’s economy is also an illusion. HSBC economist Alexander Morozov says: “The [Russian] economy bears all the hallmarks of overheating, which brings the danger of a sharp slowdown in the future.” Specifically, he’s talking about inflation, which is increasingly going to undermine even the illusion of economic progress that Vladimir Putin has projected. Putin doesn’t seem to understand — and how could he, since he has no training or experience in economics or business — that Russia is not immune from the business cycle. Or it could be that he understands perfectly well, but like the Politburo before him he simply doesn’t care, and will charge blindly ahead diverting Russia’s precious resources away from the people’s needs and towards a futile attempt at reviving Soviet imperialism and cold war.

Russia has no economic fundamentals it can rely upon to help it weather the inevitable downturn in the business cycle, as America had to help it during the Great Depression. Such a downturn will simply wreck havoc on the nation, and force Putin to implement draconian restrictions on liberty in order to hold onto power. All the signs are there that Putin will not hesitate to take such steps, and in fact he now will have the convenient figure of Dimitri Medvedev as a figurehead president to blame them on.

Russia’s military and economic impotence doesn’t mean it is harmless. Osama Bin Laden also operates with restraints like Putin faces. It’s pretty hard to take over the word from a dark, dank little gave in the mountains of Afghanistan, especially when bombs are raining down all around you. But that apparently didn’t stop Bin Laden from carrying out the assassination of Benazir Bhutto, the best hope for democracy in Pakistan, while she was running for office last week. One might hope that Vladimir Putin, who unlike Bin Laden presides over and must govern an actual country whose people have everyday social needs, would face some limits on the extent of his ability to harass the world with acts of governmental terrorism because the people of Russia would object to the diversion of resources. But what such limits were imposed on the old Politburo in the USSR? Virtually none. Heedless of the people’s welfare, the Politburo was willing to drive the USSR right into the ground rather than give up its feverish hope of sticking a knife into the belly of democracy.

As Reinhold Niebuhr wrote: “Man’s capacity for justice makes democracy possible; but man’s inclination to injustice makes democracy necessary.” This truism, however, understood by civilized people everywhere, simply isn’t recognized in Russia. The people there have never accepted the need to place checks on the power of their government because the people who run it are inclined to injustice. They don’t understand that an unfettered national ruler can be just as dangerous to a nation’s survival as any invading army — and their failure to understand is simply inexcusable and inexplicable, because they have so many times in the past seen that danger lay their country low.

So we say again to the world: Your fence is to low. Tatiana can jump it. She means to. Raise that fence, or suffer the consequences as you did when her mother Bolshevika jumped it in 1917.

Specifically, we urge American voters to consider in their upcoming presidential elections a candidate’s position on Russia as a key indicator of their level of sophistication and commitment to democracy and American national security. Below, we report on their positions, and we now endorse U.S. Senator John McCain as by far the best available contender where Russia policy is concerned.

This brave, intelligent, tested, patriotic man understands Russia, and will do the right thing if given the chance. Boldly and appropriately, he has called for Russia’s ouster from the G-8 group, where its very presence is an offense to the basic principles around which the group was organized. Russia is a fox in the hen house where the G-8 is concerned, and the Kremlin uses its membership as powerful leverage against Russia’s liberals, arguing that it has the endorsement of the Western democracies so there is nothing for them to worry about. Senator McCain is the only individual seeking the presidency who clearly understands that Americans have enemies who must be fought, and that fighting them is as good for the people of Russia as it is for the United States. If McCain isn’t elected president, he should be vice president charged with Russia policy or Ambassador to Russia. Unless some better candidate enters the mix, any other result will be a betrayal of American national security as well as the best hopes of the people of Russia themselves.

Russia is, by far, the greatest threat to the institution of democracy and basic human values of liberty and justice in the world today. The Kremlin’s odious revival of Soviet politics is barbaric and destructive of the basic rights and interests of the people it governs. We need a man like Senator McCain in the White House, someone who — like Ronald Reagan before him — will make no bones about standing up to the Evil Empire that the Bush and especially Clinton administrations have allowed to coalesce once again behind an iron curtain.

America needs John McCain. Vote for him.

Latest on Kozlovsky

Oborona reports (LR staff translation):

On December 29th the Moscow headquarters hosted a meeting with noted economist and journalist Andrei N. Illarionov (shown above trying on an Oborona t-shirt for size), Director of the Institute for Economic Analysis (at the Cato Institute). The activists discussed various matters with Mr. Illarionov over the course of three hours and he described the political system of modern Russia and explained why at the end of 2005 he resigned from the post of economic advisor to President Putin.

Illarionov particularly noted that opposition activists should not underestimate their opponents of the current government. He advised them to avoid formulaic solutions and to be creative in devising ways to respond to the Kremlin’s initiatives. He noted that agents of the regime also carefully read Gina Sharp and prepare their own creative responses to a wide variety of options for our actions. The political situation in Russia is very difficult for opponents of the status quo. But our task no more difficult than it was for those who led the democratic movements in Serbia, Georgia and Ukraine, and we can see that, judged in historical perspective, the regime is doomed. According to Illarionov, to hasten the moment of its downfall it is necessary to create a broad forum, a round table, or “proto-parliament,” with the participation of political movements representing all different points of view in Russian society. Opposition should focus on the organization of parallel elections to this representative body, rather than participate sham elections put forth by the forces of the Kremlin.

Illarionov added his signature to the Joint Petition of the opposition leaders calling for the immediate release of Oleg Kozlovsky. In doing so, he called on all opposition groups to be more highly attentive to legal formalities so that they might not be used against them by the regime as a weapon of repression. Opposition must be done in deadly earnest, Illarionov stressed.

Regarding Kozlovsky’s whereabouts, Oborona reports:

According to reliable sources on the afternoon of December 29th Oleg was transported from the hospital in the Ryazan to long-distance aviation unit No. 45179 in Dyagilevo (Telephone: 8-4912-33-53-18 and 8-4912-33-54-00). Oborona asks for the support of all human rights groups and those in the legal field to telephone the unit and advise them of Oleg’s legal status so that they will understand it is in their own best interests to be careful with his treatment. Oleg’s appeal is now pending before the Military Prosecutor’s Office before investigator Vitaly Andrejevic Malakhov.

Obrona urgently requests that those who want to bring an early release of Oleg Kozlovsky print and distribute in all cities of Russia the following special edition of the Oborona newsletter reporting on the state-sponsored kidnapping of its national coordinator:

Exposing Russia’s Sham Military

Bloomburg exposes Vladimir Putin’s Potemkin military:

Russia’s military, which once defined its power and is central to President Vladimir Putin’s ambitions for global influence, is lagging behind its energy- driven economic boom. The nation’s armed forces remain beset by manpower and morale problems, aging equipment, graft and unfulfilled promises to overhaul their Cold War-era structure, Western and Russian analysts say. While Putin, 55, has increased Russia’s defense budget to a level four times greater than when he became president in 2000, it is still less than 6 percent of U.S. spending.

“There is this notion in the West that the Russian army is coming back,” said Zoltan Barany, a professor at the University of Texas in Austin who published a book this year about the decline of the Russian military. “They’re not back. Things have started to change, but there’s a long way to go before they’re back, and I don’t think they will ever be back like they were.”

A report last month by Moscow’s Institute for National Strategy and two other independent research groups underscored the lack of progress. It said defense spending during Putin’s tenure had grown only 15 percent after inflation from the 1990s, and that Russia has bought fewer weapons under him because of a “dramatic rise in corruption.”

Outdated Fears

The analysts said military doctrine was still based on outdated fears of war with the West instead of more realistic threats from China or Islamic terrorists. Russian and Western news media “are inflating the myth of an active remilitarization of modern Russia,” the analysts said. “This myth bears no relation to reality.” [LR: Putin obviously wants to cause us to drop our guard long enough for him to become a real military threat. So he has two options: (a) create a Potemkin military and try to intimidate us into taking no action, or (b) let it be known how weak he really is, maybe even cause things to look worse than they are, and then argue that if he is weak no action is needed. As is so often the case in Russian la-la land, it seems that no one policy has been chosen and the right hand has chosen (a) while the left is attempting (b). Meanwhile, what we must understand is that it makes no difference. If Russia is weak, then now is the time to act to prevent it from getting strong. If it is strong, then now is the time to at before the actual blows start falling. It’s clear that we haven’t got as much to fear from Russian military action as we might think, just as was the case when the Iraqi army easily capitulated, surprising all. He who hesitates is lost. If we do not take action now, we will be forced to take it later at much greater cost.]

The gap between Putin’s ambitions and his capabilities was evident in August, when he said that regular strategic-bomber flights would resume after a 15-year hiatus. The announcement revived memories of Cold War days, when Soviet and U.S. nuclear- armed bombers patrolled on hair-trigger alert. The reality turned out to be far different. The new patrols are done mostly by aging Tu-95 “Bear” bombers that have turbo- prop rather than jet engines, carry no nuclear weapons and are limited to about one flight a week by budget and equipment constraints, according to Pavel Baev, a military analyst at Oslo’s International Peace Research Institute.

A Shrinking Fleet

The resource crunch affects all military branches, analysts say. The Russian Navy now has one active-duty aircraft carrier — the U.S. has 12 — and its fleet of strategic nuclear submarines is shrinking as vessels wear out and aren’t replaced. The most modern sub, the 11-year-old Yuri Dolgoruky, was designed as a platform for the Bulava-M long-range nuclear missile. The Bulava failed several tests, raising questions about its future and the sub’s utility, Baev said. While Russian defense industries produce some good-quality equipment, especially fighter planes and surface-to-air missiles, most is sold abroad, said John Pike, director of GlobalSecurity.org, an Alexandria, Virginia-based military research group. “They’re basically playing with the same set of toys that Gorbachev gave them,” Pike said, referring to Mikhail Gorbachev, the last Soviet leader.

Russia still fields a formidable nuclear arsenal, with 4,237 warheads deployed on 875 missiles and bombers as of July, according to data compiled by the Arms Control Association, a Washington research group. Only the U.S., with 5,914 warheads on 1,225 missiles and bombers, has more.

Repairs Required

Still, 60 percent of Russian missiles have exceeded their service life and half require major repairs, according to a 2005 Defense Ministry report, Barany said. Just 30 percent of the country’s fighter planes are combat-ready, he said. The Moscow researchers said that if present trends continue, attrition will reduce Russia’s intercontinental missile arsenal to between 100 and 200 in a decade. Russia’s Defense Ministry didn’t respond to written questions about the military’s capability. The head of the Russian Strategic Missile Troops, Colonel- General Nikolai Solovtsov, was quoted by the official Itar-Tass news agency Dec. 17 as saying that Russia would be “compelled” to maintain the strength of its nuclear arsenal because of U.S. plans to base a missile-defense system in Eastern Europe. Manpower problems remain acute, although some — such as chronic late payment of officers’ salaries — have been eased by the budget increases.

Russia’s Spending

Aided by a 255 percent surge in oil prices during Putin’s eight years in office, Russia’s 2007 defense spending was about 821 billion rubles ($33.6 billion), about 15 percent of total government expenditures, according to the London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies. U.S. military spending in 2007 was about $582 billion, or 21 percent of the total federal budget, the institute said. Russia also suffers from endemic draft avoidance, with as many as nine out of 10 of those in the eligible 18-to-26 age group escaping service. “If you’ve got 90 percent draft evasion, those who show up are just too stupid to evade it,” Pike said. “Imagine what kind of military you can put together with that.” Military officials are seeking to make compliance more common by eliminating some deferments and gradually reducing draftees’ terms to one year from two. Meanwhile, they have created all-volunteer units and stationed them in the volatile northern Caucasus, Baev said. “That’s why Georgia has reason to be worried,” he said.

Vested Interest

Russian political leaders have long talked of shifting to a smaller, more professional all-contract military. They have made little progress, partly because of opposition from generals who have a vested interest in blocking the change, analysts say. The generals exploit draftees by using them to do personal work or renting them out as cheap labor to enterprises, with the generals pocketing the fees, said William Hill, a professor at the U.S. National War College in Washington. The military pressures draftees to sign long-term service contracts, according to the Committee of Soldiers’ Mothers, a Moscow-based group that works to expose abuses in the military. The pressure includes sleep deprivation, beatings and threats of transfer to combat zones. Hazing persists even after high-profile cases generated official promises to curb abuses, Baev said. “Soldiers are mistreated in every possible way,” he said. “That’s why it’s so difficult for this army to shift into contract service. You have to treat soldiers differently if they are professionals. Many of the officers aren’t prepared to do this.”

Exposing Russia’s Sham Military

Bloomburg exposes Vladimir Putin’s Potemkin military:

Russia’s military, which once defined its power and is central to President Vladimir Putin’s ambitions for global influence, is lagging behind its energy- driven economic boom. The nation’s armed forces remain beset by manpower and morale problems, aging equipment, graft and unfulfilled promises to overhaul their Cold War-era structure, Western and Russian analysts say. While Putin, 55, has increased Russia’s defense budget to a level four times greater than when he became president in 2000, it is still less than 6 percent of U.S. spending.

“There is this notion in the West that the Russian army is coming back,” said Zoltan Barany, a professor at the University of Texas in Austin who published a book this year about the decline of the Russian military. “They’re not back. Things have started to change, but there’s a long way to go before they’re back, and I don’t think they will ever be back like they were.”

A report last month by Moscow’s Institute for National Strategy and two other independent research groups underscored the lack of progress. It said defense spending during Putin’s tenure had grown only 15 percent after inflation from the 1990s, and that Russia has bought fewer weapons under him because of a “dramatic rise in corruption.”

Outdated Fears

The analysts said military doctrine was still based on outdated fears of war with the West instead of more realistic threats from China or Islamic terrorists. Russian and Western news media “are inflating the myth of an active remilitarization of modern Russia,” the analysts said. “This myth bears no relation to reality.” [LR: Putin obviously wants to cause us to drop our guard long enough for him to become a real military threat. So he has two options: (a) create a Potemkin military and try to intimidate us into taking no action, or (b) let it be known how weak he really is, maybe even cause things to look worse than they are, and then argue that if he is weak no action is needed. As is so often the case in Russian la-la land, it seems that no one policy has been chosen and the right hand has chosen (a) while the left is attempting (b). Meanwhile, what we must understand is that it makes no difference. If Russia is weak, then now is the time to act to prevent it from getting strong. If it is strong, then now is the time to at before the actual blows start falling. It’s clear that we haven’t got as much to fear from Russian military action as we might think, just as was the case when the Iraqi army easily capitulated, surprising all. He who hesitates is lost. If we do not take action now, we will be forced to take it later at much greater cost.]

The gap between Putin’s ambitions and his capabilities was evident in August, when he said that regular strategic-bomber flights would resume after a 15-year hiatus. The announcement revived memories of Cold War days, when Soviet and U.S. nuclear- armed bombers patrolled on hair-trigger alert. The reality turned out to be far different. The new patrols are done mostly by aging Tu-95 “Bear” bombers that have turbo- prop rather than jet engines, carry no nuclear weapons and are limited to about one flight a week by budget and equipment constraints, according to Pavel Baev, a military analyst at Oslo’s International Peace Research Institute.

A Shrinking Fleet

The resource crunch affects all military branches, analysts say. The Russian Navy now has one active-duty aircraft carrier — the U.S. has 12 — and its fleet of strategic nuclear submarines is shrinking as vessels wear out and aren’t replaced. The most modern sub, the 11-year-old Yuri Dolgoruky, was designed as a platform for the Bulava-M long-range nuclear missile. The Bulava failed several tests, raising questions about its future and the sub’s utility, Baev said. While Russian defense industries produce some good-quality equipment, especially fighter planes and surface-to-air missiles, most is sold abroad, said John Pike, director of GlobalSecurity.org, an Alexandria, Virginia-based military research group. “They’re basically playing with the same set of toys that Gorbachev gave them,” Pike said, referring to Mikhail Gorbachev, the last Soviet leader.

Russia still fields a formidable nuclear arsenal, with 4,237 warheads deployed on 875 missiles and bombers as of July, according to data compiled by the Arms Control Association, a Washington research group. Only the U.S., with 5,914 warheads on 1,225 missiles and bombers, has more.

Repairs Required

Still, 60 percent of Russian missiles have exceeded their service life and half require major repairs, according to a 2005 Defense Ministry report, Barany said. Just 30 percent of the country’s fighter planes are combat-ready, he said. The Moscow researchers said that if present trends continue, attrition will reduce Russia’s intercontinental missile arsenal to between 100 and 200 in a decade. Russia’s Defense Ministry didn’t respond to written questions about the military’s capability. The head of the Russian Strategic Missile Troops, Colonel- General Nikolai Solovtsov, was quoted by the official Itar-Tass news agency Dec. 17 as saying that Russia would be “compelled” to maintain the strength of its nuclear arsenal because of U.S. plans to base a missile-defense system in Eastern Europe. Manpower problems remain acute, although some — such as chronic late payment of officers’ salaries — have been eased by the budget increases.

Russia’s Spending

Aided by a 255 percent surge in oil prices during Putin’s eight years in office, Russia’s 2007 defense spending was about 821 billion rubles ($33.6 billion), about 15 percent of total government expenditures, according to the London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies. U.S. military spending in 2007 was about $582 billion, or 21 percent of the total federal budget, the institute said. Russia also suffers from endemic draft avoidance, with as many as nine out of 10 of those in the eligible 18-to-26 age group escaping service. “If you’ve got 90 percent draft evasion, those who show up are just too stupid to evade it,” Pike said. “Imagine what kind of military you can put together with that.” Military officials are seeking to make compliance more common by eliminating some deferments and gradually reducing draftees’ terms to one year from two. Meanwhile, they have created all-volunteer units and stationed them in the volatile northern Caucasus, Baev said. “That’s why Georgia has reason to be worried,” he said.

Vested Interest

Russian political leaders have long talked of shifting to a smaller, more professional all-contract military. They have made little progress, partly because of opposition from generals who have a vested interest in blocking the change, analysts say. The generals exploit draftees by using them to do personal work or renting them out as cheap labor to enterprises, with the generals pocketing the fees, said William Hill, a professor at the U.S. National War College in Washington. The military pressures draftees to sign long-term service contracts, according to the Committee of Soldiers’ Mothers, a Moscow-based group that works to expose abuses in the military. The pressure includes sleep deprivation, beatings and threats of transfer to combat zones. Hazing persists even after high-profile cases generated official promises to curb abuses, Baev said. “Soldiers are mistreated in every possible way,” he said. “That’s why it’s so difficult for this army to shift into contract service. You have to treat soldiers differently if they are professionals. Many of the officers aren’t prepared to do this.”

Exposing Russia’s Sham Military

Bloomburg exposes Vladimir Putin’s Potemkin military:

Russia’s military, which once defined its power and is central to President Vladimir Putin’s ambitions for global influence, is lagging behind its energy- driven economic boom. The nation’s armed forces remain beset by manpower and morale problems, aging equipment, graft and unfulfilled promises to overhaul their Cold War-era structure, Western and Russian analysts say. While Putin, 55, has increased Russia’s defense budget to a level four times greater than when he became president in 2000, it is still less than 6 percent of U.S. spending.

“There is this notion in the West that the Russian army is coming back,” said Zoltan Barany, a professor at the University of Texas in Austin who published a book this year about the decline of the Russian military. “They’re not back. Things have started to change, but there’s a long way to go before they’re back, and I don’t think they will ever be back like they were.”

A report last month by Moscow’s Institute for National Strategy and two other independent research groups underscored the lack of progress. It said defense spending during Putin’s tenure had grown only 15 percent after inflation from the 1990s, and that Russia has bought fewer weapons under him because of a “dramatic rise in corruption.”

Outdated Fears

The analysts said military doctrine was still based on outdated fears of war with the West instead of more realistic threats from China or Islamic terrorists. Russian and Western news media “are inflating the myth of an active remilitarization of modern Russia,” the analysts said. “This myth bears no relation to reality.” [LR: Putin obviously wants to cause us to drop our guard long enough for him to become a real military threat. So he has two options: (a) create a Potemkin military and try to intimidate us into taking no action, or (b) let it be known how weak he really is, maybe even cause things to look worse than they are, and then argue that if he is weak no action is needed. As is so often the case in Russian la-la land, it seems that no one policy has been chosen and the right hand has chosen (a) while the left is attempting (b). Meanwhile, what we must understand is that it makes no difference. If Russia is weak, then now is the time to act to prevent it from getting strong. If it is strong, then now is the time to at before the actual blows start falling. It’s clear that we haven’t got as much to fear from Russian military action as we might think, just as was the case when the Iraqi army easily capitulated, surprising all. He who hesitates is lost. If we do not take action now, we will be forced to take it later at much greater cost.]

The gap between Putin’s ambitions and his capabilities was evident in August, when he said that regular strategic-bomber flights would resume after a 15-year hiatus. The announcement revived memories of Cold War days, when Soviet and U.S. nuclear- armed bombers patrolled on hair-trigger alert. The reality turned out to be far different. The new patrols are done mostly by aging Tu-95 “Bear” bombers that have turbo- prop rather than jet engines, carry no nuclear weapons and are limited to about one flight a week by budget and equipment constraints, according to Pavel Baev, a military analyst at Oslo’s International Peace Research Institute.

A Shrinking Fleet

The resource crunch affects all military branches, analysts say. The Russian Navy now has one active-duty aircraft carrier — the U.S. has 12 — and its fleet of strategic nuclear submarines is shrinking as vessels wear out and aren’t replaced. The most modern sub, the 11-year-old Yuri Dolgoruky, was designed as a platform for the Bulava-M long-range nuclear missile. The Bulava failed several tests, raising questions about its future and the sub’s utility, Baev said. While Russian defense industries produce some good-quality equipment, especially fighter planes and surface-to-air missiles, most is sold abroad, said John Pike, director of GlobalSecurity.org, an Alexandria, Virginia-based military research group. “They’re basically playing with the same set of toys that Gorbachev gave them,” Pike said, referring to Mikhail Gorbachev, the last Soviet leader.

Russia still fields a formidable nuclear arsenal, with 4,237 warheads deployed on 875 missiles and bombers as of July, according to data compiled by the Arms Control Association, a Washington research group. Only the U.S., with 5,914 warheads on 1,225 missiles and bombers, has more.

Repairs Required

Still, 60 percent of Russian missiles have exceeded their service life and half require major repairs, according to a 2005 Defense Ministry report, Barany said. Just 30 percent of the country’s fighter planes are combat-ready, he said. The Moscow researchers said that if present trends continue, attrition will reduce Russia’s intercontinental missile arsenal to between 100 and 200 in a decade. Russia’s Defense Ministry didn’t respond to written questions about the military’s capability. The head of the Russian Strategic Missile Troops, Colonel- General Nikolai Solovtsov, was quoted by the official Itar-Tass news agency Dec. 17 as saying that Russia would be “compelled” to maintain the strength of its nuclear arsenal because of U.S. plans to base a missile-defense system in Eastern Europe. Manpower problems remain acute, although some — such as chronic late payment of officers’ salaries — have been eased by the budget increases.

Russia’s Spending

Aided by a 255 percent surge in oil prices during Putin’s eight years in office, Russia’s 2007 defense spending was about 821 billion rubles ($33.6 billion), about 15 percent of total government expenditures, according to the London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies. U.S. military spending in 2007 was about $582 billion, or 21 percent of the total federal budget, the institute said. Russia also suffers from endemic draft avoidance, with as many as nine out of 10 of those in the eligible 18-to-26 age group escaping service. “If you’ve got 90 percent draft evasion, those who show up are just too stupid to evade it,” Pike said. “Imagine what kind of military you can put together with that.” Military officials are seeking to make compliance more common by eliminating some deferments and gradually reducing draftees’ terms to one year from two. Meanwhile, they have created all-volunteer units and stationed them in the volatile northern Caucasus, Baev said. “That’s why Georgia has reason to be worried,” he said.

Vested Interest

Russian political leaders have long talked of shifting to a smaller, more professional all-contract military. They have made little progress, partly because of opposition from generals who have a vested interest in blocking the change, analysts say. The generals exploit draftees by using them to do personal work or renting them out as cheap labor to enterprises, with the generals pocketing the fees, said William Hill, a professor at the U.S. National War College in Washington. The military pressures draftees to sign long-term service contracts, according to the Committee of Soldiers’ Mothers, a Moscow-based group that works to expose abuses in the military. The pressure includes sleep deprivation, beatings and threats of transfer to combat zones. Hazing persists even after high-profile cases generated official promises to curb abuses, Baev said. “Soldiers are mistreated in every possible way,” he said. “That’s why it’s so difficult for this army to shift into contract service. You have to treat soldiers differently if they are professionals. Many of the officers aren’t prepared to do this.”

Exposing Russia’s Sham Military

Bloomburg exposes Vladimir Putin’s Potemkin military:

Russia’s military, which once defined its power and is central to President Vladimir Putin’s ambitions for global influence, is lagging behind its energy- driven economic boom. The nation’s armed forces remain beset by manpower and morale problems, aging equipment, graft and unfulfilled promises to overhaul their Cold War-era structure, Western and Russian analysts say. While Putin, 55, has increased Russia’s defense budget to a level four times greater than when he became president in 2000, it is still less than 6 percent of U.S. spending.

“There is this notion in the West that the Russian army is coming back,” said Zoltan Barany, a professor at the University of Texas in Austin who published a book this year about the decline of the Russian military. “They’re not back. Things have started to change, but there’s a long way to go before they’re back, and I don’t think they will ever be back like they were.”

A report last month by Moscow’s Institute for National Strategy and two other independent research groups underscored the lack of progress. It said defense spending during Putin’s tenure had grown only 15 percent after inflation from the 1990s, and that Russia has bought fewer weapons under him because of a “dramatic rise in corruption.”

Outdated Fears

The analysts said military doctrine was still based on outdated fears of war with the West instead of more realistic threats from China or Islamic terrorists. Russian and Western news media “are inflating the myth of an active remilitarization of modern Russia,” the analysts said. “This myth bears no relation to reality.” [LR: Putin obviously wants to cause us to drop our guard long enough for him to become a real military threat. So he has two options: (a) create a Potemkin military and try to intimidate us into taking no action, or (b) let it be known how weak he really is, maybe even cause things to look worse than they are, and then argue that if he is weak no action is needed. As is so often the case in Russian la-la land, it seems that no one policy has been chosen and the right hand has chosen (a) while the left is attempting (b). Meanwhile, what we must understand is that it makes no difference. If Russia is weak, then now is the time to act to prevent it from getting strong. If it is strong, then now is the time to at before the actual blows start falling. It’s clear that we haven’t got as much to fear from Russian military action as we might think, just as was the case when the Iraqi army easily capitulated, surprising all. He who hesitates is lost. If we do not take action now, we will be forced to take it later at much greater cost.]

The gap between Putin’s ambitions and his capabilities was evident in August, when he said that regular strategic-bomber flights would resume after a 15-year hiatus. The announcement revived memories of Cold War days, when Soviet and U.S. nuclear- armed bombers patrolled on hair-trigger alert. The reality turned out to be far different. The new patrols are done mostly by aging Tu-95 “Bear” bombers that have turbo- prop rather than jet engines, carry no nuclear weapons and are limited to about one flight a week by budget and equipment constraints, according to Pavel Baev, a military analyst at Oslo’s International Peace Research Institute.

A Shrinking Fleet

The resource crunch affects all military branches, analysts say. The Russian Navy now has one active-duty aircraft carrier — the U.S. has 12 — and its fleet of strategic nuclear submarines is shrinking as vessels wear out and aren’t replaced. The most modern sub, the 11-year-old Yuri Dolgoruky, was designed as a platform for the Bulava-M long-range nuclear missile. The Bulava failed several tests, raising questions about its future and the sub’s utility, Baev said. While Russian defense industries produce some good-quality equipment, especially fighter planes and surface-to-air missiles, most is sold abroad, said John Pike, director of GlobalSecurity.org, an Alexandria, Virginia-based military research group. “They’re basically playing with the same set of toys that Gorbachev gave them,” Pike said, referring to Mikhail Gorbachev, the last Soviet leader.

Russia still fields a formidable nuclear arsenal, with 4,237 warheads deployed on 875 missiles and bombers as of July, according to data compiled by the Arms Control Association, a Washington research group. Only the U.S., with 5,914 warheads on 1,225 missiles and bombers, has more.

Repairs Required

Still, 60 percent of Russian missiles have exceeded their service life and half require major repairs, according to a 2005 Defense Ministry report, Barany said. Just 30 percent of the country’s fighter planes are combat-ready, he said. The Moscow researchers said that if present trends continue, attrition will reduce Russia’s intercontinental missile arsenal to between 100 and 200 in a decade. Russia’s Defense Ministry didn’t respond to written questions about the military’s capability. The head of the Russian Strategic Missile Troops, Colonel- General Nikolai Solovtsov, was quoted by the official Itar-Tass news agency Dec. 17 as saying that Russia would be “compelled” to maintain the strength of its nuclear arsenal because of U.S. plans to base a missile-defense system in Eastern Europe. Manpower problems remain acute, although some — such as chronic late payment of officers’ salaries — have been eased by the budget increases.

Russia’s Spending

Aided by a 255 percent surge in oil prices during Putin’s eight years in office, Russia’s 2007 defense spending was about 821 billion rubles ($33.6 billion), about 15 percent of total government expenditures, according to the London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies. U.S. military spending in 2007 was about $582 billion, or 21 percent of the total federal budget, the institute said. Russia also suffers from endemic draft avoidance, with as many as nine out of 10 of those in the eligible 18-to-26 age group escaping service. “If you’ve got 90 percent draft evasion, those who show up are just too stupid to evade it,” Pike said. “Imagine what kind of military you can put together with that.” Military officials are seeking to make compliance more common by eliminating some deferments and gradually reducing draftees’ terms to one year from two. Meanwhile, they have created all-volunteer units and stationed them in the volatile northern Caucasus, Baev said. “That’s why Georgia has reason to be worried,” he said.

Vested Interest

Russian political leaders have long talked of shifting to a smaller, more professional all-contract military. They have made little progress, partly because of opposition from generals who have a vested interest in blocking the change, analysts say. The generals exploit draftees by using them to do personal work or renting them out as cheap labor to enterprises, with the generals pocketing the fees, said William Hill, a professor at the U.S. National War College in Washington. The military pressures draftees to sign long-term service contracts, according to the Committee of Soldiers’ Mothers, a Moscow-based group that works to expose abuses in the military. The pressure includes sleep deprivation, beatings and threats of transfer to combat zones. Hazing persists even after high-profile cases generated official promises to curb abuses, Baev said. “Soldiers are mistreated in every possible way,” he said. “That’s why it’s so difficult for this army to shift into contract service. You have to treat soldiers differently if they are professionals. Many of the officers aren’t prepared to do this.”

Exposing Russia’s Sham Military

Bloomburg exposes Vladimir Putin’s Potemkin military:

Russia’s military, which once defined its power and is central to President Vladimir Putin’s ambitions for global influence, is lagging behind its energy- driven economic boom. The nation’s armed forces remain beset by manpower and morale problems, aging equipment, graft and unfulfilled promises to overhaul their Cold War-era structure, Western and Russian analysts say. While Putin, 55, has increased Russia’s defense budget to a level four times greater than when he became president in 2000, it is still less than 6 percent of U.S. spending.

“There is this notion in the West that the Russian army is coming back,” said Zoltan Barany, a professor at the University of Texas in Austin who published a book this year about the decline of the Russian military. “They’re not back. Things have started to change, but there’s a long way to go before they’re back, and I don’t think they will ever be back like they were.”

A report last month by Moscow’s Institute for National Strategy and two other independent research groups underscored the lack of progress. It said defense spending during Putin’s tenure had grown only 15 percent after inflation from the 1990s, and that Russia has bought fewer weapons under him because of a “dramatic rise in corruption.”

Outdated Fears

The analysts said military doctrine was still based on outdated fears of war with the West instead of more realistic threats from China or Islamic terrorists. Russian and Western news media “are inflating the myth of an active remilitarization of modern Russia,” the analysts said. “This myth bears no relation to reality.” [LR: Putin obviously wants to cause us to drop our guard long enough for him to become a real military threat. So he has two options: (a) create a Potemkin military and try to intimidate us into taking no action, or (b) let it be known how weak he really is, maybe even cause things to look worse than they are, and then argue that if he is weak no action is needed. As is so often the case in Russian la-la land, it seems that no one policy has been chosen and the right hand has chosen (a) while the left is attempting (b). Meanwhile, what we must understand is that it makes no difference. If Russia is weak, then now is the time to act to prevent it from getting strong. If it is strong, then now is the time to at before the actual blows start falling. It’s clear that we haven’t got as much to fear from Russian military action as we might think, just as was the case when the Iraqi army easily capitulated, surprising all. He who hesitates is lost. If we do not take action now, we will be forced to take it later at much greater cost.]

The gap between Putin’s ambitions and his capabilities was evident in August, when he said that regular strategic-bomber flights would resume after a 15-year hiatus. The announcement revived memories of Cold War days, when Soviet and U.S. nuclear- armed bombers patrolled on hair-trigger alert. The reality turned out to be far different. The new patrols are done mostly by aging Tu-95 “Bear” bombers that have turbo- prop rather than jet engines, carry no nuclear weapons and are limited to about one flight a week by budget and equipment constraints, according to Pavel Baev, a military analyst at Oslo’s International Peace Research Institute.

A Shrinking Fleet

The resource crunch affects all military branches, analysts say. The Russian Navy now has one active-duty aircraft carrier — the U.S. has 12 — and its fleet of strategic nuclear submarines is shrinking as vessels wear out and aren’t replaced. The most modern sub, the 11-year-old Yuri Dolgoruky, was designed as a platform for the Bulava-M long-range nuclear missile. The Bulava failed several tests, raising questions about its future and the sub’s utility, Baev said. While Russian defense industries produce some good-quality equipment, especially fighter planes and surface-to-air missiles, most is sold abroad, said John Pike, director of GlobalSecurity.org, an Alexandria, Virginia-based military research group. “They’re basically playing with the same set of toys that Gorbachev gave them,” Pike said, referring to Mikhail Gorbachev, the last Soviet leader.

Russia still fields a formidable nuclear arsenal, with 4,237 warheads deployed on 875 missiles and bombers as of July, according to data compiled by the Arms Control Association, a Washington research group. Only the U.S., with 5,914 warheads on 1,225 missiles and bombers, has more.

Repairs Required

Still, 60 percent of Russian missiles have exceeded their service life and half require major repairs, according to a 2005 Defense Ministry report, Barany said. Just 30 percent of the country’s fighter planes are combat-ready, he said. The Moscow researchers said that if present trends continue, attrition will reduce Russia’s intercontinental missile arsenal to between 100 and 200 in a decade. Russia’s Defense Ministry didn’t respond to written questions about the military’s capability. The head of the Russian Strategic Missile Troops, Colonel- General Nikolai Solovtsov, was quoted by the official Itar-Tass news agency Dec. 17 as saying that Russia would be “compelled” to maintain the strength of its nuclear arsenal because of U.S. plans to base a missile-defense system in Eastern Europe. Manpower problems remain acute, although some — such as chronic late payment of officers’ salaries — have been eased by the budget increases.

Russia’s Spending

Aided by a 255 percent surge in oil prices during Putin’s eight years in office, Russia’s 2007 defense spending was about 821 billion rubles ($33.6 billion), about 15 percent of total government expenditures, according to the London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies. U.S. military spending in 2007 was about $582 billion, or 21 percent of the total federal budget, the institute said. Russia also suffers from endemic draft avoidance, with as many as nine out of 10 of those in the eligible 18-to-26 age group escaping service. “If you’ve got 90 percent draft evasion, those who show up are just too stupid to evade it,” Pike said. “Imagine what kind of military you can put together with that.” Military officials are seeking to make compliance more common by eliminating some deferments and gradually reducing draftees’ terms to one year from two. Meanwhile, they have created all-volunteer units and stationed them in the volatile northern Caucasus, Baev said. “That’s why Georgia has reason to be worried,” he said.

Vested Interest

Russian political leaders have long talked of shifting to a smaller, more professional all-contract military. They have made little progress, partly because of opposition from generals who have a vested interest in blocking the change, analysts say. The generals exploit draftees by using them to do personal work or renting them out as cheap labor to enterprises, with the generals pocketing the fees, said William Hill, a professor at the U.S. National War College in Washington. The military pressures draftees to sign long-term service contracts, according to the Committee of Soldiers’ Mothers, a Moscow-based group that works to expose abuses in the military. The pressure includes sleep deprivation, beatings and threats of transfer to combat zones. Hazing persists even after high-profile cases generated official promises to curb abuses, Baev said. “Soldiers are mistreated in every possible way,” he said. “That’s why it’s so difficult for this army to shift into contract service. You have to treat soldiers differently if they are professionals. Many of the officers aren’t prepared to do this.”