Just as in Soviet Times, Russia’s Military Budget Sucks the Nation’s Lifeblood

The USSR was destroyed from within as the Communist regime devoted an ever-larger share of the national income to military spending.  Now, Russia is going right back down that same path of total failure, for reasons that defy comprehension. Time magazine reports:

Russia’s leaders are getting used to cutting budgets this year. As the country sinks deeper into recession — unemployment, according to some estimates, is as high as 12% and the economy is predicted to shrink by about 4.5% in 2009 — the government is slashing spending at most of its ministries. The Energy Ministry’s budget is down by 33%, and that of the Transport Ministry by 30%. But there is one hugely expensive project on which President Dmitri Medvedev has vowed to actually increase spending: transforming Russia’s creaking Soviet-era defense industry into a modern technological power, and turning the 1.1-million-man Russian army into a leaner but more effective fighting force.

To get there Medvedev has increased government military spending this year by nearly 26% to about $37 billion, and given military producers of strategic weapons like missile systems and aircraft an extra $1.9 billion in 2009. In late March, just days before flying to the G-20 summit in London, the President donned a military pilot’s helmet and uniform at an air base near Moscow for a ride in the back of a Sukhoi-34 fighter bomber, one of Russia’s most sophisticated and deadly pieces of hardware. Afterwards he told reporters that it was time to modernize the country’s entire air-force fleet. “We have the momentum and people who want to serve their country,” he said. “Much is yet to be done.” (See pictures of Russia on Victory Day.)

That’s an understatement. Russia’s military is still largely a remnant of the Soviet days, when the Red Army’s millions were spread across a vast swath of Eastern Europe and Central Asia. When the Soviet empire began collapsing in 1989, Russia lost the bulk of its foot soldiers, as well as several key defense-related industries, ranging from shipbuilding in Ukraine to nuclear enrichment in Kazakhstan, according to an analysis of Russia’s military in February by Stratfor, a U.S. company. The upheaval also forced many of Russia’s finest engineers to quit for better-paid jobs abroad. Defense factories across Russia lumbered through the 1990s, many of them barely seeing a splash of paint. Meanwhile the Russian army filled its ranks with reluctant conscripts; recent Russian newspaper and government reports have found physical abuse, drug addiction and alcoholism rampant among the poorly trained, disaffected soldiers.

The limitations of both equipment and men became obvious during Russia’s five-day war with Georgia last August. Despite Russia’s superior firepower and its bigger army, its ground offensive was not the overwhelming success it should have been. Moscow’s military arsenal lacked anything to match Georgia’s Israeli-made spy drones, according to Paul Holtom, senior researcher at the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI). Indeed, Russian troops operated with no modern surveillance or night-vision equipment at all, according to Russian Duma hearings last October. Says Vadim Kozyulin, head of the conventional-arms program at the Center for Policy Studies in Moscow: “Our army was modern at the end of the 1980s. Since then it has been allowed to stagnate.”

But there is one area where Russia’s military has boomed during the past few years: arms exports. Moscow earned a record $8.3 billion in arms sales in 2008, second in the world to the U.S., which accounts for more than 40% of global defense spending. Moscow has been particularly good at targeting buyers in the developing world. Between 2004 and 2007 Russia sold $37.9 billion worth of military equipment — outstripping even the U.S. in that period — to more than 80 developing nations on every populated continent. Russian arms manufacturers have cut deals for everything from helicopters to tanks and rifles. Among eager customers have been North Korea, Iran, China and Venezuela, which are barred from buying Western weaponry under various sanction regulations. The embargoes have had the effect of recruiting new clients for Moscow. “Venezuela’s jets used to be [American] F-16s,” says Richard Grimmett, who tracks global arms sales for the Congressional Research Service in Washington. “Well guess what? We ain’t selling squat to Venezuela.”

Russia’s strategy is twofold. It wants to use the huge profits it makes selling arms around the world as a platform on which to relaunch its own defense forces. But the arms sales are not only about money. Moscow hopes that as Venezuela and other countries grow more dependent on Russian weapons, political and economic ties will also grow, increasing Russia’s global heft. “The West sees it as saber-rattling, but for Russia it is about retaking what it sees as its rightful position in the world,” says Guy Anderson, editor of Jane’s World Defence Industry in London.

Russia has crafted its role by using its two most valuable assets — vast energy resources and mountains of military hardware — to cut a series of clever deals. In 2006, for example, then President Vladimir Putin flew a delegation of oil, gas and defense executives to Algeria. Putin negotiated to sell $7.5 billion worth of combat jets, missiles and tanks to the government, while Russian energy giants Gazprom and Lukoil secured key oil and gas concessions in the North African nation. And Putin offered an extra sweetener: he wrote off Algeria’s near $5 billion Soviet-era debt. Then there was the deal Putin cut with Libya just before he stepped down from the presidency to become Prime Minister: that one involved an agreement to sell $2.5 billion worth of arms, while cancelling Libya’s $4 billion Soviet debt. Or there was last October’s agreement with Venezuela in which Medvedev gave Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez a $1.1 billion credit line so the country could add to its arsenal of Russian weapons.

Funds and Talent Needed

For Russia’s arms-export boom to continue, its defense industries need a huge infusion of fresh funds and talent. Russia’s defense department buys only 15% of the weaponry the country’s factories produce, while old customers such as India and China have begun producing their own weapons in the past decade or so. Unless Russia modernizes its factories, Moscow could lose more clients, says the Stratfor analysis. If that happens, the report states, “the Russian defense industry will be hard-pressed to keep from becoming irrelevant.”

That’s why Russian officials from the President on down have made it clear in the past few months that more money — and hence a modernization of defense-industry facilities — is on its way. And why much of the money is heading to companies that produce prized exports such as the Sukhoi fighter jets. But finding enough talent to overhaul Russia’s rusting production lines may prove tough. Defense companies did not recruit and train engineers during the recessionary 1990s, leaving the average age of a worker in the industry at about 60, according to Kozyulin.

And finding engineers may actually prove easier than getting enough good recruits to bolster the army. The Kremlin plans to retire about half the army’s 300,000 aging officers over the next three to six years, and train hundreds of thousands of fresh, paid soldiers in modern warfare. But today’s high school graduates were born when Russia’s birth rate hit an all-time low in the early 1990s, and were raised during the disastrous Chechen war. Near the decrepit train station of Vladimir, a military town near Moscow, an army-recruiting center promises a life of adventure for those who sign up. THE ARMY OF RUSSIA — AN ARMY OF PROFESSIONALS, says a billboard, showing a young man in a leather military helmet peering out of a tank scope. Not yet, it isn’t. But money always helps.

16 responses to “Just as in Soviet Times, Russia’s Military Budget Sucks the Nation’s Lifeblood

  1. Despite Russia’s superior firepower and its bigger army, its ground offensive was not the overwhelming success it should have been.

    Really? So what part of the breakaway republics of South Ossetia and Abkhazia does Saakashvili still hold then?

    At least before the August 2008 war Georgian forces still controlled the disputed strategic Kodori Gorge, in Abkhazia, and now Georgia controls… drum roll… absolutely nothing, in either of the two breakaway republics.

    So how is this then not an “overwhelming success” for Russia? Explain your answer please.

    I suppose next you’ll be claiming that Russia’s decisive victory over Nazi Germany was really not the “overwhelming success” that it ought to have been, since more Russians lost their lives in WWII than Germans did.

    But what counts in war is victory and only that. The August 2008 war between Russia and Georgia is over. Georgia lost. get over it already, for the sake of your own mental health if nothing else.

    The fraction of Russia’s GDP that Russia chooses to devote to its national defense is Russia’s business, and no one else’s. The U.S. currently spends more on its military than the rest of the world put together, including Russia and China both.

    The fact that the U.S. really doesn’t have such money to spend on its military, but instead has to borrow that money, mostly from foreign countries, is not material.

    When Russian military expenditures surpass those of the U.S., then and only then will the U.S. acquire the right to criticize Russia’s alleged “militarism.”

    • Lets see Misha, considering that Russia failed in its primary objective of overthrowing the pro western Georgian government, was exposed as a ramshackle rustbucket equipped group of murdering rapists and looters, and lost 3 times as many aircraft as the Georgians, was internationaly exposed as a sponsor of ethnic cleansing (again), and shown to be a nation of true hypocrites, these are all pretty big losses.
      Not to mention the fact that a force of Georgians outnumbered nearly 10 to one managed to hold the Russians out of Tshkinvali for nearly 4 days before being ordered to withdraw.
      Leaves the “glorious Russian army” looking a bit sick.
      And spare me the “Professional NATO trained army” BS. The troops trained by the US were all in Iraq, what the Russians mainly faced was troops trained and equipped in the same manner as themselves (T-72, BMP, AK’s, Mil-24, BTR) who were also young conscripts.

    • “I suppose next you’ll be claiming that Russia’s decisive victory over Nazi Germany was really not the “overwhelming success” that it ought to have been, since more Russians lost their lives in WWII than Germans did.”

      Of course. The US victory was overhelming success. USSR was devastated and decimated, Britain was bankrupted, and the “French victory” was a joke.

  2. Andrew, the fact still remains that Saakashvili attacked first.

    Some people, such as former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, maintain that the U.S. had no foreknowledge of the Georgian attack. Ms. Rice claims that while U.S. intelligence did pick up something that looked like Georgian preparations for an attack, the U.S. counseled Saakashvili “not to do it.”

    Others claim that “of course the U.S. knew.” After all, how could tiny Georgia, no mere “equal ally” of the U.S., but a “client state” in every sense of the word, have launched large scale attacks along the Russian border, without Georgia’s U.S. masters and puppeteers at least knowing about (and approving of) such plans?

    Why did Saakashvili steadfastly reject the Russian proposals made in the months before the outbreak of the Aug 08 war, to pledge “mutual non-use of force” in settling the issue of the breakaway republics? Do you now deny that Russia ever made such proposals and that Georgia refused to accept them? (Keep in mind that we are not talking about “ancient history” here, but things which can easily be verified.)

    Contrary to what you claim, Russia never had as its primary objective “regime change” nor to occupy Georgia long term.

    It’s more than obvious that if Russia had wanted to take Tbilisi then it was Russia’s for the taking, in Aug 08, with Russian forces perched on the outskirts of the city and Georgian forces in a state of total chaos and route. (Or are you now claiming that Georgia miraculously mobilized its reserves, at the very last minute, and somehow beat back the advancing Russian forces, thus keeping the “hero” Saakashvili in power?)

    The USSR is gone and Russia has no intention of trying to “reconstitute” it. (Not that Russia or Russians were ever the ‘prime movers’ behind the old Bolshevik USSR to begin with.)

    Russia’s days as an “imperialist” power are over, and Russia knows that better than anyone. But what Russia has grasped, which the U.S. has apparently yet to grasp, is that old-style imperialism, even as a general category of behavior, is already completely defunct on modern world stage.

    • No Misha, the fact is that the Georgians endured weeks of escalating attacks from Russian sponsored separatists on Georgian villages in the conflict zone.

      As Pavel Felgenhauer stated, the wheels began to fall off the Russian operation as Russians began to indulge in their time honoured pursuits of rape, murder, and pillage.

      The majority of the Georgian military withdrew in fairly good order and were dug in around Tbilisi, the talk of a rout was mostly a media beat up.

      Russia captured tanks in Tshkinvali because there were no tank transporters, but the artillery and infantry withdrew in good order.

      What is most likely is that after getting a bloody nose in a small provincial city like Tshkinvali, the Russian military (which has a well founded dislike of fighting in built up areas) decided that it was better to await the (kremlin promised) uprising against Saakashvili, rather than suffer potentially heavy casualties, and the international condemnation that would surely follow, that would result from assaulting a city of over 1.5 million people.

      Russia has and still has a policy of regime change in Georgia, or did you miss the part where that pederast Lavrov stated publicly “Russia desires regime change in Georgia”

      • Actually a battery of Czech-made artillery was abandoned road to Tbilisi.

        And forget Lavrov – Putin said openly to Sarkozy he wanted to hang Saakashvili “by the balls” (his usual mafia-speak “diplomatic” lingo).

    • “Contrary to what you claim, Russia never had as its primary objective “regime change” nor to occupy Georgia long term.”

      So, why is it still occupying territories that were seized in the war – despite signing official ceasefire agreement (Sarkozy deal) to leave to their positions before the war? (For me eight already months is quite “long”.)

  3. Russia, unlike the U.S., is not interested in fighting perpetual “counter insurgency” wars against people that simply don’t want them there. (Russia learned its lesson in Afghanistan, which is the same lesson that the U.S. learned and then apparently forgot from Vietnam.)

    But the people of South Ossetia and Abkhazia very much want Russia there (perhaps for no other reason than that they have no other viable defense against Georgian aggression). That makes all the difference in the world, and that explains why Russian forces are today in South Ossetia and Abkhazia (and not in Georgia).

    If South Ossetia and Abkhazia ask Russia to leave, then Russia will leave. But frankly I don’t see that happening, since no other country–save Nicaragua–is even willing to recognize them as separate and distinct peoples and nations.

    • Just like you left when the Chechens, Ingush, Daghesh etc asked you to leave?
      You really are a hypocrite!
      Russia not interested in imperial expansion?
      Is that why your government demands a “Special zone of influence”
      As for “Georgian agression”, it was separatists that attacked and massacred Georgians in 92-94 in Abkhazia, when Georgians were the largest ethnic group in both provinces, and with considerable military aid from Russia the separatists, in an orgy of mass murder and looting ethnicly cleansed the Georgians from Abkhazia and Samurchubalo.
      Like all Russians you are a total hypocrite.

    • “Russia, unlike the U.S., is not interested in fighting perpetual “counter insurgency” wars against people that simply don’t want them there. (Russia learned its lesson in Afghanistan, which is the same lesson that the U.S. learned and then apparently forgot from Vietnam.)”

      Whoops, Chechnya (Dagestan, Ingushetia, KBR).

      “That makes all the difference in the world, and that explains why Russian forces are today in South Ossetia and Abkhazia (and not in Georgia).”

      Go and look on the world map again.

      “If South Ossetia and Abkhazia ask Russia to leave, then Russia will leave. ”

      Just like Russia let Chechnya leave?

      “But frankly I don’t see that happening, since no other country–save Nicaragua–is even willing to recognize them as separate and distinct peoples and nations.”

      No, no other country is willing to recognise them as not part of Georgia.

  4. redRat - Misha

    “the fact still remains that Saakashvili attacked first”

    The fact still remains, that Russia acted like occupying force for years, refusing to be replaced by international true peace keepers, was the main factor behind all the armed provocations, armed and trained separatists, prevented peaceful solution, intensively prepared for war and brought into South Ossetia units of regular army which were not supposed to be there in the first place.

    So Georgians striking at the Russian army flowing across the border into their country and at the collaborating militants of the Russian installed puppet regime hardly qualifies as “attacking first”. You may or may not call it an “overreaction”, but is definitely a valid self defense in front of clear and present danger.

    Some have said that Georgians overreacted, but I see no reason why they should have waited to find out if the true purpose behind massive influx of the Russian regular army is to cut their throats exactly now or maybe not yet this time but some time later.

  5. Just like you left when the Chechens, Ingush, Daghesh etc asked you to leave?

    Andrew, so if a small “breakaway” territory, which happens to already be incorporated inside the territory of an existing UN-member state, seeks its independence, then you can give me an coherent answer as to whether that independence ought to be granted or not?

    A “coherent” answer here is one that not only includes would-be breakways inside Russia (such as Chechnya) but also includes South Ossetia and Abkhazia.

    But what about Kosovo?

    I suspect that you could not write a “law” which would apply equally to everyone in such cases, because in fact you are the one who is a “hypocrite,” not me.

    In the end your logic could only boil down to “might makes right” (at least when speaking about Kosovo). But why shouldn’t that “principle” apply in all other similar cases then?

    Kosovo is “independent” (although the UN still considers it to be a part of Serbia) because NATO had the “might” to make it so, Serbia’s (and Russia’s) strong objections notwithstanding.

    South Ossetia and Abkhazia are independent because Russia had the might to make it so, NATO’s strong objections to the contrary notwithstanding.

    Chechnya is not independent because Russia won the war. Again, might makes right.

    But who started it? It should be kept in mind that the original wars between Georgia and South Ossetia and Abkhazia were in the early 1990’s. Though Russia took the side of the breakaways, Russia never formally recognized their independence, until after the West had already set the “Kosovo Precedent” (This precedent means “might makes right,” if it means anything).

    If Russia agrees to betray its allies and friends in South Ossetia and Abkhazia, and hands these breakaway regions back to Georgia, will the US and NATO agree then to betray their Muslim friends in Kosovo–who happen biggest human and heroin traffickers in Europe–and dismantle the US “Camp Bondsteel” military base in Kosovo, the biggest US military base in Europe?

    If no, then no, frankly. Go to hell.

    • “A “coherent” answer here is one that not only includes would-be breakways inside Russia (such as Chechnya) but also includes South Ossetia and Abkhazia.”

      What a stupid answer. Georgia did not give Chechens passports and then invade Russia to save them.

      Actually, Georgia even closed border for Chechen refugees in 1999 so they were stranded there for weeks, before they were finally let in in small numbers (just 4,000 people – of whom 1,000 are still there).

      “In the end your logic could only boil down to “might makes right” (at least when speaking about Kosovo). But why shouldn’t that “principle” apply in all other similar cases then?”

      Kosovo’s declaration of independence was quickly recognised by many countries, and not just Venezuela (1 country).

      In the case of Kosovo, also since 2008, it was 57 (fifty-seven) UN-member countries – just last week joined by Gambia.

      “Chechnya is not independent because Russia won the war. Again, might makes right.”

      Russia lost the war (in 1996).

      But the international status of Chechnya was scheluded to be agreed upon by Moscow and Grozny “before 2001”. Anyway, in the Kremlin peace treaty (signed between Russia and the Chechen Republic of Ichkeria and not just the Chechen Republic) Russia promised to not use force in relations with Chechnya “forever” (to “not repeat the tragic history”). Invaded again in 1999.

      “If Russia agrees to betray its allies and friends in South Ossetia and Abkhazia”

      They did already – no promised reconstruction in South Ossetia, no promised money (what they looted in the war is not enough for them apparently), only Russian occupational troops in the areas they promised to withdraw from in ceasefire accord.

      “will the US and NATO agree then to betray their Muslim friends in Kosovo–who happen biggest human and heroin traffickers in Europe”

      No, it’s the Russian mafia (heroin from Afghanistan, made by their Taliban Muslim friends).

      Russia is also in Europe, mind you (or at least its capital Moscow is).

  6. “(See pictures of Russia on Victory Day.)”

    Best Victory Day ever:

  7. Misha, you are not that bright. All your so called attempts to present russia in a better light is fruitless and hypocritical.

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