A Russian soldier making the sign of the cross before an icon. Russia's largely conscript army is being slashed to make way for a cheaper and smaller military.
Continuing Russia Blog's recent run of posts about Austin-based commentators and personalities, U.S. Army Reserve Colonel Austin Bay (an ocassional guest professor at my alma mater of the University of Texas at Austin) has an excellent post over at his Strategy Page website about the recently announced cutbacks in Russia's military budget. The notion that Russia is engaged in a military buildup to challenge the West, which was popularized last year during the brief war between Russia and Georgia, has taken a hard hit from the realities of the global economic meltdown. The Kremlin is trying to patch huge holes in the Russian federal budget left by the collapse of world crude oil prices from $95 per barrel to less than $40 a barrel.
Click on the extended post to read more.
New Sukhoi 30 jets for India, but not very many for Russia
Georgia War Exposed Russian Military's Weaknesses
Russia's conventional armed forces were already in poor condition when they were called on to repel the Georgian assault on South Ossetia and then to invade Georgia in August 2008. Some Russian commanders reportedly had to resort to using easily monitored cellphones to communicate with their troops during the Georgia War. A Russian bomber on a reconnaissance mission was shot down with the fatal loss of its entire crew by a Georgian surface to air missile because the Russian Air Force did not have any unmanned aerial vehicles to survey the battlefield inside Georgia.
Now it looks like the replacement of worn out equipment built during the Soviet era and the early Nineties will have to be postponed indefinitely. Russia's air force and army will receive only token orders of new fighter jets and tanks, while the most advanced Russian weapons will continue to be sold to China and India. Ambitious government announcements from 2007 and early 2008 about the Russian Navy planning new carrier battle groups to project power on the world's oceans now read like Cold War-era fantasies.
Selling Weapons to Everyone But Russia?
Col. Bay gets the story right when he reports that some Russian defense analysts are concerned that the Chinese are simply reverse engineering and stealing Russian designs like the Sukhoi series of fighter jets rather than continuing to pay for these advanced Russian weapons systems. A few are even worried that one day Russia's most advanced weapons might be used against the Motherland. Last month a Russian coast guard patrol boat shot up a Chinese freighter that had strayed into Russian territorial waters in the Pacific, angering Beijing, which has demanded a detailed explanation of the incident from Moscow. Even if China and Russia both oppose any long term U.S. presence in former Soviet Central Asia, mutual suspicions dating back to the 1960s still linger among these "frenemies".
The Russian Brass Push Back
Some Russian senior generals have harshly criticized the Kremlin's ambitious plans to cut Russia's mostly conscript force of over one million active duty conscripts to a much smaller military of a few hundred thousand professionals (known as kontrakti). Nonetheless, the Kremlin is acknowledging the reality that Russia's falling demographics and shrinking federal budgets do not allow it to maintain such a huge military anymore. There are simply no longer enough healthy young Russian men whose parents are willing to see their sons be sent off to remote regions of Russia to serve for little or no pay (and sometimes at the risk of being brutally hazed by their comrades in the practice of the so-called dedovshina). The bribe to invent some medical ailment for young men under the age limit of 27 for military service has ranged from $5,000 in the regions to $10,000 or more in Moscow. Hundreds of thousands of more fortunate young Russians in the past few years have gone through a brief round of ROTC style reservist training, before returning to college and work.
A Military for the Threats Russia Could Face in the 21st Century
It remains to be seen if the new Russian military, with a more professional officer corps that is more occupied with training and less with trying to come up with ways to survive on woeful salaries, will prove more effective. Thrashing the small and demoralized forces of tiny Georgia was an easy task, compared to securing Russia's vast borders over decades during a very unpredictable 21st century. Russia's Ambassador to NATO, Dmitry Rogozin, recently called out the U.S. and NATO, declaring that the Western powers did not have the political will to stay and fight in Afghanistan for years to come. Ambassador Rogozin suggested that in the event the Americans and NATO were to withdraw in defeat like the Soviets did back in 1989, Russia might have to deploy troops to protect its former Soviet satellites from Taliban-backed insurgencies within a few years.
Other Russian defense analysts are concerned that if China's economy begins to severely contract during an extended global economic crisis, that a Chinese regime facing the threat of massive internal unrest could turn to expansionism. Russia has one of the world's longest borders with China, and its Far Eastern regions are rich in natural resources but remain sparsely populated compared to the Chinese regions on the border. The amount of Chinese migration into Russia's Far East, however, has been somewhat exaggerated in the Russian media.
However unlikely these worse-case scenarios may seem to analysts in the West, many in Russia will continue to repeat the centuries-old slogan that "Russia has no allies except her army and navy."