Russia increasing military budget! Jan 4, 2012 18:05:47 GMT -5
Post by Bozur on Jan 4, 2012 18:05:47 GMT -5
Can Russia see its defence spending plans through?
15 December 2011
Russian President Vladimir Putin's electoral difficulties at the end of 2011 cap a year which began with the announcement of a large uplift in defence spending and a renovation of the country's military capabilities.
Between now and 2020, around $650bn (£400bn) of spending, including the purchase of eight nuclear submarines, 600 jets and 1,000 helicopters, has been planned. Defence spending increases will also allow for the purchase of around 100 warships and four helicopter carriers – including two Mistral carriers from France. In 2012 alone, the country is set to take delivery of dozens of new fighters, bombers, transport aircraft and helicopters.
Of course, Russia's neglected military equipment and infrastructure needs to be updated, and there is no doubt the country is expected to spend money doing so, but some observers are worried that the political system, which has been on the receiving end of election-fixing allegations and protests in recent weeks, means the uplift may simply be designed to bolster the 'tough guy' image of Prime Minister Vladimir Putin.
The background to the expenditure worries is the increasing concern over Putin's apparently autocratic leadership. Despite already having served as Russian president from 2000 to 2008, Putin is expected to return to the presidency next year following four years as prime minister. He was barred from being reappointed for a third term in 2008 by Russia's constitution, but when he returns to the Presidency in 2012, he will be eligible to serve a further two terms, with the term limit raised to six years. If he is as powerful as reports suggest, he could remain as Russia's President until 2024 and have the full-size modernised military at his disposal.
The military spend was decried by finance minister Alexei Kudrin, the man largely credited with protecting Russia from the worst ravages of the global economic troubles in recent years, shortly after it was announced.
In summer 2011, Kudrin said the additional military expenditure, which was later included in the budget despite his protests, would create too much "additional risk" for the economy, as the country had all but depleted the reserve funds that had helped it weather the financial crises. Whether Kudrin was fired or resigned is immaterial, his fiscal plans were not compatible with the far reaching plans for the military and he had to go.
"He [Kudrin] is a real budget hawk," says Henry Jackson Society research fellow Julia Pettengill. "I think if you look at it objectively they do need to be investing in defence to be responsible leaders, but obviously they shouldn't be doing it the way they're doing it and it shouldn't be done by an autocratic regime, which is what Russia has. That is never a good thing.
"Putin is definitely a driving force behind this because the military expenditure has gone up exponentially in the past few years, and obviously nothing of that scale is going to happen without his say so. So he's really been instrumental in pushing that forward and he has got a lot of support within his party."
Recent threats to NATO's missile shield have provided a clear example of the country's potential to take part in its fair share of 'sabre rattling' when it comes to protecting the regime's and Russia's interests. Memories of the South Ossetia war in 2008, too, show that the country is not as averse to conflict as it may publicly state.
"When you look at the upward trajectory of defence spending it's clear that Russia recognises two things," says Pettengill. "One, they recognise that their military capability right now is woefully outdated, which is clear to anyone with just a cursory glance, but I think it also speaks to the sense which has been reiterated many times by Vladimir Putin and by Medvedev and other people in the ruling party, that this is the only way they're going to get respect on the world stage.
"There's an element of Soviet-era nostalgia that as a society they've just not gotten over because I don't think they've adequately confronted their Soviet past as we have seen in other societies that have recovered from living under totalitarianism," she says.
"I think that is breeding all sorts of malignant behaviours, and defence spending is part of that. When you listen to the regime talk about why they need to increase spending, it is quite often phrased in terms that say 'we lost our status as a superpower and we need to get it back'; in a nostalgic, prideful way. So I think that's an element that's worrying as well."
Russia is not completely closed off to outside influence, says Pettengill, but some of the reasoning for the need for a return to a large, powerful military seems to be "fuelled by a distrust of the outside world".
Of course, the country's internal politics is not the only problem facing the military build up. Before other nations worry about aggression from a resurgent, belligerent Russia, the country still has some practical hurdles to overcome.
For one, Russia faces "huge demographic problems" in moving away from a conscript-based to a volunteer military.
"The state of health of young men who would be the prime target for that [military service] is not fantastic in Russia, as we all know," says Pettengill. "If you look at the broader demographic trends of early death rates for young men and people not having enough babies to keep the army in business in a few years' time, then I think defence spending as a whole might end up coming up against these very real walls."
The result is that for all the headline spending figures, the effects of the defence spend may be overstated.
"Even if they do intend it to build an actually stronger defence capacity, the problem is that the corruption is so endemic in Russia, in all aspects of state business, that a lot of this money has already been syphoned off to various corrupt officials.
"So whether or not these modernisations will actually yield anything or whether they'll be too little too late remains to be seen."