Now that Vladimir Putin has resumed the Presidency of Russia, it merits looking at the defense discussion that appeared under his name in Rossiiskaya Gazeta. Virtually everyone agrees that the condition of the Russian Army is parlous and that Putin’s program of difficult military reform to transform the Russian military from a conscripted army to a modernized professional force has not borne fruit. Therefore it is interesting to look at how Putin’s regime articulates it’s defense challenges with a mixture of bravado and brutal strategic realism we would never hear from an American politician.
Excerpts of the article are in bold while my commentary is in normal text.
…..The world is changing, and the transformations underway could hide various risks, often unpredictable risks. In a world of economic and other upheaval, there is always the temptation to resolve one’s problems at another’s expense, through pressure and force. It is no surprise that some are calling for resources of global significance to be freed from the exclusive sovereignty of a single nation, and that this issue will soon be raised as a “matter-of-course.”
There will be no possibility of this, even a hypothetical one, with respect to Russia. In other words, we should not tempt anyone by allowing ourselves to be weak.
While some of this is boilerplate, it does demonstrate Putin’s astute view of Western elite noises about “global governance” as an effort to erode historic Westphalian legal norms of sovereignty for a self-aggrandizing reasons.
I am including paragraphs here from different parts of the paper where President Putin deals with nuclear weapons, though the first one continues from where the last excerpt left off.:
It is for this reason that we will under no circumstances surrender our strategic deterrent capability, and indeed, will in fact strengthen it. It was this strength that enabled us to maintain our national sovereignty during the extremely difficult 1990s, when, lets’ be frank, we did not have anything else to argue with.
….I remember in 2002 when the Chief of the General Staff proposed liquidating a base for strategic ballistic missile submarines on the Kamchatka Peninsula. Understandably, this proposal was motivated by dire circumstances. This would have deprived Russia of its naval presence in the Pacific Ocean. I decided against this. Due to the lack of the required budgetary funding, we had to ask private companies for help. I would like to thank them for that. Both Surgutneftegaz and TNK stepped up to provide the required funding for the base’s initial reconstruction. Budgetary allocations were later disbursed. Today, we have a modern base in Vilyuchinsk where next-generation Borei class submarines will soon be deployed.
….We have greatly increased the capabilities of our early missile warning system. Tracking stations have been launched in the Leningrad and Kaliningrad Regions and in Armavir, and a similar facility is undergoing tests in Irkutsk. All aerospace defence brigades have been equipped with the Universal-1S automation systems, and the Glonass satellite group has been deployed.
The land, sea and air components of our Strategic Nuclear Forces are reliable and sufficient. The proportion of modern land-based missile systems has grown from 13% to 25% over the past four years. The rearmament of 10 missile regiments with the Topol-M and Yars strategic missile systems will be continued. Long-range aviation will maintain the fleet of strategic Tu-160 and Tu-95MS bombers; work is underway to modernise them. They will be equipped with a new long-range cruise missile system. Russia’s strategic aviation resumed combat patrols in their zone of responsibility in 2007. A new aircraft is being designed for strategic long-range aviation.
New-generation Borei class strategic submarines are being put on combat duty. These include the Yury Dolgoruky and Alexander Nevsky which are undergoing state trials.
….In the coming decade, Russian armed forces will be provided with over 400 modern land and sea-based inter-continental ballistic missiles, 8 strategic ballistic missile submarines….
This does not sound like Putin puts much stock in his predecessor’s endorsement of Global Zero or President Obama’s goal of eliminating nuclear weapons. Or that a drastic unilateral American cut in nuclear weapons proposed by Global Zero to “break the triad” contemplated by the Obama administration would be reciprocated by Russia. Or any other nuclear power state.
Given that Pakistan, India, North Korea, Israel and China are reportedly increasing and improving their nuclear arsenals, it begs the question of whether the Obama or the Putin administrations have the most realistic view about nuclear weapons and their currency in international relations. Or what the Obama administration would use as bargaining chips to negotiate reductions in foreign nuclear arsenals after making gratuitously slashing unilateral cuts. And if the paper was not clear enough, Putin was more blunt about the strategic situation two days ago:
“With regard to further steps in the sphere of nuclear weapons, these further steps should be of a complex character, and this time all the nuclear powers should be involved in this process. We cannot disarm indefinitely while some other nuclear powers are building up their arsenal. It is out of the question!”
On the subject of Russia’s land forces:
….There are no undermanned units in the Russian armed forces any more. The Army has over 100 combined and special brigades. These are full-scale military units with the requisite personnel and equipment. Their alert reaction time is one hour and they can be deployed to a potential theatre of war within 24 hours.
In the past, it took up to five days to prepare for combat readiness. The deployment and equipment of all the armed forces to wartime conditions could take nearly a year, even though most armed conflicts now last from a few hours to several days.
Why have we chosen the brigade as the main tactical unit? First of all, we have relied on our own experience in the Afghan and other wars, where mobile combat and assault groups reinforced with air and other support units have proved more efficient than regiments and divisions.
The new brigades are smaller than divisions in the number of personnel but have a bigger strike capability, better firepower and support, including artillery, air defence, reconnaissance, communications, and so on. Brigades can operate both autonomously and jointly with other units. I admit that the quality is not perfect in all instances. We need to achieve the required standards in the near future.
A Russian Army brigade numbers slightly over 4000 soldiers (vs. 3000-5000 in American and NATO militaries) and moving to a brigade structure is intended to make the Russian Army more versatile, flexible, deployable and mobile. The US essentially did the same thing with the “modularity” reforms for a brigade team force structure. However, I find it dubious that the Russian version is anything other than an aspirational work in progress or that Russia today could muster a force remotely approaching 100 combat brigades on short notice or keep them in the field for more than thirty days.
The old Soviet Red Army in the 80′s at the peak of it’s power was a military long on officers and critically deficient in NCOs and the 90′s cratered the main force quality of what remained of the Soviet armies. Russia will not have a deployable fighting army for anything other than brief Georgia type raids and SPETSNAZ operations until it builds a proportionate NCO corps and modernized logistical support system.
On future war and it’s strategic context:
….The probability of a global war between nuclear powers is not high, because that would mean the end of civilisation. As long as the “powder” of our strategic nuclear forces created by the tremendous efforts of our fathers and grandfathers remains dry, nobody will dare launch a large-scale aggression against us.
However, it should be borne in mind that technological progress in many varied areas, from new models of weaponry and military hardware to information and communications technology, has dramatically changed the nature of armed conflicts. Thus, as high-precision long-range conventional weapons become increasingly common, they will tend to become the means of achieving a decisive victory over an opponent, including in a global conflict.
The military capability of a country in space or information countermeasures, especially in cyberspace, will play a great, if not decisive, role in determining the nature of an armed conflict. In the more distant future, weapons systems based on new principles (beam, geophysical, wave, genetic, psychophysical and other technology) will be developed. All this will, in addition to nuclear weapons, provide entirely new instruments for achieving political and strategic goals. Such hi-tech weapons systems will be comparable in effect to nuclear weapons but will be more “acceptable” in terms of political and military ideology. In this sense, the strategic balance of nuclear forces will play a gradually diminishing role in deterring aggression and chaos.
We see ever new regional and local wars breaking out in the world. We continue to see new areas of instability and deliberately managed chaos. There also are purposeful attempts to provoke such conflicts even within the direct proximity of Russia’s and its allies’ borders.
The basic principles of international law are being degraded and eroded, especially in terms of international security.
Here we see much of the same keen interest Western military experts have had in RMA/”transformation” but more as new domains in which to fight or weapons to fight with, but Putin’s assumptions about the roots of international conflict remain exceedingly traditional in Clausewitzian and Machiavellian realpolitik senses. There’s no idea here that war’s political nature is being transformed by technological advances or even that breakdowns in order in other nations flow primarily from indigenous social forces than from strategic conspiracies and manipulations of foreign powers hell-bent on humiliating Russia.
This is a worldview of cynical realism salted with nationalism and a paranoia induced by the lessons of centuries of Russian history. International relations, it follows, hinge primarily on power in all it’s manifestations, a few rules that separate the law of nations from the law of the jungle and that states exert power to accomplish rational strategic objectives. Furthermore, in an echo of Tsarist Russia’s last modernizer, Petr Stolypin, what Putin has put forth as a political program for his domestic audience (sincere or not) is “a great Russia”.
The good news is that President Putin is, unlike his Soviet predecessors, is uninterested in grand ideological crusades that would destabilize the world order and that Russia currently would be incapable of carrying any out. The bad news is that Putin is a shrewd strategic thinker, one who views the US as a long-term adversary of Russia and one who is likely to be highly antagonized and partially misread (and thus miscalculate) the tactical geopolitics of intervention pursued by America’s R2P moralizers.
From Putin’s perspective, we are currently crusaders rather than deal-cutters grounded in reality. America does not need to appease other power,s but we’d further our own interests faster if we spent a little time looking at the world through the eyes of others
Hat tip to Lexington Green