Friday, October 24, 2008

Russia striving to modernize military, U.S. notes with interest, not alarm

International Herald Tribune
Published: October 20, 2008
WASHINGTON: As they tracked Russian military maneuvers in recent days, the American government's career Kremlin-watchers might have been forgiven for wondering if they were seeing recycled newsreels from the worst of the bad old days.
A huge exercise, called Stability 2008, spread tens of thousands of troops, thousands of vehicles and scores of combat aircraft across nearly all 11 time zones of Russian territory in the largest war game since the collapse of the Soviet Union.
There was no specified enemy, but the Russian forces appeared to be enacting a nationwide effort to quell unrest along Russia's southern border — and to repulse an American-led attack by NATO forces, according to experts in Moscow and here.
In a grim finale, commanders launched three intercontinental ballistic missiles, the type that can carry multiple nuclear warheads. It was a clear signal of the drastic endgame the Kremlin might consider should its conventional forces not hold. One of the missiles flew more than 7,100 miles, allowing Russian officials to claim they had set a distance record.
If these images of Russian power projection appeared drawn from the dark decades of Dr.
When asked to assess what seemed to be a Russian resurgence, Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, have provided the same sanguine response, echoed down through the ranks of government analysts who have spent years reading obscure Russian military journals and scrutinizing classified satellite photographs.
The Russian military fell to third world standards from neglect and budget cuts in the turbulent years when Boris Yeltsin was president, they say. The new Kremlin leadership is working to create a force that can actually defend the nation's interests.
The military has embarked upon a program to buy modern weapons, improve training and health care for troops, trim a bloated officer corps and create the first professional class of sergeant-level, small-unit leaders since World War II.
Which is not to say that the United States will stop judging Russian behavior in light of what it considers a clumsy, ill-advised and unnecessary invasion of the former Soviet republic of Georgia.
Yet policymakers also say the Kremlin's efforts at military modernization should not prevent cooperation on mutual concerns, including countering terrorism and halting nuclear proliferation.
Even a high-profile speech three weeks ago by President Dmitri A. Medvedev, ordering a military modernization program and the largest increases in defense spending since the death of the old USSR, was viewed here as short on substance and designed more for a domestic political agenda.
Medvedev declared that by 2020, Russia would construct new types of warships and an unspecified air and space defense system. Military spending, he said, will leap by 26 percent next year, bringing it to 1.3 trillion rubles (about $50 billion), its highest level since the collapse of the Soviet Union — but still a small fraction of American military spending.
Medvedev pledged that Russia would shore up its nuclear deterrence and upgrade its conventional forces to a state of "permanent combat readiness."
American experts were unimpressed. "Russia is prone to make fairly grandiose announcements about its military," said a Defense Department official who discussed government analyses on condition of anonymity. "These programs have long been in the works. They are not new plans. They are not new programs."
Even so, veteran analysts of Russian military affairs acknowledge that a military renaissance would allow the Moscow leadership to increase political pressure on former Soviet republics, now independent, as well as former Warsaw Pact allies that embraced NATO after the collapse of communism.
"What the Russian leadership has discovered is proof of an old maxim: that a foreign policy without a credible military is no foreign policy," said Dale Herspring, a scholar on Russian military affairs at Kansas State University.
Eugene Rumer, of the National Defense University here, said events of recent weeks were "not a sign, really, of the Russian military being reborn, but more of a Russia being able to flex what relatively little muscle it has on the global scale, and to show that it actually matters."
One example is how Russia's navy is seeking to display global reach. A flotilla of warships, including the nuclear battle cruiser Peter the Great, is under sail for exercises next month with Venezuela.
Russia has also announced more than $1 billion in new arms deals with the Venezuelan president, Hugo Chávez.
"This Venezuela adventure is basically Russia's payback for what they consider the humiliation of American ships' operating in the Black Sea during the war in Georgia," said Mikhail Tsypkin, of the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, California. "This is to annoy the United States."

No comments: