How Russia is managing its defense cuts

A new study shows Russia's defense budget has taken a big hit. In its annual report on global military spending, the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute highlighted a 20 percent drop in Russian defense spending between 2016 and 2017. The report suggests that Russia's economic troubles have put a dent in Moscow's aspirations to continue with elevated defense spending, but the 20 percent figure does require some context to be fully understood. Russian military modernization will move forward in the coming year, but the Kremlin will increasingly need to make tough choices about what it prioritizes.

After reducing its military spending during the 1990s following the collapse of the Soviet Union, Russia has sought to revitalize its military under President Vladimir Putin by steadily increasing its defense budget. Aided by a growing economy and rising energy prices, the pace of Russian military modernization further sped up after the 2008 Russo-Georgian War, which revealed the continued structural weaknesses in Russia's military capabilities. Five years later, significant investments into the Russian military paid off when the country utilized its increasingly sophisticated and capable military machine for operations in Ukraine and Syria.

But at the same time that Moscow was flexing its newly invigorated military muscles in Ukraine and Syria, Russia was hit by a double blow of lowered energy prices and painful sanctions from the United States and its allies in the West. The resulting Russian recession from 2014 to 2017 forced the Kremlin to make hard financial decisions. And as the recent study indicates, this included a considerable decrease in Russia's military spending.

... As prior Stratfor analysis has indicated, Russia will likely continue to prioritize its strategic nuclear arsenal, precision munitions and electronic warfare. The conventional navy, meanwhile, will likely be impacted most by spending cuts.
The Russian navy has been exposed as something less than stellar by its performance in Syria.  It has some sub-launched missiles that have been effective but in limited strikes.  It raises questions about how deep their arsenal is.  Its one aircraft carrier was a bust, destroying more Russian planes than the enemy it faced in Syria.

Russia has attempted air force modernization but its advanced aircraft are limited in numbers.  I suspect the Israeli air force is more potent than the one the Russians have brought to Syria.  It seems clear that the Russian defense budget can't keep up with Putin's ambitions.  His concentration of strategic nuclear weapons is also a mistake and it is more a reflection of his paranoia and insecurity than the reality of threats its faces.  If Russia were content to stay within its post-cold war borders it would face no serious threat at all.


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