News / Europe

Russia Raises Military Clout With Reforms After Georgian War

Russian military vessels are anchored at a navy base in the Ukrainian Black Sea port of Sevastopol in Crimea, Feb. 27, 2014.
Russian military vessels are anchored at a navy base in the Ukrainian Black Sea port of Sevastopol in Crimea, Feb. 27, 2014.
Reuters
Refitting Soviet-era warships, fielding new aircraft and tanks and seeking new overseas bases, the Russian military that now has troops on alert amidst a crisis in Ukraine is more potent than the force which briefly fought Georgia six years ago.
 
Moscow is seriously investing in building its clout. Since 2008, it has raised military spending by almost a third and drastically reformed both the armed forces and defense industry to tackle post-Cold War decay.
 
But Russian forces remain much weaker than at their Soviet peak and face huge problems ranging from corruption to a long-term shortage of recruits, not to mention the risk of insurgency if they ever set foot in Ukraine.
 
Moscow denies any direct link between its surprise military drills announced on Wednesday and Ukraine, where largely pro-Western demonstrators ousted Viktor Yanukovich, an ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin, last weekend.
 
Nevertheless, the decision to put 150,000 troops on high alert along with jet fighters on Russia's Western borders - where Ukraine lies - raised memories of Putin's invasion of Georgia. Moscow's expressions of concern for the safety of Russian citizens in Ukraine have also used similar language to statements that preceded the Georgian campaign.
 
In that five-day war, Russian troops evicted their Georgian counterparts from the disputed regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. But the outdated forces suffered losses at the hands of the sometimes more technically advanced, Western-equipped Georgians, prompting soul-searching and criticism in Moscow.
 
Complaints included a lack of sophisticated radar, night vision and communications equipment. According to some accounts, three of the four Russian aircraft lost were downed by their own side.
 
London's Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) estimates defense spending rose 31 percent between 2008 and 2013 to $68.2 billion. Russia is now firmly established as the world's third-largest military spender behind the United States and China, and the chaos under President Boris Yeltsin, who stood down in 1999 to make way for Putin, is a thing of the past.
 
“There is a sense in the broader U.S. political discussion that Russia is still the basket case military of the Yeltsin era, but that is wrong,” says Elbridge Colby, a former Pentagon official and now fellow at the Washington-based Center for a New American Security. “[It] is not the Red Army of the 1970s but it has made considerable strides.”
 
While Russian officials say Moscow will not intervene in Ukraine, many Western analysts are skeptical about their assertions that the exercises are not linked to the crisis in the former Soviet republic. Russia's saber rattling, they say, is another sign of its military confidence and willingness to use it to dominate those countries it once controlled.
 
“There is certainly an element of intimidation to it,” says Dmitry Gorenburg, Russia specialist at the U.S. government-funded Center for Naval Analyzes, part of the not-for-profit CNA Corporation. “They have put a great deal of effort into military reforms since Georgia and some of it has worked. They probably do have a greater ability to intervene in Ukraine than they did then - it's not that big a step up.”
 
While any actual invasion could initially succeed, he said Moscow might struggle in the face of a resultant insurgency. A more limited operation in majority Russian-speaking Crimea - already home to Russia's Black Sea Fleet - could prove more achievable but is also seen unlikely for now.
 
Russia says it is ready to work with the West on resolving the crisis but the interests of all Ukrainians must be taken into account. It accuses the new leaders in Kiev of violating a Western-backed peace deal and ignoring the interests of Russian-speakers.

Sophisticated exercises, global deployments
 
The wargames scheduled to last from Friday until next week are not the first of their kind. In September, the “Zapad-13” exercise in Belarus saw 10,000 Russian troops deployed along the border with the Baltic states, former Soviet republics which now belong to the European Union.
 
Another surprise exercise last July in Russia's east involved 160,000 troops and was seen by some as a reminder that Moscow also remains nervous about its border with China.
 
Both exercises involved a level of activity its forces would have been incapable of even five years ago, analysts say.
 
Russia is also asserting itself on the world stage. While its ability to send the army much beyond former Soviet borders seems limited, its warships have increased operations in the Arctic, Pacific, Baltic and Atlantic while returning to a near permanent presence in the Indian Ocean and Mediterranean for the first time in years. Russian long-range bombers are again periodically probing NATO airspace.
 
On Wednesday, defense minister Sergei Shoigu said Moscow was planning to expand its presence outside its borders with new military bases in a number of countries including Vietnam, Cuba, Venezuela, Nicaragua, the Seychelles and even Singapore.
 
How viable these plans might be is unclear.
 
Since Georgia, Russia has abolished its cumbersome structure of undermanned divisions designed to fight on massive European fronts, replacing them with much more flexible smaller brigades and reducing the size of its officer corps by a third.

Demographic, economic problems
 
The armaments industry was reorganized into a small number of largely state-owned firms, while Moscow promised that by 2020, 70 percent of its military equipment would be modernized.
 
It has also partnered French manufacturers in building helicopter carriers, other European firms on ground vehicles and Israeli specialists on unmanned drones.
 
In 2013, Russia began testing of its new Armata tank and hopes to acquire more than 2,000 over the next decade.
 
New SU-35 fighter jets are entering service as it also works on a new T-50 stealth fighter. Older Soviet warships are being upgraded and others entering construction.
 
According to IISS, Russia now operates one aircraft carrier, five cruisers, 18 destroyers, nine frigates and 82 coastal warships as well as 64 submarines - 11 carrying ballistic missiles. Its air force is believed to have about 1,400 combat capable aircraft.
 
The size of the army has long been unclear and Western analysts say boasts of one million men under arms have long been empty as Russia struggles to attract and retain conscripts and professional recruits. IISS estimates Russia has 845,000 military personnel with a largely theoretical reserve of 2 million people with recent military service.
 
How much further the military will grow is also unclear. Its 2013-30 State Defense Plan, experts say, appears based on 6 percent annual economic growth while actual growth in 2013 was under two percent.
 
Corruption remains a serious problem. In May 2011, Russia's chief military prosecutor acknowledged that as much as a fifth of state defense spending every year was stolen.
 
Demographics are also not going Russia's way. According the German Institute for International and Security Affairs (SWP), the number of 18 year-old men will fall from 1.1 million in 2007 to 630,000 by 2017, only two thirds of whom may be fit enough to serve.
 
Militarily, however, it still far outclasses Ukraine.
 
According to IISS, Kiev has 129,950 military personnel but has struggled to make its own military reforms. Aircraft availability and serviceability are low while its navy is struggling to repair its sole diesel electric submarine.
 
“Moscow's armed forces have already accomplished the organizational transition from mass mobilization army to modern combat force,” analysts Margarete Klein and Kristian Pester wrote in a January report for Germany's SWP. “Greater military muscle flexing must be expected.”

You May Like

Report: $60 Billion Leaves Africa Illegally Each Year

Report by a joint UN and African Union panel says African countries need to take concrete measures to stop billions of dollars from illegally being moved out of continent each year More

Video Spy Murder Probe Likely to Further Strain British-Russian Relations

Some analysts say Russian Tu-95 bombers were flying near British airspace to warn Britain about an inquest into a murdered Russian spy More

Mugabe Defends Image Amid Controversy at Close of AU Summit

He rejects concerns about how the West might perceive his leadership, saying he's focused on African development More

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: Maithe from: Paris, France
February 27, 2014 4:21 PM
Good article. Right to the facts.
Russia is back...
And the Cold War predictable...

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Spy Murder Probe Likely to Further Strain British-Russian Relationsi
X
Henry Ridgwell
January 31, 2015 10:50 PM
Relations between Russia and the West are set to become even more strained amid an inquiry in London into the murder of a former Russian spy. Lawyers at the inquiry accuse Russian President Vladimir Putin of directing a "mafia state." Meanwhile, Royal Air Force fighters intercepted Russian bombers close to British airspace this week, prompting authorities to summon Moscow’s ambassador. Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Spy Murder Probe Likely to Further Strain British-Russian Relations

Relations between Russia and the West are set to become even more strained amid an inquiry in London into the murder of a former Russian spy. Lawyers at the inquiry accuse Russian President Vladimir Putin of directing a "mafia state." Meanwhile, Royal Air Force fighters intercepted Russian bombers close to British airspace this week, prompting authorities to summon Moscow’s ambassador. Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Ukrainian Neighborhood Divided Over Conflict

People in eastern Ukraine’s Donetsk and Luhansk districts find themselves squarely in the path of advancing Russian-backed rebels, who want to take back the territory they held at the beginning of the conflict last year. Many local residents are afraid, but others would welcome the change, even when a rebel shell lands in their neighborhood. From the Luhansk district, 15 kilometers from where the Ukrainian government marks the front line, VOA’s Al Pessin reports.
Video

Video Threat of Creeping Lava Has Hawaiians on Edge

Residents of the small town of Pahoa on the Big Island of Hawaii face an advancing threat from the Kilauea volcano. Local residents are keeping a watchful eye on creeping lava. Mike O’Sullivan reports.
Video

Video Jefferson's Library Continues to Impress, 200 Years Later

Two hundred years after the U.S. Congress purchased a huge collection of books belonging to former President Thomas Jefferson, it remains one of America’s greatest literal treasures and has become the centerpiece of Washington’s Library of Congress. VOA’s Deborah Block reports.
Video

Video Egypt's Suez Canal Dreams Tempered by Continued Unrest

Egypt plans to expand the Suez Canal, raising hopes that the end of its economic crisis may be in sight. But some analysts say they expect the project may cost too much and take too long to make life better for everyday Egyptians. VOA's Heather Murdock reports.
Video

Video Pro-Kremlin Youth Group Creatively Promotes 'Patriotic' Propaganda

As Russia's President Vladimir Putin faces international pressure over Ukraine and a failing economy, unofficial domestic groups are rallying to his support. One such youth organization, CET, or Network, uses creative multimedia to appeal to Russia's urban youth with patriotic propaganda. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports.
Video

Video Filmmakers Produce Hand-Painted Documentary on Van Gogh

The troubled life of the famous 19th century Dutch painter Vincent van Gogh has been told through many books and films, but never in the way a group of filmmakers now intends to do. "Loving Vincent " will be the first ever feature-length film made of animated hand-painted images, done in the style of the late artist. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Issues or Ethnicity? Question Divides Nigeria

As Nigeria goes to the polls next month, many expect the two top presidential contenders to gain much of their support from constituencies organized along ethnic or religious lines. But are faith and regional blocs really what political power in Nigeria is about? Chris Stein reports.
Video

Video Rock-Consuming Organisms Alter Views of Life Processes

Scientists thought they knew much about how life works, until a discovery more than two decades ago challenged conventional beliefs. Scientists found that there are organisms that breathe rocks. And it is only recently that the scientific community is accepting that there are organisms that could get energy out of rocks. Correspondent Elizabeth Lee reports.
Video

Video Paris Attacks Highlight Global Weapons Black Market

As law enforcement officials piece together how the Paris and Belgian terror cells carried out their recent attacks, questions are being asked about how they obtained military grade assault weapons - which are illegal in the European Union. As VOA's Jeff Swicord reports, experts say there is a very active worldwide black market for these weapons, and criminals and terrorists are buying.
Video

Video Activists Accuse China of Targeting Religious Freedom

The U.S.-based Chinese religious rights group ChinaAid says 2014 was the worst year for religious freedom in China since the end of the Cultural Revolution. As Ye Fan reports, activists say Beijing has been tightening religious controls ever since Chinese leader Xi Jinping came to office. Hu Wei narrates.
Video

Video Theologians Cast Doubt on Morality of Drone Strikes

In 2006, stirred by photos of U.S. soldiers mistreating Iraqi prisoners, a group of American faith leaders and academics launched the National Religious Campaign Against Torture. It played an important role in getting Congress to investigate, and the president to ban, torture. VOA's Jerome Socolovsky reports.

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More

All About America

AppleAndroid