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Rise In Russian Military Power Politics Essay

Info: 3096 words (12 pages) Essay
Published: 1st Jan 2015 in Politics

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Military power was central to the USSR’s position as global power. The Soviet Union’s military strength was its prime achievement and it had learned that military power generates international respect and deference.

The Soviet Union was a superpower largely because of its ability to generate enormous military power […] Russia’s power is no longer the centre of international concerns, the threat of its military might no longer grips us obsessively, and the global order is no longer defined by alignment with or against Moscow. [2] 

2. Nevertheless, Russia’s military policy and power remain a major consideration in Eurasia and its nuclear component retains global significance. The disintegration of USSR in 1991, also led to decline of Russia’s military power along with a crippled economy and political leadership. The successive governments were more concerned in resolving Russia’s domestic problems rather than on retaining a global position. Thus over a period of time major down fall was seen in overall military capability of Russia. It was in 2000 when Vladimir Putin became president; a fundamental shift was seen in Russian politics, economy and in its military capability. Putin always regarded the collapse of the Soviet Union as the greatest geopolitical disaster in 21st century. Once he came to power, he was able to inject a new belief that it was Russia’s right to be a great power and the military power being the ultimate symbol of that status.

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3. Over a period of time, Russia has changed its military doctrines, policies and also downsized its military forces. The military power was used effectively to handle the Georgia conflict in 2008. After this war, Russia made major plans to reform and modernize its armed forces by 2020. In April 2009, U.S. Director of National Intelligence Denis Blair said in unclassified written answers to the Senate Intelligence Committee that the ongoing reshaping of Russia’s ground forces will enable it to “militarily dominate” most of its neighbours.


Structure of Decision Making

4. President of the Russian Federation is Supreme Commander in Chief (CIC) of the Russian Armed Forces. He is the executive authority for the formulation of defence policies and military doctrine. Minister of Defence comes next in hierarchy and is appointed directly by the President. Minister is responsible for readiness, overall deployment of the military and also the formalisation of the State Armament Plan. For the first time in recent Russian history In March 2001 then President Putin appointed a civilian defence minister with a mind set that that military reform can only be achieved with civilian oversight. Subsequently Putin also introduced a new State Law on Defence with an aim to give more powers to Ministry of Defence. [3] 

5. In 2000, under National Security and Foreign Policy Concept the threat assessment for Russia in the 21 century was carried out and based on this, Military Doctrine was formulated. The main threats to Russia’s national interests were identified as economic disintegration of Russia, ethnic separatism, increase in crime rate, reduction in powers of OSCE and the UN, weakening of Russia’s influence in political, economic and military matters, the rise of various military-political blocs and unions, eastward enlargement of NATO and militarisation of areas in close vicinity of Russia’s borders.

6. Based upon these threat assessments, the foreign policy priorities of Russia were to strengthen Russia’s sovereignty and territorial integrity; to regain its lost status of “great power”; ensure regional stability in adjacent areas and to counter the perceived dominance of the United States. As per military policy the main aim was as the deterrence of “aggression of any scale against it [Russia] and its allies, including with the use of nuclear weapons.


7. Over a period of time Russia has become more confident and assertive in its foreign and military policies. This could be observed during Russian military response to Georgian conflict in South Ossetia in August 2008; Russia’s stand over NATO expansion and US missile defence proposals in eastern Europe. Thus Russia has been using military as a diplomatic tool in the war of words between east and west. Russia is aware that their opinions have been ignored over Iraq, Iran, Kosovo and NATO expansion at the world stage. But in spite of these, at certain aspects Russia has shown its firmness and has stool tall even to take mighty US head on. Some of these aspects have been covered in the following paragraphs.

8. Missile Defence. When US came up with the plan of deploying its ballistic missile defence in Poland and the Czech Republic, it was vehemently opposed by Russia. The Russian government continued to believe BMD plans as a threat to national security. The radars station in the Czech Republic would have seen practically entire western front of Russia. Russian Armed Forces Deputy Chief of Staff, General Anatoly Nogovitsyn, even suggested that this missile agreement could force Russia to carry out nuclear strike against Poland if need arise. [4] Even President Medvedev in his address to nation on 5 November 2008 announced that the Russia might go ahead with the deployment of the Iskander short-range surface-to-surface missile system in Kaliningrad to neutralise the BMD system and would also electronically jam the components of US BMD. The deployment of Russian naval assets in the Baltic Sea was also considered for the same purpose. However US have been confirming that these missiles have limited capabilities and would have no impact on the Russian strategic offensive forces.

9. The assertive stance of Russia has forced USA administration to reviewing its missile defence plan, thus Russian Government has also suspended the deployment plans of its Iskander missiles in Kaliningrad. This move of Russia and response from US highlights that the fact that Russia’s powers are on rise and it can still avert the US decision when its own integrity or safety is concerned.

10. Strategic Bomber Patrols. The rise of Russian armed forces was most symbolically demonstrated when military forces paraded in Moscow’s Red Square. In the summer of 2007, strategic bombers of Russia carried out patrols in international airspace over Atlantic, Pacific and Arctic Oceans for the first time, since the end of the Cold War. In March 2009 Russian military aircraft reportedly did fly past just 500 feet over two US navy warships while these were participating in a joint military exercise with South Korea in international waters in the Sea of Japan. [5] This used to be a common occurrence during the Cold War era. These bomber patrols were conducted to demonstrate military might and also to test the air defence reaction times of NATO countries periodically. Such patrols were stopped in 1992 after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Similar incidents were also observed over UK and Norwegian air spaces in 2007 and 2008. Russian government officially acknowledged in August 2007 that these missions were intended for pilot training, in particular air-to-air refueling. Japan has also reported an increase in the number of exercises and patrols by warships of the Russian Fleet, along with strategic bomber patrols. The timing of these incidents has been regarded as a sign of renewed Russian confidence on the international stage.

11. The Arctic. Russia has also increased its military activity in the Arctic region in the same period and this has been linked to Russia’s increasingly vocal claims to large territory in the region and also to vast areas of untapped natural resources. In 2004 Russia announced the creation of a new Arctic Directorate for this region and in aug 2007, about 20 Russian strategic bombers carried out five days of exercises over the North Pole. [6] Time and again these facts have been acknowledged by the Russian Defence Ministry. In September 2008 President Medvedev Jane’s Defence Weekly:

A greater stake in the Arctic is intimately related to Russia’s increasingly assertive regional behaviour. Moscow’s recent incursion into Georgia was a bellwether of sorts for the concept of a ‘Greater Russia’ and the outward expansion of the country’s territorial borders […] [7] 

Expanding Russia’s Military Footprint

12. Russia has expanded its military co-operation with Latin and South American countries, in particular Venezuela. Since 2003 Russia has reportedly supplied $4-5bn worth of arms including combat helicopters, Su-30 fighter aircraft and the Tor-M1 air defence missile system to the Venezuelan government. In 2008 Russia had temporarily deployed two TU-160 “Blackjack” strategic bombers in Venezuela.

13. In December 2008 Russian naval flagship, the missile cruiser Peter the Great and the anti-submarine destroyer Admiral Chabanenk, visited Cuba and then Venezuela to take part in a joint naval exercise in the Caribbean Sea. This was the first deployment conducted in the region by the Russian navy since the break up of the Soviet Union and was seen as the emerging trend in the increased activity by the Russians. In July 2008 Russia also hinted that if US plan to station its BMD systems in Eastern Europe, than Russian aircraft and submarine fleet may also once again be stationed in Cuba. An article in Jane’s Intelligence Review commented that the Russian-Venezuelan naval exercises served as a “neat counterpoint to Washington’s decision to base its missile defence system in Poland and the Czech Republic, in Russia’s near abroad”. [8] 

Russia’s Military Capabilities

14. Russian military is currently the fifth largest in the world considering total active personnel, exceeded only by China (2.18m), the United States (1.54m), India (1.28m), and North Korea (1.1m). However, if Russia’s reserve contingent (approximately 20 million Personnel) is taken into account, Russia’s military becomes the largest. Over all Russia’s military power is third behind US and china. [9] In spite of such a large military which is being able to address all potential threats across the combat spectrum, the Russian Military Doctrine still have reliance on nuclear weapons. Some experts believe that Russian nuclear capability is one which makes Russia as a military superpower. The military capabilities of Russia can be seen as follows.

(a) Conventional Capabilities. As per the Conventional Forces in Europe Treaty, there are limits on the numbers of combat aircraft, tanks, attack helicopters, combat vehicles and artillery pieces that one country could held within Europe by NATO and the states of the former Warsaw Treaty Organisation (Warsaw Pact). However these limitations apply to Russian military equipments which are deployed to the West of the Ural Mountains. The treaty did not impose limitations on the overall conventional capabilities of any nation. The Russian military strength as on 2008 is as indicated. [10] 


Total Population: 140,702,096 [2008]

Population Available: 73,239,761 [2008]

Fit for Military Service: 50,249,854 [2008]

Reaching Military Age Annually: 1,602,673

Active Military Personnel: 1,245,000 [2008]

Active Military Reserve: 2,400,000 [2008]

Active Paramilitary Units: 359,100 [2008]


Total Land-Based Weapons: 79,985

Tanks: 22,800 [2005]

Armored Personnel Carriers: 9,900 

Towed Artillery: 13,585 [2005]

Self-Propelled Guns: 6,010 [2005]

Multiple Rocket Launch Systems: 4,350 

Mortars: 6,100 [2005]


Total Navy Ships: 526

Merchant Marine Strength: 1,074 [2008]

Major Ports and Harbors: 8

Aircraft Carriers: 1 [2005]

Destroyers: 15 [2005]

Submarines: 61 [2005]

F???aes: 19 [2005]

Patrol & Coastal Craft: 72 [2005]

Mine Warfare Craft: 41 [2005]

Amphibious Craft: 22 [2005]


Total Aircraft: 3,888 [2005]

Helicopters: 2,625 [2003]

Serviceable Airports: 1,260 [2007]

(b) Nuclear Capabilities. Since 1949, when Soviet Union tested its first atomic weapon it is recognised as a nuclear state. USA and USSR (Russia) went through number of treaties such as INF treaty (Intermediate Range Nuclear Forces), START (Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty) and SORT (Strategic Offensive Reduction Treaty) so as to reduce nuclear weapons of both the countries. Still Russia is estimated to have an active 5,200 operational warheads and approximately 8,800 intact warheads awaiting dismantlement thus a total of 14000 warheads(highest in the world). [11] 

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Assessment of Current Military Capability

15. The actual assessment of Russian military capability is very difficult since these have not been deployed in conflict beyond their borders. Therefore the assessment of the ability of the military has been theoretical and based on various assumptions. There have been doubts about ability of the Soviet-era military-industrial complex to keep technological pace with its military peers, particularly the production of sophisticated weaponry.

16. Many analysts believe that the majority of Russian equipments are ageing, as due to financial crisis after cold war Russia had stopped buying new military equipments. In March 2009 the Russian Defence Minister, acknowledged that most of Russia’s weaponry was “obsolete and old” and modern equipment were just 10% of the army’s existing capabilities. While US and other western countries have learnt during Kosovo, Iraq and Afghanistan war over the last decade, the Russians have had no such experience.

17. However, it is also acknowledged that Russian military does possess small amounts of state-of-the-art advanced weaponry. Air force has bought Su-34 combat aircraft, the Iskander theatre ballistic missile system and the S-400 air defence system. The SU-35 aircraft is also expected to be inducted in 2010-2011. Although western media claims otherwise, Russia’s armed forces still remain the most powerful and effective land force across Eurasia. They still possess state-of-the-art main battle tanks, multiple-launch rocket mortar system, heavy artillery and close ground tactical air support.


18. The increased military power, overt posturing on the international stage in recent years along with massive structural reform are the signs of the Russian resurgence. What has to be seen is that does it have longevity and what will be its implications? Russia in it self is having a strong sense of national pride and full belief that it can get back to its lost great power status. But to achieve this other than military power it needs political and economic stability.

19. In its present state the Russian Armed Forces would be able to defend its territories and national interest as in Georgia but at global level certainly they will not be able to formulate a power projection like United States. The prospects of the Russian military therefore lie primarily in the success of its modernisation plan and structural reforms. These can be achieved by strong economy but that is affected by ups and downs of global energy prices.

20. On the other hand Russia’s military-industrial complex has also not been able to revive completely, to cope with the technological demands of the modernisation programme. As per the reports a $50m contract has been done with Israel for UAV. Along with this there is need to upgrade their blue water navy fleet with aircraft carrier as well. However it is certain that the modernisation of Russia’s conventional armed forces will not come at the expense of its nuclear capabilities. Certainly Nuclear weapons will be given the priority over conventional weapons as former gives them a clear cut edge over other nations. As Jonathan Eyal succinctly noted in his October 2008 piece on “Europe and Russia: A Return to the Past”:

The Russian military can cause difficulties. Many of Russia’s neighbours are far poorer and weaker, so the Russian armed forces are still a potent threat to them, as the example of Georgia showed […]

21. However, the reality still is that Russia’s challenge to the US is hardly military. The Russians have no chance of emulating the Soviet Union, which tried to match Western technology weapon-for-weapon. Nor is there any ideological glue to underpin such a confrontation: most of Russia’s current allies are fair weather friends. […] it cannot divert the huge resources required to build a modern military away from civilian consumption. So, the main purpose behind Russia’s military muscle-flexing remains political and no new Cold War is in the offing. [12] 


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