Russia, a military strategic and defence economic view

The Russian Federation Armed Forces are transforming from an army of masses to an army of excellence in the next ten years. After this Russia will develop capabilities to conduct modern warfare with power projection and long range strike capabilities. Russia will fuel this reform with all available economic means as it gives the State the tools needed to secure access to diminishing resources in the next four decades.

A ”little green man.” Photo: Unknown, 2014.

Reformist realism

In the post Cold War timeline up until the Ukraine crisis, I find three periods discernible. Firstly, we have the 90s —— following the collapse of the Soviet Union, and resulting in a defunct Russian state. Call it reformist realism. This period following the end of the Cold War was characterized by a defensive Russian military doctrine aiming only to maintain what was left of Russia and discourage breakaway states from further contributing to the dissolution of the Russian Federation. This Russian realism was backed by the United States and Europe, as the remaining nuclear weapons and nuclear materiel of the Soviet Union were considered a threat in any other than adequate Russian control. The sorry state of Russia resulted in a ”diplomacy first” practice relying heavily on the norms of international justice and the international political system. This increased engagement and involvement with the international community, though at times strained – , was warmly welcomed and supported by the European Union and its member states.

A stable, democratic and thriving Russia is of a crucial significance for lasting peace on the continent.

Swedish Govt Defence Proposal 2000

Russia is striving towards an economic reform and an organized and democratic society […] Russia is seeking its role as an actor in international relations and security policy.

Finnish Govt Security and Defence policy white paper, 2001.

The ”reformist Russia” was welcomed as a player aiming for a diplomatic rôle. In 2002 Nato founded the Nato-Russia council, the European Union engaged in several broad development projects and Finland was happy to facilitate, support and participate without reservations.

Cartoon of a Russian bear with a bottle of vodka sitting at the Nato table
Nato and Russia. The Nato-Russia council was founded in 2002. Cf. Wikipedia

Some states made early foresights and drastic conclusions of the state of current affairs and the foreseeable future. Sweden abandoned conscription in 2009.

Foto av svenska soldater som framrycker över fält i grupp.
Soldater Revinge 2013. Foto: Jorchr – Eget arbete (CC BY-SA 3.0). Källa: Wikipedia.

An invasion, aiming to occupy Sweden, does not seem possible over the next ten years, provided that we have a basic defense capability.

Swedish Govt Defence Proposal 2000


The next period is what I’d like to call the retake. It begun in 2007 with the fielding of strategic systems with initial operational capability. To understand this retake, its slow pace and mixed political signals, we need to look at the huge budget, maintenance, training and unit production deficit of the functionally corrupt Russian Federation Armed Forces.

Military spending as % of GDP for USA, Russia, France, UK, China and Germany.

The decline in the defence budget was reversed in 2007. By that time years of use, wear, tear and disrepair along with nonexistent maintenance had taken its toll on much of the fielded equipment. The first order of things was to modernize the strategic systems vital to Russia’s ability to deter its enemies. The first budget surge brought investments in the most capable strategic systems, such as strategic aviation, ballistic missile air defence, submarines and surface vessels.

Beginning 2007, Russia took up strategic aviation flights with modernized Cold War airframes, such as the Tu-22M Backfire, the Tu-95 Bear and the Tu-160 Blackjack. In 2009 Russia had modernized much of its amphibious and airborne assault capabilities and demonstrated this in the Zapad 2009 exercise.

The clearest sign of the retake was the Georgian war. In Georgia Russia fielded some new and modernized combat systems, e.g. the mobile theater ballistic missile system 9K720 Iskander (SS-26 Stone).

During the retake, Russia kept an appeasing stance towards the West. In the hubris of Russian democratization, the EU fed money to Russian schools, social and health services and allowed the Russian Federation to focus on building military capabilities.

The acme of this hubris was reached in 2010, when US, UK, Polish and French armed forces’ detachments marched in the Victory Day parade on Red Square with German Chancellor Angela Merkel watching the marchpast beside Russian Federation president Dmitriy Medvedev.

Victory Day Parade, 9 May 2010. Moscow.
Victory Day Parade, 9 May 2010. Moscow.

Today at this solemn parade, the soldiers of Russia, the states of the CIS and the anti-Hitler coalition march together […] Only together can we counter present-day threats. Only as good neighbors can we resolve problems of global security in order that the ideals of justice and good triumph in all of the world and that the lives of future generations will be free and happy.

Dmitryi Medvedev, President of the Russian Federation.

The Georgian War was explained and accepted by many as an anomaly in Russian politics.


2013 was the year of drills and exercises, with the scheduled exercises maintaining capabilities and the snap drills testing the readiness of units on all levels. This current period has been labeled by some as an era of Russian ”revanchism” and ”revisionism.” I will hold a bit before assigning a fitting label.

In July 2013, the president of the Russian Federation ordered a surprise readiness drill that was the largest military exercise in 37 years, involving 160 000 troops from all over Russia on exercise in the Eastern Military District. These Russian snap drills have one chief purpose. It is to verify that the Armed Forces are at the prescribed level of readiness for combat utilization. Russia intends to build and maintain an readily applicable instrument of conventional warfare.

Victory Day Parade in Moscow, 9 May 2014.
Victory Day Parade in Moscow, 9 May 2014.

The Soviet people’s iron will, fearlessness and steadfast courage saved Europe from enslavement.

Vladimir Putin, President of the Russian Federation

The future

The cost of this military build-up is huge. This year Russia spends almost 65 billion US dollars on defence. The increase from last year is more than 20 percent. While only making up a reasonable less than 4 % of GDP this amounts to over 20 percent of state spending. Another 17 percent is spent on national security and law enforcement, totaling a security spending of 37 %.

The Armed Forces modernization programme totals 723 billion USD in the next ten years. This amount has been increased each year since 2012.

Spending on education, social care and healthcare has fallen.

The Russian purpose of the military power build-up becomes clear when applying a geoeconomic view.In the short and long terms Ukraine is about control, access and trade. This holds true for all CIS states and their neighbours — aligned or non-aligned alike. In the medium-term Russia needs to be able to assert itself in two or more geographically distinct theatres – the West, i.e. Europe and parts of the Middle east – and in the East with China and the United States as opposing players.

As the climate change opens up the Arctic for transit and exploitation, Russia intends to assume control of those lines of communication and natural resources.

These ambitions set the need for an ability to pursue a new type of contacless warfare with drones and networked strike, command and control capabilities. The current modernization programme only enhances ”traditional” conventional capabilities. During the next decade Russia will begin a new cycle of modernization that will be even more costly.

The outlook for the cornerstones of a democratic, safe and secure society – education, social care and healthcare – is grim.


Needless to say, all things expressed above represent my personal views.

2 reaktioner på ”Russia, a military strategic and defence economic view

  1. Right now it seems our only hope is for the second economic collapse of Russia and the dissolution that follows despite the dangers. Hopefully sooner rather than later before the human cost simply becomes too high to bear.


  2. Thx James. I think the key sentence is: ”A readily applicable instrument”. The big, strategic issue is for what – and as You say- it is securing the future strategic enablers, like access and resources. Russia is acting strategically and we should, too. Russian aggression against Ukraine is a reflection of the strategic ambition and the ways&means Russia is capable and willing to apply. It is time for Nato, Europe and neighboring nations to start acting strategically. Lets start with the applicability of our existing legacy Defence Forces to respond to the new ways&means of Russian mil-pol instrument- also our timely, decisive response requires both more feasible, wider military tools AND higher political readiness to apply them. Stratmil


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