Weapons for all – perilous Russian irresponsibility

Malaysian Airlines flight MH17 was shot down in Ukrainian airspace, between Donetsk and Luhansk, on July 17. All 298 passengers and crew members were lost.

MH17 turmapaikka.
The MH17 crash site.

I wrote a blog post on this last year following the incident and at this stage, as the incident report by the Dutch Safety Board has been published, I find a review of this incident from a perspective on Russia worthwhile.

Firstly, it is necessary to examine this in the context of the laws of war (jus in bello). Arto Pulkki, a military expert for the magazine Suomen Sotilas, wrote a very good piece on the case of flight MH17 titled Responsibility and Irresponsibility, considering intention and liability from a criminal law perspective. I warmly recommend this as a primer.

As it is easier to approach the subject of guilt or fault using legal principles, I will begin by considering criminal intent to begin with. Mens rea needs to be established in order to find out which principles of the laws of war are applicable in this case.

Intention as opposed to negligence or carelessness is easily established in this case; if the firing button was pressed with the express purpose of launching the missile, negligence or carelessness is ruled out. A negligent or careless act would require that, for example, an external event — say an explosion nearby – startled the launch operator or rocked the vehicle causing the operator to inadvertently launch the missile.

The issue left is to assess the level of intention. Assuming that there was no intent to down a civilian flight, then the degree of culpability of the operator is low. An obvious and possible outcome of firing a missile is for it to hit civilian aircraft or for the missile to stray and cause damage to civilians. Considering this from a jus in bello perspective, only one principle strictly applies to this case. When considering the prerequisite of targeting, distinction, the case is clear – military force was used on a civilian target. The debate on admissibility ends here; all other principles discussed in the case of MH17, such as proportionality and necessity, don’t even come into play.

Proportionality and necessity

A good example of applying these discussed principles not relevant in the case of MH17 — and the problems and dilemmas that arise — is the decision taken by NATO forces to target the Lužane bridge in Serbia during operation Allied Force (Kosovo, 1999). During that strike a bus was on the bridge resulting in the loss of life of 23-70 civilians.

Photo: http://www.srpska-mreza.com.

The underlying requirement in applying these principles is the call for precautions. The principles don’t suddenly become valid only in the moment of an attack or decision to attack. Or post-attack as in some cases… The requirement of protecting civilian life and property comes with a specific call for precautions in both planning and executing the use of force. The belligerents (Parties) must be able, to at all times and in all circumstances distinguish between civilians, civilian property, and military targets. Force may only be used on military targets. In practice this means that standards and mechanisms for identifying targets, assessing damage pre-strike, and choosing systems of engagement must be put in place, be upheld and controlled by responsible commanders.

In the case of MH17, for example, the relevant questions to be asked in order to assess the culpability of the launch operator and his superiors,

  • Did the operator take care to properly identify the target, i.e. did he positively identify the target as military?
  • Did the operator act in accordance with the Rules of Engagement (ROE) and the identification criteria set therein?
  • Was the identification criteria such that by using them a reliable identification would be acquired? (identification by two or more systems, e.g. radar and visual, or a challenge-and-reply identification)
  • Did the higher command (superiors) make sure that no civilian aircraft were in the dangerous zone, for example by maintaining and distributing a recognized air picture?
  • If it was known that civilian air traffic was in the zone, were decisions taken to limit or cease the use of air defence forces?
  • Or was a deliberate decision taken to continue the use of force, disregarding the risks to civilian air traffic?

Russia, Syria and the return of total war

International political responsibility and state actor culpability are harder issues to address, but asking: ”Does Russia itself use or equip belligerents with effective long range weapons, without providing for the required situational awareness, intelligence, command and control (C2), and information systems to use those systems, thus creating a considerable risk of an indiscriminate and non-distinctive use of force?

In Ukraine such systems, lacking the supporting and enabling systems to use them in accordance with jus in bello are the BUK surface-to-air missile system, the Grad and TOS-1 multiple rocket launchers and the lighter artillery and air defence systems, e.g. SA-7 Strela ja SA-18 Igla MANPADS. In Syria, we have witnessed the use of long-range (nuclear capable) sea-launched Kalibr-NK cruise missiles, and air-to-ground missiles, dumb and smart bombs within stand-off ranges. Russia has also equipped Iran with weapons in its contribution to the war on ISIS.

Russian and US-led strikes in Syria. Source: Institute for the Sudy of War, US Military. Locations may have multiple strikes. BBC.
Russian and US-led strikes in Syria. Source: Institute for the Study of War, US Military. Locations may have multiple strikes. BBC.

Common for all these cases is a large number of civilian casualties that have two underlying reasons.

Firstly, Russia and the actors is equips aren’t able to produce an adequate situational awareness and intelligence preparation needed for targeting. When strikes are conducted – outside a stand-off distance, without reconnaissance units on ground and in contact with the enemy, without continuous air recce, without situational awareness and with inadequate staffs – civilian casualties are likely to occur.

Secondly, Russia is testing and battle proving its weapons and C2 systems. The most important objective is to verify and ensure that the systems are reliable and give them a ”combat proven” certification, in order to further develop them to meet the criteria and requirements set for combat systems in the concept of sixth generation warfare. That said, there’s something positive in Russia’s combat activities in Syria. Russia is fielding UAVs in battle damage assessment (BDA) tasks, thus gaining reliable information on the effect of the strikes. However, no regard – or blatant disregard – is shown for the results of the BDA results. The choice of systems and methods of engagements are still based on effect-only thinking and a limited selection of weapons. Russia is using an array of platforms and weapons systems designed for conventional (and nuclear) warfare against capable NATO opponents. Russia has used heavy thermobaric charges against targets in the immediate vicinity of civilian infrastructure and population. The same weapons have been regularly tested in live fire exercises since the ”snap drill year” of 2013. These heavy ordnance strikes in Syria have resulted in loss of civilian life and property.

It seems that the proportionality and necessity of Russian strikes aren’t judged case-by-case in reference to specific rules of engagement, but are rather categorically justified based on political and strategic objectives and desired end states.

The patriotic media

The Russian ”war machine” receives a lot of help from the state controlled media. Russia Today and other news services have produced hours of high quality videos and informative articles on Russian armed forces’ combat activities in Syria. In my view this doesn’t reflect a media that’s a Kremlin puppet, but rather a media armed and anabled with a patriotic mission and purpose. The situation awkwardly resembles the rôle of the US media in the Iraqi War of 2003.

We were a propaganda arm of our governments. At the start the censors enforced that, but by the end we were our own censors. We were cheerleaders.

Charles Lynch.

In 2003, US media was brought under military control by embedding journalists with combat units. This enabled a better control of the media and an increasingly short-sighted and narrow reporting on the bigger picture. Embedding journalists (”in-bedding”, derogatory) with soldiers also sparked criticism in Western media. [1, 2].

In Russia, the editorial staff and board members of many news agencies have been hand-picked by the current government. While some spectacular news about news anchor resignations in live shows following the annexation of Crimea were reported, most journalist are the same skilled people as before. Writing stories lauding Russia and its military prowess and might isn’t that disagreeable, but rather seen as a patriotic mission. This makes Russian media especially dangerous. It’s able to voluntarily, effectively, and timely produce high quality content to a large public. There is no need for state censorship or control. Regarding Finnish media I once stated that in some aspects the watchdogs have become lap dogs. In Russia, the media have been trained into bloodhounds of the powers that be.

Information warfare holds a key rôle. The fileds of Crimea, Eastern Ukraine and Syria have provided Russia with the proving grounds, where it has demonstrated its ability to obfuscate information, events, cause and effect by producing disinformation, thus effectively destabilizing and disorienting Western decision making processes and decision makers.

The Russian Bear.
The Russian Bear.

This effect has also been multiplied by the Western need to see a logical rationale and sustainable reasons behind Russia’s actions. This may very well be a mirror imaging fallacy, where Western comprehensive crisis response strategies are ascribed to Russia by association. The Russian game in Crimea, as well as Eastern Ukraine and Syria is an unscrupulous deterrence policy, relying on opportunities presented – both offered by the adversary and created by own forces – and the basic principles of warfare – surprise, aggressiveness and initiative. Especially the principle exploiting the initiative and opportunities seized is done at a political-strategic level. Russia will continue this policy as long as the win-win offered and created persists. Russia has already reached strategic objectives in Syria. Its presence is permanent. The use of Iraqi air space has become a de facto permanent arrangement and there is no more debate on Russian participation in Middle Eastern crisis management, but rather the focus lies on deconflicting some issues such as airspace control that may in worst case scenarios lead to a permafrost in superpower [sic!] political relations.


War under a nuclear umbrella

Guest post by Aleksi Roinila. 9 December2014.

Aleksi RoinilaFor European security the failure of nuclear deterrence to deter conventional war may not be any better than the deterrence that has so far prevented the EU and NATO from giving direct lethal aid to Ukraine in its war against an unmarked Russian expeditionary force. It is therefore imperative that further Russian aggression is deterred primarily with other means, whether political, economic or conventional military force. Failing to do so may have disastrous consequences for everyone involved, writes Aleksi Roinila.

Aleksi is a Master of Social Sciences from the University of Tampere and has studied Strategy and Defence at the Finnish National Defence University, International Relations at Aberystwyth University, and served as an analyst with the Finnish Defence Forces in the ISAF and KFOR operations for nearly three years.

During the past weekend Russia reportedly flew several sorties with its nuclear-capable Tu-95 ”Bear” strategic bombers over the Baltic sea, alerting the countries in the region. It was but one signal on a months-long continuum of Russian saber-rattling incidents along NATO’s borders following the revolution and war in Ukraine. But is Russia truly a threat to NATO or the European Union?

Last week the Finnish parliament was presented with a report that sought to analyze Russia’s future attitudes towards its neighbors. The report entirely omitted the possibility of Russia using military force against any of its neighbors, stating that any attack against Finland (or supposedly any other EU member) would “in practice mean the start of a third world war”.

Tupolev Tu-95 Bear strategic bomber. Source: Wikipedia.

It’s unlikely that military planners anywhere in Europe would believe such a ridiculous proposition, but politicians, pundits, and scholars sometimes do. Therefore it is important to make two things absolutely clear to shake away the false comfort:

  1. Russia using military force against Finland, Sweden, the Baltics or even the European Union and NATO at large does not automatically mean the start of a Third World War;
  2. A major war, even a World War, is by no means impossible even today – but it does not necessarily mean the start of an all-out nuclear war.

Our understandable desire to close our eyes from the possibility of war in Europe is not merely harmless naivety. It is also dangerous. If we refuse to accept the possibility and fail to prepare ourselves both to fight it and to prevent it, we will have inadvertently increased its likelihood with our own willful denial: It’s hard to get serious about prevention if the danger itself is not taken seriously.

Examples of such good-willed negligence are plentiful across Western Europe, from Sweden’s decision to effectively scrub its national defence to Finland’s ambivalence towards sanctioning Russia for the war in Ukraine. Even in NATO many countries persist in the hubris of the 1990s, thinking that major wars in Europe are a thing of the past, not of the future: Even before the highly controversial decision to sell Russia two modern Mistral-class amphibious assault ships, France was happy to supply Russian tanks with advanced thermal optics which it was incapable of producing itself – a decision which robbed NATO of a major tactical and operational battlefield advantage in any future conflict. Others, like the Netherlands, have simply sold of much of their heavy weaponry – much of which has fortunately ended in the arsenals of a number of Eastern European countries, including Poland, Finland and Estonia.

But even though the war in Ukraine has clearly and at long last put an end to the fantasy that Vladimir Putin’s Russia is a reliable partner for the European Union and NATO and never again a threat to European peace and security, the idea still persists that the renewed confrontation between Russia and the West cannot escalate to the use of deadly military force because of the nuclear deterrent that both Russia and NATO possesses.

The myth of nuclear weapons preventing major wars between nuclear powers

The conventional wisdom regarding nuclear deterrence is that states possessing nuclear weapons will avoid fighting each other directly, even in limited conflicts, out of fear of uncontrolled escalation that could lead to a nuclear exchange and mutually assured destruction (MAD). Indeed so far they have: To date no two nuclear powers have ever fought each other directly. While this rule has remained true from Korea to Ukraine, nuclear powers have at the same time fought several wars by proxy, most famously in Vietnam and Afghanistan, and they have also come dangerously close to breaking the rule during the Cold War crises over Berlin and Cuba. We can be cautiously optimistic that nuclear deterrence will continue to make cooler heads prevail in the future as well – if for no other reason than for all sides’ desire for self-preservation – but there is no ironclad guarantee that it will.

Even if a major war against another nuclear power or alliance is something that no nuclear power is willing to risk, it still does not preclude them from using limited, conventional military force. Russia in particular has demonstrated that it has many tried-and-tested ways to apply military force against its neighbors that carry a virtual certainty of not triggering a major mar. Think, for instance, about the Baltic Sea region and consider which of these actions would reliably trigger a major war: A Crimea-like occupation of islands in the Finnish GulfGulf of Finland or the Baltic Sea? Blocking the vessels of other Baltic Sea navies in their ports like was done to the Ukrainian Navy in Crimea? Covertly or accidentally sinking merchant vessels in the Baltic Sea similarly to the downing of Flight MH17 over Ukraine? Covert sabotage against ports, airports or energy infrastructure?

The above are all actions that Russia could realistically use to pressure Finland, Sweden, or the Baltics and which would not, even in the wildest of imaginations, automatically trigger a major war between NATO and Russia.
This logic is what the 1980s satirical British sitcom Yes, Prime Minister parodied as “salami tactics”: Unlike a sudden large-scale invasion, a “slice-by-slice” escalation will at no point trigger an all-out response that would risk nuclear war, as the other side likely hopes to avoid further escalation every step of the way – and is, in any case, motivated by its own survival to avoid escalating a minor conflict into nuclear war.

Even if limited military force is employed against a NATO country such as Estonia, it does not automatically lead to a major war, let alone a nuclear one. That applies even if NATO would decide to invoke the Article 5 of its Charter, mandating collective defense: Neither the NATO Charter nor the EU Lisbon Treaty obligations require members to declare war or to even respond with military force if a member invokes the collective defence articles of either organization. Both NATO and EU countries could respond to Russia’s limited military force in kind with only limited force, or even just by boosting their military readiness and presence. Russia’s nuclear deterrence practically guarantees that its limited military incursions will not be met with the full force at NATO’s disposal, but instead by a measured response of gradual escalation that permits negotiations and other attempts to contain the conflict.

Russia knows this. Its leaders also know that even though Russia is not alone with its nuclear deterrence, the leaders of the West will never respond to a limited use of conventional force with nuclear weapons. As long as Russia’s nuclear deterrence is intact, no Western leader will willfully sacrifice London, Paris or Washington, D.C. to defend Kiev, Narva or Åland. It is precisely for that reason that Putin can confidently play high-stakes poker against the West with his conventional forces.

This tendency has only been exacerbated by the West’s reluctance to oppose Russia’s invasions in Georgia and Ukraine in any meaningful fashion, which hasn’t gone unnoticed by Putin. Every time the West has shown restraint or willingness to reconcile or appease Russia during or after its aggressions, Putin has become even more confident and daring in both his rhetoric and actions. This success may encourage Putin, much like Hitler before him, to take even greater risks – perhaps eventually making an overconfident miscalculation that none of us can afford.

The madness of cold logic: Controlling escalation with nuclear weapons

Putin’s miscalculations carry a much greater risk that any miscalculation by any Western leaders not only because he is more reckless (that is not to say he would be irrational or crazy – he isn’t), but because Russia’s military strategy, like so many things in Russia these days, has in recent years turned back to the Cold War era mindset of the Soviet Union: Prioritizing outcomes with callous indifference towards the number of lives it takes to achieve them. The doctrine of de-escalation serves as a prime example.

The doctrine is problematic because the ”de-escalation” it seeks is supposed to be achieved by the means of a nuclear first-strike against the adversary’s major military or civilian target, such as a capital city. Yes, you read that right.

To someone who is not familiar with the logic of nuclear deterrence, the idea may sound barking mad. However, behind it is a frighteningly rational logic: As long as Russia’s strategic nuclear forces are intact and ready to retaliate in case of any attack against Russia itself, no other nuclear weapons state will respond to Russia’s limited first-strike against a non-nuclear state with their own nukes.

In the event of a Russian “de-escalation” attack on a EU or NATO member, the Western nuclear weapon states would have to re-assess the value and likely cost of defending their allies. There is a strong likelihood, as Russian military planners have estimated, that the Western nuclear weapons states would not only not launch a nuclear attack on Russia, but would also reconsider the risk of using conventional force to defend their allies against a ‘mad’, nuke-wielding Russia; Would Estonia or Latvia truly be worth risking a nuclear war with Russia?

After all, the leaders of Western democracies have their voters to consider, and their always demonstration-prone populations are not likely to want to perish in a nuclear Armageddon just to save Eastern Europe from being drawn back into Russia’s sphere of influence. Russia’s authoritarian rulers, exerting tight control of the media and always ready to crush civil unrest with deadly force, on the other hand have no reason to care what their subjects think of their nuclear gambles.

Unless Russia’s calculations prove to be in error, Russia’s limited nuclear first-strike would achieve a ”de-escalation” that is highly favorable to Russia. If the strike would target a NATO or an EU country, it would also have a substantial likelihood of achieving another one of Putin’s objectives: To break apart NATO and the EU. It is, after all, hard to see how either organization could retain any credibility in a world where they did not protect their members from a Russian nuclear attack or retaliate in full. In a post-de-escalation world the nuclear deterrence of nuclear weapon states would not reach beyond their own borders, and the non-nuclear-weapon-states of Europe would likely accommodate Russia’s “reasonable” interest before risk becoming a target for another nuclear strike. In such a world Russia could redraw the borders of Eastern Europe as it sees fit – just as it did after the Second World War.

Far fetched? Unfortunately the doctrine is not just an exercise in the mad logic of nuclear strategy. Russia has already practiced the execution of the doctrine against NATO-member Poland’s capital, Warsaw. Sending Tu-95s to exercise over the Baltic Sea may be in preparation for just such an eventuality.

Paradoxically, the more rational and more dependent on their electorate the Russian leadership thinks the Western leaders are, the more likely it is to assess that it’s doctrine of a limited first-strike will work. Even if Russia would never seriously consider executing such an attack, its mere confidence in “de-escalation” as a viable option makes the risks associated with conventional military operations seem smaller and far more controllable. That lowers the bar for the use of military force and increases the likelihood of war – both conventional and nuclear.

A successful deterrent may be a failed deterrent

Fortunately, while Russia appears to have mastered the logic of ”salami tactics” in Ukraine, they can also be made to work against its de-escalation doctrine: Russia won’t resort to its nuclear option if its use of conventional military force is met with gradually escalating conventional force that at no point threatens Russia with such a defeat that the risks of “de-escalation” would start to seem smaller than the risks of not executing it.

If both sides escalate their conventional operations gradually, they may end up in a situation where they are fighting a limited, but comparatively large-scale conventional war somewhere in Europe under the umbrella of a mutual nuclear deterrent. The nuclear deterrent of mutually assured destruction would then succeed only in deterring the use of nuclear weapons themselves, but not much else. It would not be without precedent, as it is exactly what happened to chemical weapons during the Second World War; although all sides of the war had significant stockpiles of deadly chemical weapons, the weapons ended up only deterring their own use – despite the fact that the war was more total and unlimited than any war fought before or since.

For European security the failure of nuclear deterrence to deter conventional war may not be any better than the deterrence that has so far prevented the EU and NATO from giving direct lethal aid to Ukraine in its war against an unmarked Russian expeditionary force. It is therefore imperative that further Russian aggression is deterred primarily with other means, whether political, economic or conventional military force. Failing to do so may have disastrous consequences for everyone involved.

A New Normalcy or a New Cold War?

Faulty link to original post, please use this to read full text.

Unsolicited Translations

This is a translation of Niklas Wiklund’s (Lieutenant-Commander in the Swedish Armed Forces, aka @Twitt_Skipper) Swedish blogpost on 12 October 2014 Ny normalbild eller ett nytt kallt krig?
James Mashiri‘s Finnish translation was very helpful considering my poor Swedish: Uusi normaalitila vai uusi kylmä sota?


Skipper gives this opening to his post:
The purpose of this text is to be an eye-opener to those who have not yet understood the serious and broad shifts in the security landscape whose main author is Russia. There are many who continue to live in ignorance and look for everlasting peace, even though we are hearing daily reports on events that are connected – directly or in a roundabout way – to the our safety in the northern Europe.

The situation in our neighborhood and the relations between Russia and the West have so fundamentally changed that we must describe this…

Visa originalinlägg 4 417 fler ord

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.