Weapons Journal: 13 September 2007 — Russia flexes military muscle
The U.S. has dropped the gauntlet and Russia is responding by gearing up its military. Russia has spiked its military maneuvers ever since the American missile defence shield was formally supported by a number of Eastern European states. These states, not long ago under Soviet dominion, are seen to be further shunning Russian influence by permitting the deployment of U.S. military hardware on their soil. Interceptors are to be installed in Poland, and a radar system is to go active in the Czech Republic.
Also, the U.S. is making very loud noises in support of Kosovo independence from Serbia, something that Russia has angrily opposed inside and outside of the U.N. The U.S. as hinted that it may support a unilateral decision for independence, while Russian supported Serbia has threatened the use of force if the West recognizes Kosovo.
I don’t have evidence of this, but after speaking with people from Kosovo and Serbia on this issue, I received a common theory that the U.S. craves air bases in Kosovo, from which it could have stable access into the Middle East for raids, strategic bombings, and air support of ground troops.
Russia feels the pinch of losing influence in Eastern Europe and Central Asia, and fears it is being militarily contained. Military bases and pacts bring with them benefits beyond the realm security, they also provide some measure of influence and strengthen economic-diplomatic ties between cooperative nations.
The sale and provision of weapons to countries is a means of expanding the national zone of influence in order to bring another’s domestic and foreign policies in line with your own. It’s a way of making ‘friends,’ and there’s often a greater exchange than just cash for arms. Concessions are privately asked for, and given. Also, the delivery of weapons to a country may help counter the plans of a rival that may similarly want influence in the receiving country, or may simply threaten the power balance via strategic actions.
Military footprint, partially calculated in the strategic spread of national arms in ‘friendly’ or ‘partner’ states is also a shorthand indicator of a country’s position in the hierarchy of global powers.
Russia certainly ascribes to this game. Post Cold War, there was a period of chaos and deep military cuts following the disintegration of the U.S.S.R., too-fast economic restructuring, and thoroughly re-aligned political system. Used to being a global leader, Russia found itself a recipient of economic aid, and faces great difficulties in its domestic politics with nationalist movements threatening to breakaway their regions, and with a dissatisfied citizenry angry with broken social systems, joblessness, and a rapidly transforming demographic due to immigration.
Russia’s economy has been recovering, growing at a healthy annual rate, permitting Moscow to pay down the greater part of the loans it accrued after Soviet collapse. Russia’s economic comeback has been led by its supply of energy and natural resources: oil, natural gas. New and old pipelines deliver vital energy resources to Europe, bringing in much needed money to Russia’s public and private economies.
The surer financial footing allows Russia to increase its military spending in order to recoup its losses. Russia feels hemmed in and its response, of late, has been especially loud. However, we shouldn’t mistake the visibility of its military expansion post-missile defence as being purely caused by the missile shield, the shield is also an excuse to hasten a process of militarization at least in part already in the cards, as evidenced by the steady annual rise of its defence budget. The defence budget is to spike by a resounding 27%.
So what has Russia been doing? Let’s have a quick look at some of the more recent activities.
It has let the world known that its military is not to be ignored or forgotten by re-establishing some of the Soviet era defence procedures.
Russian strategic bomber buzzed Guam, a significant U.S. naval and air base. The bombers were intercepted and tracked by scramble of U.S. fighters, the pilots “exchanging smiles,” according to Russian Major General Pavel Androsov. Following this, Russia announced its plan to re-establish some of its Soviet-era bomber patrol routs.
Russia contends that U.S. missile defence plans in Europe cannot be aimed at anyone but it, since no one else in the region has ballistic capacity befitting such a mechanism. The U.S. denies this claim, stating that the defence is against such countries as Iran, whose missiles do not yet but may in a hypothetical future threaten to strike Europe.
One of Russia’s responses to the missile defence plan was announced by Putin on 3 June: “What will those steps be? Naturally, we will have to have new targets in Europe.” They are to move more of their nuclear missiles to the western border, aiming them at European cities. Putin again: “It is clear that if a part of the US nuclear capability turns up in Europe, and, in the opinion of our military specialists will threaten us, then we are forced to take corresponding steps in response.”
Such measures also help underscore the seriousness of Russia’s worries, and raise the stakes in negotiations between it and the U.S. on a compromise to the placement of missile defence in Europe.
Russia is also said to be developing a new top-secret diesel submarine capable of long missions, claims to have tested the largest conventional air-dropped bomb in history with an explosive force comparable to a nuclear bomb, is setting up a naval base in Syria in order to expand its presence in the Black Sea and the Mediterranean, and also recently test-fired a new intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM).
Putin, in 2005, announced a desire to increase arms exports. In that year, they exceeded their targets by 25%. Radio Free Europe reports that in 2005 “the state arms exporter, has sealed weapons contracts worth $18 billion, according to Putin a 61 percent jump.”
Russia is competing to sell India 126 fighter jets worth over $10 billion. It proposes to sell 5,000 of new sniper rifles and has confirmed sales of fighter planes to Venezuela despite U.S. opposition. It had previously sold Venezuela 100,000 AK-103s (the heir to the AK-47), and it is to provide Venezuela with technical assistance to build plants to build AKs and to manufacture ammunition for them. Russia is also said to be selling new air defence systems to Syria to upgrade older models it had provided while also giving Syria diplomatic support in order to convince Israel and the West that Syria has no intention to go to war (interestingly Israel recently breached Syrian air space and is said to have fired missiles at unknown targets). Competing with the U.S. in Indonesia, Russia has scored points by successfully concluding a $1 billion deal with Indonesia to provide it with submarines, helicopters, tanks, and more. This deal will be financed by a 15 year loan, and is the first major arms purchase by Indonesia in some time.
There’s more than arms sales at play. Russia’s aggressive foreign policy has been underscored by a recent claim to a portion of the arctic shelf coveted for its estimated energy deposits. Russia made its claim known by planting its flag underwater with the use of a submarine. The arctic is becoming prized due to climate change melting ice shelves.
Also, Georgia claims that Russia fired a rocket into its territory, and claims to have evidence to support its complaint.
Russia is also combating its loss of influence in Central Asia, strategically important for its energy resources and as a route for pipelines of oil and natural gas, by joining China’s economic pact: the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO). The last SCO meeting was preceded by war game with over 6,000 participating troops from China, Russia, and four Central Asian states. Global Security states that “some security and regional analysts suggest the SCO is evolving into more of a defence alliance aimed at countering U.S. global influence and military actions in its neighbourhood, namely Afghanistan.”