Strategic rearmament of the Russian armed forces after end of the Cold War (1/2)

by Patrick Truffer. He graduated from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zürich with a Bachelor of Arts in Public Affairs and completes a Master of Arts program in International Relations at the Freie Universität Berlin.

Vladimir PutinAlready before the War in Eastern Ukraine, events at the international level strained relations between Russia and the West. These tensions have their origin in an increasingly divergent perspective on international relations, which is characterized by Liberalism in the West and by geopolitical Neorealism in Russia. The rhetoric of Russian president Vladimir Putin in his addresses to the nation in 2014 is reminiscent of the time of the Cold War (see Vladimir Putin, “Address by President of the Russian Federation“, President of Russia, 18.03.2014 and Vladimir Putin, “Presidential Address to the Federal Assembly“, President of Russia, 04.12.2014). This view was reinforced by the annexation of the Crimea in March 2014 and the support of the separatists in eastern Ukraine, as well as on the Western side by the imposition of sanctions and the breakdown of cooperation (see Robert Legvold, “Managing the New Cold War“, Foreign Affairs, 16.06.2014).

The consequences are felt on more than just the political and diplomatic level. Since March 2014, Russia has appeared more militarily self-confident and expanded the scope of military exercises on its western border as well as over the Baltic Sea. Between January and October 2014, NATO states intercepted three times more Russian fighter jets than in all of 2013. Estonian airspace was violated at least six times by Russian fighter jets in 2014. By comparison, seven such violations took place between 2006 and 2013 (Thomas Frear, Łukasz Kulesa, and Ian Kearns, “Dangerous Brinkmanship: Close Military Encounters Between Russia and the West in 2014“, European Leadership Network, November 2014). In turn, NATO increased its military presence in the eastern member states and conducted a military exercise in Ukraine in mid-September 2014 (John Vandiver, “Ukraine launches joint NATO exercise as fighting continues in east“, Stars and Stripes, 15.09.2014). In the NATO exercise “Black Eagle” in November 2014, 1,350 soldiers and 100 British tanks from a British armored division were deployed in Poland – there have not been this many since the end of the Cold War.

Comparing Russian and NATO military exercises between April 2013 and September 2015.

Comparing Russian and NATO military exercises between April 2013 and September 2015.

The militarily offensive behavior on both sides indicates that events at the international level can influence the implemented military doctrine (MD). The first doctrine from November 1993 was characterized by a cautiously optimistic view of the international system of states following the end of the Cold War. This optimism could no longer be recognized in the following MD 2000, MD 2010 and MD 2014 (poor translation). On the contrary, especially MD 2000 and MD 2010 were characterized by a strategic rearmament and the lowering of the nuclear threshold (for a comparison of the four MDs see here). In connection with this negative development, the following question arises: Why was there such an adaptation to the Russian military doctrine in 2000 and 2010?

To answer the question, in the first part, the theoretical chapter will illustrate the change from a rather liberally dominated domestic and foreign policy under Boris Yeltsin to the neorealistic geopolitical influence of Putin as well as the influence on the interpretation of events at the international level. Based on Putin’s addresses to the nation from 2014, the second chapter focuses on the influence of NATO’s Eastern Europe strategy to the second eastern enlargement in 2004. The second part focuses on the political instability in Russia’s area of interest and the resultant increased influence of the West in the third chapter. In the conclusion, the findings will be summarized, the research question will be answered and implications for the long-term easing of relations will be drawn.

1 – Theoretical background

The predominant school of thought among politicians of a country affects the interpretation of events at the international level, as well as the measures taken in the long-term in political, economic and military sectors. The West — a name for a more or less unified political community — is oriented to a certain degree to Liberalism and liberal values. Generally, politicians from these countries assume that co-operation between countries is possible, despite the anarchic international system of states, or is even mandatory due to the mutual interdependence. Even former U.S. President George W. Bush explained the U.S. involvement in the Middle East on the basis of a mix between Realism and Liberalism (see for example George W. Bush, “President Bush speaks at Air Force Academy Graduation“, The White House, 02.06.2004 and George W. Bush, “Address Before a Joint Session of the Congress on the State of the Union“, 31.01.2006). In Liberalism, there is no zero-sum game with respect to the distribution of power and the economic prosperity of a country enhances the overall system. The EU is the prime example of a system based on Liberalism.

The Victory Parade marking the 70th anniversary of the defeat of the Nazis in World War II, was held in Red Square, with the Kremlin, right, and St. Basil Cathedral, back, in Moscow, Russia, Saturday, May 9, 2015.

The Victory Parade marking the 70th anniversary of the defeat of the Nazis in World War II, was held in Red Square, with the Kremlin, right, and St. Basil Cathedral, back, in Moscow, Russia, Saturday, May 9, 2015.

Russia is focused more strongly to Neorealism, which comes from an anarchic international system of states, but in contrast to Liberalism, each state is responsible for its own survival (Kenneth N. Waltz, “Theory of International Politics”, Boston: Addison-Wesley Pub. Co., 1979, p. 91). The gain in power of a state – whereby power is meant as the “size of population and territory, resource endowment, economic capability, military strength, political stability, and competence” (Waltz, p. 131) – is at the expense of other states due to the relative loss of power. According to the balance of power theory, this loss must be compensated for either through one’s own gain in power (internal balancing), which can lead to an arms race in the worst case, or by teaming up with other states (external balancing; Waltz, 118). An external balancing is likely with neighboring countries with a common cultural, religious, or historical basis. In Russia’s case, this concerns primarily Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Moldova, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan and Ukraine. Geopolitical aspects therefore play an important role in Russia’s neorealist foreign policy. But in the case of Russia, geopolitics is not only important with respect to external balancing, the surrounding countries also form a protective cordon sanitaire and a majority of the 25 million Russians abroad live in these countries (Robert H. Donaldson, “Boris Yeltsin’s Foreign Policy Legacy“, 18.03.2000). Russia responds in an accordingly sensitive manner to the weakening of its influence on these countries and disproportionately compensates for a loss of power in its area of interest.

Which school of thought can prevail in the long term is dependent, among other things, on socialization and historical experiences. A society that must fend for itself to fight for its survival is more likely to develop a neorealistic than a liberal view (cf.: Tatyana Romanova, “Neoclassical Realism and Today’s Russia“, Russia in Global Affairs, 07.10.2012). In the case of Russia, society was characterized by the loss of power after the end of the Cold War, which could be noticed during the presidency of Yeltsin in a national vacuum of power and a traumatic economic hardship (cf.: Boris Yeltsin, “Statement by Boris Yeltsin“, President of Russia, 31.12.1999). In 2005, Putin called the collapse of the Soviet Union “a major geopolitical disaster of the century”. On their own, Russia still covered 76% of the area, just over half of the population, as well as 40-50% of the economic volume of the Soviet Union, which decreased even further by the end of the Ruble crisis in 1998/99 (Mike Bowker and Cameron Ross, “Russia After the Cold War“, 1st edition, New York: Routledge, 2000, p. 336f). Despite American rhetoric, Russia received little support during this political and economic transformation phase – there was no “Marshall Plan” (Bowker and Ross, p. 264; Donaldson). The active force of the newly constituted Russian Armed Forces shrank, but only by 20% compared to the Red Army. However, important infrastructure for maintaining military equipment, more than half of the fighter aircraft and tanks as well as a quarter of the battleships were located outside of Russian territory (Benjamin S. Lambeth, “Russia’s Wounded Military“, Foreign Affairs 74, No. 2, 01.03.1995, p. 88).

Yevgeny Primakov

Yevgeny Primakov

Confronted with domestic problems, the government under Yeltsin acted with a guarded foreign policy (Donaldson). In addition, the first Russian foreign minister, Andrey Kozyrev, was one of the leading liberal Westernisers (Bowker und Ross, p. 242.). Together with democratization and market reforms, this gave the government a liberal complexion. It was only under pressure from the conservative, communist and nationalist opposition, which were particularly represented in the Russian armed forces, that Russia appeared with a more self-confident foreign policy in the second half of 1993. With the displacement of Kozyrev by Yevgeny Primakov, a pragmatic nationalistic, Eurasian foreign policy that is aligned with Russian interests came to the foreground. These are the main features of a neorealist view, which was increasingly represented by Yeltsin until the end of his presidency (Allen C. Lynch, “The Realism of Russia’s Foreign Policy“, Europe-Asia Studies 53, No. 1, January 2001, p. 9, 22; Bowker und Ross, p. 338; Donaldson). When Putin was elected president of Russia, he had already worked for the KGB for 15 years, which was a neorealist, geopolitically dominated organization (David Hoffman, “Putin’s Career Rooted in Russia’s KGB“, The Washington Post, 30.01.2000). As part of the domestic political and economic stabilization, Putin increasingly centralized power, which gave the government an authoritarian, neorealist and geopolitical character.

An increasingly neorealistic international policy focuses on power, power shifts, their own retention of power and corresponding compensation options. It is therefore not surprising that Russia accuses other states of wanting to increase their power at the expense of Russia. Although other power factors might play a role, the main instrument of the power projection remains the armed forces, which is decisively influenced by the military doctrine.

2 – NATO’s Eastern European strategy between 1993 and 2004

The issue of the admission of new Eastern European member states was topical for NATO at the earliest with the dissolution of the Soviet Union on 26 December 1991. That is why there is no indication of a possible eastward expansion in NATO’s strategic concept from November 08, 1991. The basis for NATO’s eastward expansion was created at the NATO summit of 1994 with the injection of the Partnership for Peace (PfP) programme, which was proposed by the US in October 1993. In the US, Secretary of Defence Dick Cheney addressed the issue of the admittance of “at least some of those nations of central and eastern Europe” in December 1992. Informal discussion with Russia took place End of August 1993 (John Borawski, “Partnership for Peace and beyond“, International Affairs 71, No. 2, 01.04.1995, p. 236). “[T]he expansion of military blocs and alliances” was already mention as a “potential sources of external military danger” in the Russian MD 1993. NATO’s Eastern European strategy was underlined once again with the adoption of the strategic concept in 1999, in which NATO’s “continuing openness to the accession of new members” was adhered to.

NATO’s Eastern European strategy was initially hardly criticized by Yeltsin. On the contrary, Russia took part in the PfP programme. Criticism was expressed from the conservative, communist and nationalist opposition and from leaders of the Russian armed forces, who simultaneously spoke out against a reduction of the armed forces (Alexei G. Arbatov, “Military Reform in Russia: Dilemmas, Obstacles, and Prospects“, International Security 22, No. 4, 01.04.1998, p. 115f, 130). Due to the geopolitical change, an adjustment to the Russian military doctrine was discussed in the Russian Security Council in November 1996. One month later, the Russian Defence Minister Igor Rodionov concluded that NATO’s contemplated eastward expansion represents a risk for Russia, which could escalate into a military threat. This analysis is based on neorealistic as well as geopolitical considerations and played an important argumentative role in the struggle for the financial resources needed for the Russian Armed Forces. Because given the economic problems after the collapse of the Soviet Union, the Russian armed forces had lost their priority with government spending (Pavel Felgenhauer “Russian Military Reform: Ten Years of Failure“, March 1997). The financial expense for the Red Army was at least 15% of the GDP. The spending between 1992 and 1997 was not more than 5%, despite the GDP that shrank by 50% during the same time, and fell to 2.9% in 1998 given the Ruble crisis. It first increased again starting in 1999 (Bowker and Ross, p. 229). In the armed forces development, this is evident in the consolidation phase that lasted until 1999, during which some of the old Soviet systems were removed from the inventories (Bowker and Ross, p. 232; cf.: Patrick Truffer, “Statistics of the Russian Armed Forces, 1991-2014“, February 2015). The financial resources available to the Russian armed forces until 1999 were scarcely sufficient for operating costs, but not for extensive new acquisitions. The few systems, which were delivered to the troops, were derived from Soviet productions (Bowker and Ross, p. 230). This resulted in a weakness in the conventional weapons systems in the long term.

NATO's eastward expansion

NATO’s eastward expansion

Finally, in 1997, Yeltsin criticized the impending NATO eastern expansion, terming it “unacceptable” (Donaldson). Since prevention was not possible due to economic and military weakness, Russia attempted to have a say in the decision-making processes of NATO. This led to the Founding Act on Mutual Relations, Cooperation and Security on May 27, 1997 (O. N. Mehrotra, “NATO Eastward Expansion and Russian Security“, Strategic Analysis, Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, XXII, No. 8, November 1998, p. 1225–35.) Despite the Founding Act, Russia had de facto no influence – a fact that became apparent in 1999. Twelve days after the accession of Poland, the Czech Republic and Hungary as new member states, NATO, without authorization from the UN Security Council, bombed targets in the former Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, which had military, cultural and religious links with Russia. Operation “Allied Force” also demonstrated the effectiveness of conventional precision weapons and thus compared the conventional capability gap of the Russian Armed Forces. In conjunction with the “out-of-area” missions allowed in the strategic concept 1999, the North Atlantic defense alliance converted into an offensive military security instrument of the West.

These events strengthened the block thinking that was never overcome in the Russian armed forces. In contrast to the Cold War, this was, however, not ideological, but rather power-political in nature and was based on the social position lost in the context of democratization and liberalization (Arbatov, p. 107; cf.: “Russia’s National Security Concept“, Arms Control Association, January 2000). This had a direct impact on military-political decisions: The debate and vote on START II, ​​ which was intended to abolish the land-based MIRV, was deferred and ratified only a year later (In reaction of the US-american withdrawal from the ABM treaty, Russia resigned from the START II in June 2002). The Exercise “Zapad-99” carried out in June 1999, was the most extensive exercise conducted since 1985 (“Zapad” is the Russian word for “West”; “Russia“, The Military Balance 99, No. 1, 01.01.1999, p. 105). In the exercise, a NATO offensive against “Russia and its allies” was assumed as a scenario. Conventional capability shortfalls were compensated for by lowering the nuclear threshold, which was adhered to in MD 2000 (Jacob W. Kipp, “Russia’s Nonstrategic Nuclear Weapons“, Military Review 81, No. 3, June 2001, p. 27–38; “Russia Adopts New Security Concept“, Arms Control Association). In relation to this, focus was placed on strategic systems during the modernization of the Russian Armed Forces, recognizable by the steady expansion of the SS-27 inventories (Topol-M, mobile ICBM, non-MIRV) from 1999 as well as the development and introduction of the RS-24 (ICBM, MIRV) starting in 2010 (The Military Balance 99, p. 106f). In addition, Russia bought three Tu-95 and eight Tu-16 (strategic bombers) from Ukraine in 1999 and 2000 and began modernizing the existing strategic fleet (“Russia“, The Military Balance 100, No. 1, 01.01.2000, p. 117). The strategic rearmament and in particular the conventional modernization of the armed forces was restricted by the Second Chechen War, which tied up resources starting in August 1999 (The Military Balance 100, p. 109f). As part of an external balancing, attempts were made to expand the military cooperation within the CIS, which resulted in an increase in troop levels in Armenia and the opening of a military base in Tajikistan. Russia attempted to extend the CIS Collective Security Treaty, but with little success, however, because Georgia, Azerbaijan, Uzbekistan and Moldova let the agreement expire (The Military Balance 99, p. 108).

The militarisation debate surrounding NATO expansion began to heat up by August 1995, when then Polish Defence Minister Zbigniew Okonski announced that Poland was prepared, if it became a NATO member, to support the stationing of foreign combat troops and nuclear weapons on Polish soil. By September of the same year, a series of reported leaks -- allegedly authorised by then Russian Defence Minister Pavel Grachev -- discussed possible Russian retaliatory nuclear countermeasures to NATO expansion, including deployment of tactical nuclear weapons in western Russia, Belarus and aboard ships in the Baltic Fleet. The war of words over conventional and nuclear deployments escalated by early October 1995, when Nezavisimaya gazeta published a map (see above) -- allegedly originating from the Russian Ministry of Defence -- depicting a Russian nuclear strike on the Czech Republic and Poland, coupled with a joint conventional offensive on the Baltic States. The accompanying article quoted sources in the Main Operations Directorate of the Russian General Staff as stating that, in the event NATO expands to the Czech Republic and Poland and nuclear weapons are deployed in those states, Russia would target them with nuclear weapons and redeploy large-scale conventional forces to Belarus. (Source: Peter Szyszlo, "Countering NATO Expansion: A Case Study of Belarus-Russia Rapprochement", NATO Research Fellowship 2001-2003, June 2003, p. 9f).

The militarization debate surrounding NATO expansion began to heat up by August 1995, when then Polish Defence Minister Zbigniew Okonski announced that Poland was prepared, if it became a NATO member, to support the stationing of foreign combat troops and nuclear weapons on Polish soil.

By September of the same year, a series of reported leaks — allegedly authorized by then Russian Defense Minister Pavel Grachev — discussed possible Russian retaliatory nuclear countermeasures to NATO expansion, including deployment of tactical nuclear weapons in western Russia, Belarus and aboard ships in the Baltic Fleet.

The war of words over conventional and nuclear deployments escalated by early October 1995, when Nezavisimaya gazeta published a map (see above) — allegedly originating from the Russian Ministry of Defence — depicting a Russian nuclear strike on the Czech Republic and Poland, coupled with a joint conventional offensive on the Baltic States.

The accompanying article quoted sources in the Main Operations Directorate of the Russian General Staff as stating that, in the event NATO expands to the Czech Republic and Poland and nuclear weapons are deployed in those states, Russia would target them with nuclear weapons and redeploy large-scale conventional forces to Belarus. (Source: Peter Szyszlo, “Countering NATO Expansion: A Case Study of Belarus-Russia Rapprochement“, NATO Research Fellowship 2001-2003, June 2003, p. 9f).

The announcement of a second eastward NATO enlargement in November 2002 triggered only muted negative reactions from Russia. There was no associated change to Russia’s military doctrine nor an additional rearmament. There were several reasons for this: Firstly, as the successor organization of the Founding Act, the NATO-Russia Council was able to focus on the collective interests of Russia and the US in the fight against terrorism following the September 11 terrorist attacks in 2001. Secondly, Russia was bound by the Second Chechen War. Thirdly, an additional rearmament was not possible due to the inefficient, state-funded, corrupt defense industry and limited resources. The rearmament and modernization of the armed forces introduced in 1999 was, however, continued.

In a general sense, NATO’s Eastern Europe strategy, which was geared towards an expansion into the Russian area of interest, led to a rearmament of Russian armed forces. From 1999 (the first NATO Eastern Europe expansion) to 2004 (second NATO Eastern Europe expansion), the Russian armed forces qualitatively upgraded their systems in the strategic area and somewhat more modestly in the conventional sector. In addition, the adaptation of the military doctrine as a consequence of geopolitical changes of 1999 not only lay much greater stress on strategic means, but also reduced the nuclear threshold. NATO’s Eastern European strategy represented a necessary, yet insufficient factor for the qualitative rearmament of the Russian armed forces. Other factors were the transformation of the defense alliance into an offensive military security instrument of the West and the conventional capability gap of the Russian armed forces. Limited available resources, the inefficient, state-funded, corrupt defense industry and the Second Chechen War constrained the strategic rearmament and in particular the conventional modernization, so that the rearmament could not be implemented in the originally intended scope. Other factors, such as common interests in combating terrorism or domestic political prioritization did not lead to any additional rearmament after the second eastward NATO enlargement. Nevertheless, the efforts that had already been ongoing since 1999 continued. These did not require an adaptation to the military doctrine.

The second part will focus on the political instability in Russia’s area of interest and the resultant increased influence of the West in the third chapter and will conclude with a summary of the finding as well as with the answer to the research question.

This entry was posted in Armed Forces, English, History, International, Patrick Truffer, Russia, Security Policy.

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