June 8, 2015


Russia is not strong. And Putin is even weaker. (Pavel K. Baev, June 8, 2015, Brookings)

Sergey Aleksashenko wants everyone to stop calling Russia weak. He contends that Russia is actually stronger than many people believe
--to include U.S. President Barack Obama and British military historian Lawrence Freedman among other prominent voices. But Russia is weak and Russian President Vladimir Putin is even weaker.  [...]

What is less obvious for many Russia-watchers is that the military strength demonstrated so pompously on the Red Square during the May 9 Victory Day parade is also in decline. In Ukraine, the lack of any meaningful political or strategic Russian goals erodes the morale of the troops who are clandestinely deployed there. Nervous about the domestic political consequences of growing casualties, Putin has classified information about warzone deaths as a state secret. The costs of the war are mounting, and over-spending in the Armaments 2020 priority procurement program is yet another item in the list of embarrassing fiscal setbacks. It is clear to serious Russian economists that military expenditures have been out of control for the last four quarters at least. Such spending cannot be sustained indefinitely, and deep cuts in the defense budget are certain this year.

Second, Alakshashenko's description of Russian intimidation of its neighbors misses that many of Russia's neighbors do not find it fearsome. While Georgia sees the need to tread carefully and avoid confrontation (even when signing an association agreement with the EU), Estonia and Latvia have turned their exposure to Russian pressure into a strategic advantage, requesting and receiving substantial support from NATO. Moscow continues its military provocations in the Baltic theater, but it realizes that the military balance there is ultimately not in its favor. In the Arctic, Finland has joined the international Arctic Challenge 2015 exercise, which makes use of the Rovaniemi air base; Finland is apparently unperturbed by the fact that Russia's newly-formed Arctic brigade is deployed just 30 miles across the border from this city.  

It is prudent of NATO to be vigilant along its northern flank, but Russia has little or no capacity for simultaneously waging two "hybrid wars." Back in 1940, Stalin amassed some 600,000 troops for the swift occupation of three defenseless Baltic states; now, Putin can deploy only about 50,000 troops for the (very probable) upcoming offensive in Donbass.

...is failing to recognize how weak the Soviet Union was.  Russia has declined from a depth, not a great height.

Posted by at June 8, 2015 1:01 PM

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