Russia’s Military Rearmament & the Consequences

Looking into the remaining years of the 2010s and into the 2020s, it is obvious that the decline of Russia in technologies/knowledge economy and general economy is set to be the dominant trend. One of the driving factors behind this development is exorbitant military spending.

In fact, the latter has been an unbreakable factor in Russian history, with numerous examples from the past where the same pattern was played out. This could lead to the argument that Russia’s “resurgence,” which appeared so robust in the 2000s, already contained many causes of the forthcoming decline, which is a complex phenomenon combining a range of factors from demography and infrastructure to corruption.

It was only in 2011 that the increase in petro-revenues reassured the Russian leadership of the availability of resources to build up the country’s military might, resulting in approval of the hugely expensive 2020 Armament Program. This mega-investment coincided with the curtailing of many of Medvedev’s “modernization” initiatives and was criticized as too heavy by many economists.

This goes hand in hand with what numerous foreign and Russia-produced reports document as a significant decline in what Russia is able to produce scientifically and how this is used. This was even reported on by the Russians themselves at times when oil prices were high, leading many to believe that Russia was resurgent across the Eurasian landmass. In 2008, the Russian Academy of Science reported on Russia’s Scientific-Technical Development until 2030, noting that the country was losing its technology base as it increasingly becomes dependent on revenues from the sale of natural resources such as gas and oil. Another fundamental problem was inefficiency and high levels of corruption.

However, those problems at the time were not visible to many ordinary Russians, largely due to the focus on the Ukraine crisis, flare-ups in the confrontation with the West, oil prices dropping and more. The point here is that corruption, and even low scientific output, would still not be enough to result in troubles as long as there are viable incomes to the budget. Once this stops, all wounds open and what you get is the need for more pressure for greater accountability from Russian officialdom.

Ironically, what happens in Russia nowadays is almost identical to what happened in the country’s past. Russia’s history is in many ways a cyclic one. In the last years of the Soviet Union, by the late 1980s, the Soviets were fundamentally lagging behind the West in technologies and other important sectors of the state. Oil prices were low and there was high demand for a viable reform, despite the fact there was a distinct abundance of resources to move the country forward. Still, those financial and natural resources were spent on huge military apparatus and the development of deadly technologies. The result, predictably, was the dissolution of the Soviet Union.

Going further back into Russian history, in the early 20th century, just before the outbreak of World War I, there was a clear demand within the government and the country’s elite for reforms in social and economic spheres of the empire. However, this was also a period of militarization in Europe, with clear signs of the upcoming world conflict. While politicians disagreed on the militarization, still Emperor Nicholas II chose to spend large amounts of money on quick and fundamental militarization. At a time when developments showed how backwards (in comparison with western European countries) Russia was economically and militarily, spending on the military would certainly spell a catastrophe for the government. This indeed happened in 1917, when the Russian Revolution broke out.

Similar comparisons might be found under other previous Russian leaders, with the cycle being almost identical: two groups are present within the government, where supporters of large subsidies (hardliners) for military reforms usually gain the upper hand over the liberals.

Taking these comparisons, one might suggest, and quite correctly, that Russia has been experiencing a similar pattern in the past decade or so. While debating what is more crucial for the Russian state – social/economic reforms or large military spending – the government decided in the 2000s to initiate a quick military resurgence.

However, this “military overload” (or ‘voennaia nagruzka’ in Russian), just as in many previous cases enumerated above, serves in the modern Russian state as the “main source of structural deformation”. Moreover, all bureaucratic measures to speed up scientific-technical progress turn out to be unproductive. Like previous periods of Russian history, within the last decade there too was a struggle between hardliners and economic liberals. In this battle of visions of Russia’s future, unsurprisingly, the then-Finance Minister Aleksei Kudrin was dismissed in 2011 when he openly criticized the level of military spending.

One more point. Put into the above understanding of the Russian perpetual “military overload” problem the recent US pullout from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF Treaty). It will likely set a pace for the race in military technologies. In the Russian case, the US decision will further embolden the hardliners and weaken the liberals, which will probably result in Russia spending more money on military and thus enhancing the cyclic model we discussed.

By Emil Avdaliani

Image source:

11 February 2019 16:20