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 AS VLADIMIR PUTIN TALKS MORE MISSILES AND MIGHT, COST TELLS ANOTHER STORY

Increasing emphasis on military matters is a sign that the changes wrought by the Ukraine crisis are cementing a more confrontational relationship between Russia and the West, a new arms race.

Neil MacFarquhar states in his article for The New York Times.

They call it "Russia's military Disneyland," and the underlying idea that Russia will soon field a high-tech, modernized army was indeed part fantasy. But the bristling array of armaments underlined how military competition had overtaken diplomacy in East-West relations.

In a sprawling park 30 miles outside Moscow, President Vladimir V. Putin welcomed the country's first high-tech military exposition on Tuesday, announcing in his opening remarks that Russia would add 40 new intercontinental ballistic missiles to its nuclear stockpile this year.

Just days earlier, it was disclosed that the United States is considering stationing enough heavy weaponry in the neighboring Baltic States and Poland to rapidly deploy some 5,000 troops to face any Russian threat.

Analysts see the increasing emphasis on military matters as a sign that the changes wrought by the Ukraine crisis are cementing a more confrontational relationship between Russia and the West, something of a new arms race.

Yet as races go, it is a slow-motion contest, with little appetite to invest in the kind of Cold War arsenals that had assured mutual destruction.

For one thing, Russia, given its economic problems, probably cannot afford even the weapons that Mr. Putin has pledged to deliver by 2020. Six months ago, he said the country would add 50 ballistic missiles to its nuclear arsenal this year, and at least one senior Russian military official has indicated publicly that the Kremlin's appetite exceeds its wallet.

For another, issues of common concern, like the threat from Islamic extremism and Iran's nuclear program, have been pushing the two sides to work together. But the language of arms is slowly but surely overshadowing the language of diplomacy and mutual respect.

"Everybody should understand that we are living in a totally different world than two years ago," said Alexander M. Golts, an independent Russian military analyst.

"In that world, which we lost, it was possible to organize your security with treaties, with mutual-trust measures," he said. "Now we have come to an absolutely different situation, where the general way to ensure your security is military deterrence."

On the sidelines of the military exposition on Tuesday, Russian officers and academics held a series of seminars, including one focused on threats to the country's security. There was the usual litany of accusations that NATO was gradually trying to strangle Russia, either through force of arms or by fomenting domestic revolutions like that in Ukraine.

Russia feels alone and besieged, a sentiment that continuously provides fresh inspiration to overhaul a military once better known for the drunk, ill-equipped conscripts who fared so badly during two wars in Chechnya in the 1990s.

"The Russian Army is returning to normal combat activities and training," said Igor Korotchenko, the editor in chief of National Defense, a monthly Russian magazine. "We are doing exactly what our Western partners are doing."

He denied that Russia had any plans to invade Ukraine, much less dust off its Soviet-era plans to invade Europe, but said the United States was using the crisis to increase its presence and its influence.

"We can feel the military tension," he said.

From a Western point of view, Russia shattered the postwar, and certainly post-Cold War, European order by seizing Crimea and destabilizing Ukraine with a not-terribly-covert military program. That left former Soviet client states next door feeling vulnerable.

Russia, which had long given up on military exercises, then started sending long-range bombers and fighter aircraft on patrol along the edges of European or American airspace. The West, and the United States in particular, felt the aggressive attitude warranted a military response. Hence, a new program of maneuvers and talk of deploying tanks and other heavy equipment.

"Russia has been making aggressive statements, insisting that it lives in a world of mutual military deterrence, while thinking that the West will not pay attention," Mr. Golts said.

But the West paid attention, he said, and Russia is not ready. It is one thing to use a force of up to 100,000 well-trained, well-booted soldiers to seize Crimea or even to destabilize a neighbor, but it is a very different matter to take on NATO, he noted.

Russia, lacking both the manpower and the weapons systems, will not be ready to do so any time soon, which is why Mr. Putin resorts to asymmetrical responses like nuclear weapons, analysts said.

The war with Ukraine severed cooperation with some critical defense industries there, while Western sanctions cut off some technology used in military applications, like microchips.

Then there are deepening questions of just how much Russia can afford, even if it is one of the world's largest arms exporters, with some $16 billion in sales last year.

The steep drops in the price of oil and the value of the ruble mean Russia is facing a recession this year, although recent figures suggest it will not be as bad as originally anticipated.

Mr. Putin has said he will maintain both his $400 billion, decade-long military modernization campaign and the social safety net that he promised when he started his third term as president in 2012. At times, he has said the pace might slow, but he has never publicly entertained the idea of cutting back.

He repeated part of that pledge on Tuesday at the military fair, stating that at least 70 percent of all weapons should be modernized by 2020. But there are signs that the money might run out first.

The military budget jumped 32 percent last fall, only to be cut back by over 4 percent this year, according to Russian news reports.

Yuriy Borisov, a deputy defense minister, told the Moskovsky Komsomolets newspaper this year that the military had underestimated how much it would need to spend to acquire new Armata tanks. Mr. Putin had pledged the government would buy 2,300 by 2020.

"We miscalculated on the Armata," Mr. Borisov was quoted as saying. "The money allocated for that project turns out to be too little." Production costs are 250 percent higher than anticipated, he said, without further details.

The official cost is secret, but Russian news reports estimate that the tanks cost more than $7 million apiece. Orders for the T-50, an expensive new fighter jet, are also likely to be reduced.

Mr. Golts noted that although senior Russian officials continued to promise modern weapons, they quietly fiddled with the numbers to be delivered.

He and other analysts suggested that maintaining the image of a robust military being resupplied on schedule was a political necessity, speaking to the large constituency that supports Mr. Putin because he has promised to restore Russia to its great power status.

In addition to numbers, Russia lags in the high technology needed for some weapons systems.

At a booth run by the Main Communications Directorate of the Russian Armed Forces, one computer programmer admitted that he had just that morning finished patching together the system on an aerial drone that took pictures. It was working via public Wi-Fi and Bluetooth networks right then, he said, but he hoped to make it secure soon.

Nearby, Alexander Zaldostanov, the leader of the Night Wolves motorcycle gang and a Putin favorite, was taking in the exhibition, standing not far from equipment like sample S-300 antiaircraft missiles. In Soviet times, he said, the military was a closed structure, so it was great to see it being modernized and popularized.

The United States should be just as worried about stationing heavy weaponry near Russia's border as the Russians are, he said, because no one knows where it will lead.

"When I come here and see all this, I realize that we have something to answer with," he said. "This fills you with pride for Russia and confidence that no matter what they deploy, they will never dare push the button."

 
 
 
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