Russian Military Power

Finland’s National Defense University has published a study entitled Russian Politico-Military Development and Finland.  If the media reporting is accurate, it may read a little like a latter-day Soviet Military Power.

Now few have read the document since there’s only a two-page English precis to go with press accounts of its contents.  Perhaps the entire thing will appear in English soon.

But here’s the gist. 

NATO and other Western countries believe war is an outdated idea, and U.S. power and interest in Europe are waning.  Russia, meanwhile, is seeking to revise the verdict of the Cold War, restore its great power status, and regain the Soviet sphere of influence.

It’s modernizing its crumbling armed forces with increasing investments [i.e. the 19-trillion-ruble State Program of Armaments or GPV 2011-2020].  The formation of the Unified Strategic Command (OSK) West (aka the new Western MD) has shifted the Russian Army’s center of gravity from Western Europe to the Northwest [at Finland].  And:

“The Russian armed forces are being improved by forming high-readiness forces with a capability of achieving operational results directly from peacetime employment.”

Finally, the study’s authors seem to see a Russian military resurgence that needs to be met by reinvigorating Finland’s territorial defense system:

“A large military reserve force is an indication of the will to defend the country, and has a major preventative value.”

It’s worth challenging three central propositions here.

Russia’s “increasing investments” in its military.  The Finnish report is reacting a priori to plans for large outlays for defense procurement that may or may not happen.  They authors are concerned about Russia’s intention to modernize, and what its forces might look like after modernization.  The current GPV could go the way of its predecessors; the first annual state defense order (GOZ) to fulfill the GPV isn’t exactly proceeding smoothly.  It’s important also to consider what’s being modernized.  In many cases, Moscow plans to replace arms and equipment from the 1980s and earlier, and not everything will be a world-class fourth- or fifth-generation weapons system.  Lots of the “new” models will be based on late Soviet-era designs.  

The shift to the Northwest.  To some extent, there may be an effort to get forces closer to their likely theater of operations.  But hysterical assertions of vastly increased Russian forces shouldn’t be taken seriously.  It’s largely the same forces organized differently, and certainly not all opposite Finland.  The creation of OSK West or the Western MD was also an attempt to cut redundant command and staff echelons and get the Ground Troops out of the expensive environs of Moscow and Moscow Oblast.  One could easily argue the Defense Ministry’s placed a higher priority on forces in the Southern or Eastern MDs. 

The formation of high readiness units.  The report’s authors are quoted as saying Russia’s high readiness forces will be ready to leave garrison, and begin offensive operations in an hour, according to Vzglyad’s interpretation of a Russian-language media outlet in Estonia.  In reality, the forces are now more highly ready to depart the garrison and get combat orders.  No one can say what those orders will say.  Any combat missions will have to be carried out by troops who generally have less than six months in the army, and they’ll be lucky to execute a successful defensive operation.  Also, let’s hope the Finnish study says that this high readiness was really more about getting rid of useless, hollow, low readiness cadre units.

But, as Newsru cites a former deputy commander of the OGV(s) in the North Caucasus, it’s hardly possible to talk about Russian efforts to encircle anyone “in the condition which we’re in, and with those obvious army problems which we have.”

No one should misunderstand.  The Finns are to be admired for their perspicacity when it comes to Moscow.  They’re keen observers of what’s happening in Russia.  They have to be. 

But there’s obviously a huge issue of perspective.  Things look very different from Helsinki, Washington, Paris, London, and Berlin.  Russia’s capabilities are somewhat hyped in a public debate about what level of forces and readiness Finland needs to deter Russia.

But, all in all, it doesn’t help anyone in the long-term to inflate [re-inflate?] a Soviet-style military threat.  A realistic assessment of Russian capabilities and intentions will lead to practical, affordable measures to counter them.

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