In Friday’s NVO, CAST Director Ruslan Pukhov expounded on Konstantin Makiyenko’s thoughts about whether Russia’s current military modernization plan is doable. And he offered ideas on how to make it more doable.
Pukhov points out that, in addition to 19 trillion rubles for military modernization, the Kremlin is footing bills for higher military pay, better living conditions, and housing as well as intensified combat training. Liberal critics question whether the government can afford a greater defense burden at a time when it also needs to modernize infrastructure, health care, and education.
The planned military expenditures seem, Pukhov continues, balanced and acceptable, following 15 years of army underfinancing. They shouldn’t threaten the country’s development.
Still, he says, skeptics have a point. Vladimir Putin’s plan presupposes a decade of growth in the economy, perhaps not dynamic, but growth. However, it’s also highly possible we’ll see stagnation or even recession in an economy which, with oil prices over $100, shows meager (for a developing market) growth of four percent.
Then Pukhov really gets to it.
With the slightest decline in hydrocarbon prices, “Putin’s preelection promises, including also in the military sphere, will become unfulfillable.” And the Finance Ministry is developing plans to trim defense spending by 0.5 percent of GDP.
Pukhov asserts the Defense Ministry can continue transforming the armed forces if it sacrifices quantity for quality and foregoes more “metal” for human capital investments.
First, he says abandon the official but never explained million-man army manning level in favor of 700,000 or 600,000 personnel.
Second, the state should meet all its social obligations to servicemen and continue training by skipping some procurement. The only “holy cow” would be strategic nuclear deterrence forces.
Third, Pukhov suggests sacrificing some planned naval development. He offers that, as the world’s fifth or sixth largest economy, Russia simply can’t afford to recreate a global navy. First on the chopping block, Mistral and renovated Kirov-class CGNs.
But Pukhov doesn’t sound fully convinced himself. Some points not made need to be noted.
Pukhov should know Moscow has already gone well below one million men, if only semi-officially. There isn’t much savings in reduced conscript numbers. Pukhov doesn’t mention the huge “human capital” expense of trying (once again) to recruit professional contract soldiers. The word corruption — the proverbial elephant in this room — isn’t uttered either. The state already accepts 20, perhaps 40, percent less military than it pays for. That’s where real savings are. Foregoing some “metal” is a good idea, but Pukhov has scarcely begun to sort out what Russia’s acquisition priorities should be.
Mr. Pukhov should be commended for addressing this topic, but his critique is pretty mild. He may still be attacked for it by some. A much more radical restructuring of Russia’s military development program than Pukhov’s may eventually be needed to save it.