Tag Archives: Sweden

A Swedish Defense Debate

Two Swedish observers recently engaged in an exchange of opinion pieces regarding the connection between a supposedly more muscular and threatening Russia on the one hand, and an allegedly feckless Swedish defense policy on the other.

Here we are, of course, more interested in their divergent views of Russian military power rather than in (as they are principally and rightly concerned) its affect on Sweden’s defense.

Stefan Hedlund

Stefan Hedlund

Uppsala University professor Stefan Hedlund wrote first.  His article appeared originally in Svenska Dagbladet.

Hedlund concludes the Swedish legislature is radically changing its long-held view of Russia as relatively benign to one of Moscow as a growing threat to Sweden’s national security.  Proponents of this view, he says, point most often to Russia’s militarization and its increasingly autocratic political system.

However, he says President Vladimir Putin himself basically admitted the government’s 20-trillion-ruble State Armaments Program is failing.  Failing because the OPK, on the whole, cannot produce weapons and equipment of requisite quality, in necessary quantities, according to specified deadlines.

He cites the Bulava and Yuriy Dolgorukiy.

Just one good example among many he could have picked.

Then Hedlund concludes:

“Perhaps it was simply naive to think that the Russian military industry could pick up where it left off two decades ago, after standing at a virtual standstill, and all of a sudden produce weapons system [sic] at high international standards.”

He turns to politics, and the fragmentation of the Russian political elite just beneath Putin.

He sees it this way:

“These political developments don’t add up to the picture of an every [sic] more strong-fisted leader [Putin] who hasn’t ruled out waging war on his neighbours.  It is much more probable that Russia will be paralyzed by infighting for a long time to come, and an ever degrading economic outlook will mean the government may have to retrace it steps on promises to keep up salary developments and shore up pensions.  There might simply not be money left for the military.”

Hedlund hits key elements of the problem with Russia’s alleged militarization:  the OPK’s inability to deliver arms and a clearly evident Finance Ministry rearguard action to rein in military procurement spending.

Finally, Hedlund concludes it’s essential to discuss Sweden’s defense policy problems “without muddling it up with incorrect perceptions about the development [sic] in Russia.”

Political science PhD candidate Annelie Gregor responded to Hedlund with this essay.  Ms. Gregor neglected to add that she is, apparently, an employee of the Swedish Armed Forces.

Annelie Gregor

Annelie Gregor

Gregor argues Hedlund claims Russia is not in the midst of a military build-up and is turning away from authoritarian rule.

This is not at all what Hedlund said. 

Hedlund maintains Russia’s militarization isn’t effective and Putin’s autocratic style masks concerns about domestic politics that are more important to him than building up the armed forces or attacking a non-contiguous Nordic country.

Gregor’s first point about the recent surprise readiness evaluation in the Far East simply has to be ignored.  Not because of her primarily, but because of how others have futzed it up. 

She says it “involved” 160,000 troops.  Others have said Russia “mobilized” or “deployed” this number.  The entire manpower contingent of the Far East Military District (probably some 160,000 men) certainly wasn’t “involved” in those exercises, and those troops certainly weren’t “mobilized” or “deployed.”  They already actively serve in the region where the exercise took place. 

It is true to say recent Russian exercises have featured some re-deployments and equipment movements from other districts, but they are limited to what Russia’s strategic mobility resources can manage.

Difficult as it is to believe, Gregor cites Russia’s performance in the five-day war with Georgia as evidence of a threat to Sweden.

The same Russian Armed Forces that were caught off guard, and initially acquitted themselves so poorly that a major military reform program started immediately afterwards to improve their readiness and capabilities.

As more evidence, Gregor recalls this spring when “two Tu-22M3 Backfire heavy bombers simulated a large scale aerial bombing on Sweden.”

Two Backfires with nuclear-armed cruise missiles would be more than enough to ruin Sweden’s day.  But one notes they are not “heavy bombers” nor do two constitute anything “large scale.”  The incident was, perhaps, more about flying time and asserting Moscow’s right to use international airspace.

Gregor then argues with Hedlund about whether revenues from oil, gas, and arms sales will be adequate to support Russia’s “militarization” in the future.

This part of Hedlund’s article was, unfortunately, not translated.

One contends, however, that if Hedlund said the Russian defense budget will decline as its oil earnings decline, he’s right.  In fact, one could go further and say the budget is irrelevant.  What does matter is what Moscow actually buys or gets for it.  

The Russians are getting more training (because they can buy more fuel), but they aren’t getting new weapons on the schedule they originally laid down.  

And corruption remains a huge tax on the budget, just check on the criminal cases against former Defense Minister Serdyukov’s former deputies. 

And it’s obvious to serious observers that arms sale profits don’t go to the big white building on the Arbat.  They go to Rosoboroneksport which is connected more to high-level political infighting than to the Defense Ministry.

Hedlund never said Russia is turning from authoritarian rule as Gregor alleges.  Hers is a classic “straw man” fallacy.

Hedlund responded to Gregor’s response.

He argues Moscow’s “increasingly bellicose [anti-Western and anti-NATO] rhetoric is for domestic consumption” and its “aggressive actions, such as simulated nuclear strikes on Warsaw, indicate weakness and a desperate clamoring for attention.”

Anti-U.S. and anti-NATO speech will probably always be popular in Russia.  Simulated nuclear strikes are warnings to Europeans of the consequences of cooperation with the U.S. in missile defense (or anything else for that matter).

Hedlund says he’s done anything but argue that Russia is turning from authoritarian rule.  He concludes:

“What I have argued is that there is a very large difference between present-day Russia and a truly militarized authoritarian regime that would constitute a true danger.”

Eloquently put.  Putin’s regime is a clumsy, capricious, and ineffective brand of authoritarianism.  It recalls the late years of the Tsars more than Hitler’s Germany or Stalin’s USSR.  Dangerous to a degree, but not an existential danger.

Perhaps there’ll be yet another installment in this debate.

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Winter War 2010

The Russian press has noted the 6 March article in leading Finnish daily Helsingin Sanomat describing how a Russo-Finnish war might play out in 2010.  With the conveniently provided English, one can read for oneself.  But here’s a capsule version.

The imaginary war scenario begins with a Russian cruise missile strike on the Finnish Broadcasting Company compound.  Under the State of Defense Law, mobilization begins and the Chief of Defense becomes Commander-in-Chief of the Finnish Defense Forces.  Russian fighter aircraft engage Finnish F/A-18 Hornets around Helsinki.  Finnish government entities evacuate to safer locations.  Russia’s motorized offensive presses across the Karelian isthmus, trying to reach the Finnish capital in two days.  The Finns respond with antitank weapons and German-made Leopard tanks.  Russian airborne are dropped in Helsinki to disrupt rear areas; fierce urban warfare ensues. Civilian casualties mount and noncombatants flee for Sweden.  The Russians and Finns are engage each other on the electronic front [but few details are fleshed out].

The war is decided in the air.  Russian air power overwhelms Finland’s 100 combat-capable aircraft.  But it’s no quick victory for Moscow, and the Finns receive lots of international support [it makes them feel much better to be sure].

There’s obviously a lot to question in the conjecture above.

Rossiyskaya gazeta from 19 March indicated that there’s buzz about the article in Russia and Finland, and people mostly want to know why such a ‘provocation’ has been published.  So RG asked the Finnish paper’s editor to comment, and he replied:

“In the last two months we’ve written a lot about the Winter War and its results.  And this article was part of that series of publications.  I want to note that in this material a fictional war scenario is presented.  Its purpose was to show how such a situation would develop if such a conflict broke out like at the start of the Winter War.”

“I’m not prepared to talk about what kind of war scenarios exist in the Finnish military.  This is exclusively their business.  We just published our view of an imaginary war.”

“It’s not possible here to say that we, in any case, wanted somehow to harm the relations of Finns toward Russia with our publication.  I don’t think it’s possible to do this with one article.  Or just the same draw Finland closer to NATO membership.  Therefore I ask you not to find any kind of secret designs in our publication.”

“I want to note that our material cannot be put in the same row with reporting on a Russian attack on Georgia from Georgian television station ‘Imedi.’  The aim of the story of our Caucasian colleagues was to shake up the country’s population.  In our material, we immediately indicated that the published war scenario was completely fictional.”

On 17 March, Argumenty nedeli criticized the author of the war scenario for not explaining why Russia and Finland would end up in a war.  Even in the Cold War, Finland was a better friend to Moscow than some of its socialist allies.

According to Argumenty nedeli’s defense correspondent Yaroslav Vyatkin, Helsinki lived pretty well off trade with the USSR from the 1950s to the 1980s.  But in the 1990s, an anti-Russian mood came over Finnish society.  Finland forgot about its role as bridge between East and West, and reoriented its economy toward the EU.  Some social movements actively agitated for Finland to join NATO.  Vyatkin believes the U.S. has stoked these sentiments in hopes of broadening NATO’s northern flank.

But, according to Vyatkin, Finns who want NATO membership don’t understand that the alliance can’t defend them, whatever it promises.  But he has confidence in the rational and calm Finns to make the right choice when it comes to Russia and NATO.

Then Vyatkin takes a closer look at the article’s military propositions and Finnish forces–about 90 Leopard and 65 T-72 tanks, about 200 BMPs and 800 BTRs.  BUK-M1 air defense systems around Helsinki (which it stopped procuring due to reported unhappiness with their poor resistance to jamming).  Vyatkin says the Finns’ F/A-18s and Hawk trainers would just meet a glorious death in close combat with A-50 controlled Su-27, MiG-29, and MiG-31B fighters. He thinks, though not strong, the Baltic Fleet is more than a match for the Finnish Navy.  However, he acknowledges that only the 138th Independent Motorized Rifle Brigade and 76th Airborne-Assault Division are adjacent and immediately available for action against Finland.

Vyatkin tails off by noting that, although brave, and not badly trained and equipped, the Finns lose, but Russians and Finns won’t be fighting anyway.

Vyatkin’s assessment seems a bit overconfident.  Russia’s Genshtab surely wouldn’t be this sure of easily subduing the Finns, especially or hopefully not after what was nearly, in many ways, a debacle against the Georgians in South Ossetia two years ago.

Svobodnaya pressa talked to Leonid Ivashov’s assistant at the ‘Academy of Geopolitical Problems,’ Konstantin Sivkov, about the new Winter War scenario.  Sivkov calls it nonsense, saying it sounds like someone confused Russia with the U.S., since backward Russia’s not capable of such operations. He adds that he really doesn’t want to comment on such stupidity.  Sivkov’s hard-pressed to come up with any conceivable reason why Moscow would want to go to war with Helsinki.  So, he chalks this all, like the ‘Imedi’ incident, up to an effort to cast Russia in the role of an enemy, and to prepare for Western aggression against Moscow.

In early March, Voyenno-promyshlennyy kuryer published an article on northern Europe and NATO written by a candidate of military sciences, corresponding member of the Russian Academy of Rocket and Artillery Sciences and the chief of the scientific-research department of the Defense Ministry’s Military History Institute.  The authors examined the possible negative consequences of Sweden and Finland joining NATO.  They concluded that Finland has been a true military neutral, but domestic political debate and swings in public opinion on joining NATO have become more pronounced since the late 1990s.  Some Finnish leaders have favored NATO, while others have argued for orienting more toward the U.N. or EU instead of joining NATO, which would, in their view, only add to international tension.  The authors note that, despite its formal military neutrality, Helsinki has taken practical steps toward more integration with NATO, including going over to NATO arms standards, conducting joint maneuvers with NATO, and using Partnership for Peace to promote military compatibility.

Regarding the ‘Atlanticization’ of northern Europe, they conclude that the region’s military-political configuration and balance of forces would change radically if Sweden and Finland joined NATO.  For Moscow, they recommend not only following the situation closely, but adopting a more clearly ‘multivariate and weighted’ line in relation to these countries.  It is noted that, even if they joined NATO, they might not agree to host foreign troops.

Finally, the authors say that Finnish military policy could have particular significance for northern European security in coming years.