The past 20 years has been a tale of near-continuous decline for the ex-Soviet military. Once it was the largest military force on the planet. Of late it has fallen to a mere shadow of its former self. So low have the fortunes of Russia’s conventional military fallen that it was barely able to defeat Georgia in their short conflict in 2008. The Soviet Union was once known for its massive nuclear arsenal. Now it is barely able to maintain a viable force; most of its systems are obsolescent and aging badly. Even in the absence of new arms control agreements with the United States, Russia would be forced to significantly cut back its nuclear arsenal.
According to a senior Russian government official, the situation continues to deteriorate. In a recent interview for a Russian newspaper, reported on by Leon Aron in Foreign Policy, Yuri Solomonov, that country’s chief missile designer, took on his country’s President Dimitry Medvedev. This move is significant for Russian politics, since Medvedev is seeking to extend his tenure against the wishes of current prime minister and former President Vladimir Putin who wants his old job back. Medvedev is associated with a military reform program that was intended to transform the Russian military. But in his critique Solomonov revealed that Russia’s military is heading for the ash heap.
According to Solomonov, Russia is now dependent on the West for critical technologies to keep its nuclear forces in operation. The military reform program, which required a massive increase in the production of modern aircraft, ground combat systems and ships, has essentially collapsed because of weaknesses in the Russian defense industrial base.
Equally interesting, Solomonov criticizes President Medvedev for his efforts to threaten Europe and the United States over its current plans to deploy a theater missile defense system. The Kremlin leader had suggested that Russia could respond to the deployment of the Aegis Ashore theater missile defense system with countervailing deployments of theater nuclear missiles. Solomonov says that Medvedev is threatening the West with a military deployment that “does not exist, did not exist, and will not exist.” In addition, the Russian missile designer pointed out something which Western advocates of limited missile defenses have said for years: the Russian ICBM force could overwhelm such a defense.
The Obama Administration’s effort to reset this nation’s strategic relations with Russia is based in large part on the belief that our counterpart in the decades old strategic pas de deux is still a player. In fact, it is clear that Russia continues to decline as a military and economic power even as its politics become more Byzantine. No effort at arms control will be able to mask Russia’s military decline.
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