Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 4 Issue: 32

February 14, 2007 — Volume 4, Issue 32


*Putin’s criticism of West not backed by military strength

*Ivanov pours money into Russian army, but changes are superficial

*Lukashenka courts West, rebuffs opposition



Using language rarely heard since the Cold War, last week Russian President Vladimir Putin blasted the United States, European Union, NATO, Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, and the West in general during a major policy speech at a security conference in Munich on February 10. After Putin’s outburst, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov and U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who were both in Munich, tried to downplay the confrontational nature of Putin’s speech, asserting that this is not yet a “Cold War.” But members of a U.S. Congressional delegation at the Munich conference deemed Putin’s address to be aggressive and provocative, while articles appeared in Moscow asserting that a “new Cold War” has indeed started (Nezavisimaya gazeta, Vedomosti, February 12).

It is not easy to explain the rationale behind Putin’s anti-Western broadside in Munich. If he had only attacked Washington’s current policies, his view might gain some understanding from European and U.S. politicians who are themselves at odds with the Bush administration. But Putin attacked indiscriminately, causing collateral damage in all quarters, blasting the EU on Kosovo and NATO on expansion, the OSCE for its election monitoring and NGOs for promoting democracy. A pro-Kremlin web site (, February 12) lamented that Putin’s address was rejected by virtually everyone — from U.S. Republicans to German Greens. It was reported that there were even hecklers in the audience shouting, “You’ll answer for the murdered journalists!” during Putin’s speech (Rossiiskaya gazeta, February 12).

It was ill-advised of Putin to try to press on Western politicians the idea that any NGO that receives grants from any state budget becomes by implication a political tool of that state’s government, dismissing them as “so-called NGOs that are formally independent, but are financed and in fact controlled” (, February 10). In Russia, the Kremlin indeed fully controls the so-called NGOs it finances, but Western politicians know from experience that in their world this linkage is not always true.

A genuine new Cold War does not seem possible despite Putin’s rhetoric. First, he is short on resources. Today’s Russia is two times smaller than the old USSR in terms of population and industrial potential. The problem is not only material, but also ideological. The Soviet rulers believed their system of governance was superior. When the belief failed, the system collapsed.

Putin and his Kremlin cohorts do not have any separate ideology and are building in Russia something they believe is a modern Western state. In Munich Putin, who sees himself as a pro-Western reformer, a reborn Peter the Great, not so much challenged the West, as expressed his anguish at not only not being accepted, but instead being perceived by Western public opinion as an Asian dictator who is building a Potemkin democracy with a Potemkin market economy.

Three days before Putin’s bellicose speech, Ivanov unveiled a 5 trillion rubles ($189 billion) military rearmament program. According to Ivanov, 45% of Russia’s weapons will be replaced with new ones by 2015. The acquisitions will include a completely revamped early-warning radar network, new intercontinental missiles, a fleet of supersonic Tu-160 strategic bombers, and 31 new warships, including a new class of Borey strategic nuclear submarines, and aircraft carriers (, February 7). Ivanov’s spending plan sounds like a replay of the Cold War arms race.

Ivanov boasted that 17 new ICBMs would be procured in 2007. But last month the chief of the Strategic Rocket Force, General Nikolai Solovtsov, spelled out that indeed only five truly new SS-27s (Topol-M) ICBMs will be acquired, while the other 12 are older Soviet-type naval submarine liquid-fuel ballistic missiles SS-N-23 (Sineva) that will be placed on the Soviet-built Delta-4 nuclear submarine Tula to replace the same type of missiles that have been scrapped because of old age. The SS-N-23 in fact has a range less than intercontinental (, January 5),

Solovtsev told journalists that there are today 542 operational ground-based ICBMs in Russia, but 70% of them are too old and overdue to be scrapped. By 2015 some 62 new SS-27 ICBMs will be procured, but at the same time some 400 old ICBMs will be removed. Today Russia has 78 strategic Tu-160 and Tu-95 bombers, while by 2015 Ivanov hopes to have 50 operational. The first new sub of the new Borey class (Yuri Dolgoruky) is indeed close to completion, but its new Bulava missiles have regularly failed during tests (see EDM, September 11, 2006), making the new sub a worthless asset.

During the Cold War, the USSR built five aircraft carriers in the Nikolayev shipyard in Ukraine. None of the carriers were ever truly operational: Three have been scrapped, one is being remodeled for India, and the last, the Admiral Kuznetsov, is a crippled vessel that spends most of its time being repaired. There are today no concrete plans to resume aircraft production.

Ivanov expressed doubt that the Russian defense industry will be able to produce the modern weapons Russia military needs. Substantial funds have been earmarked for rearmament in Russia and more is planned to come, but the money will be spent in total secrecy that heightens the opportunities for misappropriation. Ivanov refused to say how many tanks Russia has today, how many new ones will build, who much they will cost, what is the price of any item that is planned to be procured (, February 7).

In essence, Ivanov’s rearmament plan only pretends to be a replica of a Cold War build up, while in fact it is a modest attempt to keep even a fraction of Russia’s present Soviet-made strategic defense holdings operational until 2015. Whether Putin’s salvo is also a charade remains unknown.

–Pavel Felgenhauer


On February 7 Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov told the State Duma that Russia will re-arm its armed forces, offering 5 trillion rubles to develop new hardware rather than simply maintaining the armed forces. The program will continue until 2015. More significantly, Ivanov reacted against the idea of “reform” in the Russian military, expressing his preference for the term “modernization.” The reason is clear: “As soon the word ‘reform’ gets mentioned, people start to tremble and shake: What will come later from this reform? In the army we have no reforms — we are undergoing modernization,” Ivanov asserted.

The program for armaments 2007-2015 contains a laundry list of military hardware to purchase, including 50 Topol-M systems, 50 missile-carrying aircraft, 100,000 motor vehicles, and 31 ships. In fact the target is to replace 45% of existing military hardware. Clearly, such an ambitious program will place economic challenges in the path of successful implementation. “The financial problem is not acute at the moment. The state procurement order is being financed bit-by-bit in full. The issue is quality. Can our industry produce what the armed forces need? This is a big question and this concerns me very much at present,” Ivanov admitted (Channel One TV, Moscow, February 7).

Despite Ivanov’s confidence in offering this ambitious program, he placed other issues on hold such as the possibility of building aircraft carriers, promising to review the situation in two years. In another dimension of “modernization,” Ivanov pointed to the formation of regional commands and again reaffirmed his belief in professionalizing the manning system in the military, commenting that 2007 will witness additional transition to contract service — another 47,000 soldiers and sergeants will start serving on contract.

Ivanov considers the armament program to be central to Russia’s strategy for enhancing its readiness for future warfare. He claimed that Russia’s combat readiness is higher than at any time its post-Soviet history, and he called on the Duma to support his requests for defense spending. Ivanov said that the plan involves placing on “combat duty with the Strategic Missile Troops tens of silo-launched [missile] systems and command points, and also to acquire more than 50 Topol-M mobile ground-based missile systems, [and] to have in the Russian air force 50 long-range strategic bombers” (NTV Mir, February 7).

Russian defense officials rely heavily on armament programs to show that the military is making progress, if not reforming. Viktor Zavarzin, the chairman of the Duma’s committee on defense, believes the 5 trillion will be allocated to implement the State Armaments Program during the period 2007-2015. Zavarzin said, “Only a fifth of overall spending envisaged under the program is earmarked for strategic armaments. Most of it will be spent on the re-equipping of general-purpose forces.”

Plans include rearming approximately 200 formations and units from the general-purpose forces, including 45 tank battalions, with half receiving new types of tanks; more than 170 other battalions will be modernized with new IFVs and APCs; five air defense brigades will get the Iskander-M system; others will receive the S-400 system and the Pantsir-S missile/gun system. Modern communications equipment will also be supplied to more units, consequently “The number of constant-readiness formations and units will increase to 600 as a result,” Zavarzin said.

The Russian air force will receive 116 new and 408 upgraded aircraft for forward aviation units, 156 new and 372 modernized helicopters, and 34 new and 159 modernized strategic bombers. Two multipurpose nuclear submarines and four diesel submarines will be delivered to the Russian Navy, as well as 12 warships and several patrol boats (Interfax, February 2).

On February 7 Admiral Vladimir Masorin, the commander-in-chief of the navy, visited the Rubin Central Design Bureau, stating that around half the existing naval budget is spent on the development of the sea-based strategic nuclear force. “This places a special responsibility on the developers of strategic weapons. Priority has been given to funding the sea-based strategic nuclear force based on the tasks of deterrence and prevention of security threats outlined in the military and naval doctrines,” he said (Interfax, February 7). Current Russian opposition towards the U.S. development of the ABM system, envisaging the deployment of components in Poland and the Czech Republic, has not only resulted in predictable statements of Moscow’s disapproval, but in some quarters the idea has been mooted that the U.S. and Russia should sign a non-aggression pact. It seems disingenuous for Russia to continue to spend so much of its naval budget on developing its sea-based strategic nuclear force, while complaining that Cold War thinking is predominant in the West.

Personnel policies must also be modernized. Russia has done little to seriously change the culture of bullying within its army. Reportedly, elements in the Russian army are attempting to combat bullying by using bullying methods. According to the Union of the Committee of Soldiers’ Mothers a document has emerged in Altai region that suggests commanders should counter bullying with non-regulation methods, including administering “harsh treatment” and public humiliation of offenders.

The Russian Ministry of Defense has refused to confirm the origin of the document. Speculation that it was written within the Ministry appears unfounded, suggesting instead that it could have been the initiative of an officer within the local military unit. Valentina Melnikova, the head of the Union of the Committees of Soldiers’ Mothers, emphasized the shocking nature of these allegations, which, if substantiated, reveal the existing levels of brutality within the Russian army are now taking new twists. It is unclear whether this will result in the Ministry launching an investigation into such allegations (Ekho Moskvy, February 5). In the “modernizing” Russian army, old problems will die hard.

–Roger McDermott


The events of the past two weeks make confusing reading. The president of Belarus, Alexander Lukashenka, is openly courting Europe and admonishing himself for his hitherto one-dimensional foreign policy. The leader of the United Democratic opposition, Alexander Milinkevich, seems willing to meet him halfway, urging common action on the two major public days of commemoration for the regime and the opposition. Meanwhile Russian parliamentary delegates fume at Lukashenka for his remarks comparing Russia with the United States and making reference to its “imperial” stance. Ostensibly, an erstwhile close ally is cast aside and relations between Moscow and Minsk on Valentine’s Day 2007 seem very cold indeed. But what do these events actually mean for the long-term relationship? How seriously should this change of direction in Minsk be taken?

Lukashenka’s most recent tirades against Russia were made in an interview with Alexander Rahr, published in the newspaper Die Welt on January 29, and in a February 6 interview with Sean Maguire of Reuters news agency. In Die Welt, he remarked that he was not seeking future quarrels with the EU and that partnership with the EU was important for the diversification of Belarusian energy policies. Russia has been trying to assert control gradually by establishing a common currency. However, Lukashenka suggested, he would like Belarus eventually to resemble Germany or Switzerland, and he would be willing to take advice in particular from German Chancellor Angela Merkel. During a meeting with foreign ambassadors on February 13, he made similar comments toward France. In the second interview, he acknowledged the errors of a foreign policy directed exclusively toward Russia, stating: “We have been standing on one leg, whereas we should be standing on two.”

The following day, Milinkevich sent an “open letter” to Lukashenka, with a proposal to start a dialogue and overcome the rift in Belarusian society. Citing the main asset of the United Democrats–contacts and friendship with the countries of Europe — Milinkevich argued that the president should fulfill several conditions before the dialogue begins, including the release of political prisoners and the democratization of the political system. A joint demonstration of the government and opposition forces, he maintained, could take place on March 25, the commemoration of the 1918 Belarusian People’s Republic, and the official national holiday of July 3, which marks the liberation of Minsk in 1944. Milinkevich noted the president’s encouraging statement about developing better relations with Europe and said that dialogue could bring positive results if the chief goals were the preservation of independence and the improvement of the lives of Belarusian residents.

The chairman of the United Civic Party, Anatol Lyabedzka, declared that the United Opposition should discuss a common policy toward the government rather than offer individual opinions, suggesting that Milinkevich’s initiative was made without consultation with his colleagues. Subsequently, Lyabedzka stated that if the opposition wanted the regime to pay attention, then it should bring thousands of protesters to the presidential building in Minsk. Through his lawyer, imprisoned Social Democratic leader Alexander Kazulin commented that Milinkevich’s letter was written from a position of weakness and puts authority in the hands of the president. In his view such a discussion can only take place on an equal basis. The key point — and one that has hardly gone unnoticed in European capitals — is that Lukashenka intends to retain his office without diminishing his power, and thus he is not in a position to accede to the wishes of Milinkevich, let alone other opposition leaders who are taking a firmer stance. Arguably, however, that was never his intention in the first place.

Lukashenka’s erratic presidency has been marked by sudden reversals of strategy and the apparent offering of olive branches at selected moments. There is no reason to doubt his fury at the Moscow leadership for what he perceives as a betrayal of a friend, partner, and brother. Russia’s decision to force world energy prices on Belarus has seriously weakened the economic outlook of the latter country. However, the real issue for the Belarusian president is his political clout. To enhance his position he has always needed an external enemy, be it NATO, United States, or Russia. His watchword has remained the “protection” of Belarusians: from terrorism, military conflicts, external threats, and enemies within who serve or are funded by foreign interests. In other words, the issue is not really a broken partnership with Russia; it is the continuation of his presidency, which is based on the myth of economic success and “partnership with the people.”

Belarus can no more cut ties with Russia than Canada with the United States. Thus the coolness in relations can only be a temporary phenomenon. As one Russian analyst has commented, the only way that Russian-Belarusian relations could truly be severed would be if Russia took further harsh measures against its neighbor. It might then achieve the impossible: the formation of an alliance between the president and the opposition. Thus there are two quite separate issues at stake: one is a Russian threat to the independence of Belarus; the second is the introduction of democracy in Belarus. Lukashenka is concerned about the first because it threatens his power; but he has shown little interest in the second for the same reason.

(, February 8; Kommersant, February 7 and 8;, February 9; Belarusy i Rynok, February 12-19; Charter-97, BELTA, February 13)