Russia Faces Mismatch in Threat Assessment and Defense Capacity

Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 12 Issue: 126

Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin (Source: Reuters)

Moscow still fails to properly calibrate the relationship between threat assessment and modeling a military to match, with complementary defense industry support. Recent statements from the top brass suggest that a reassessment of Russia’s perceived threat environment is well underway, while the idea of promoting military modernization—especially naval rehabilitation—reveals the problem in closing such gaps. Paradoxically, the condition of the Russian Navy, and the capacity of the domestic defense industry to meet the demands placed upon it by the Kremlin, is elaborated most sharply by the nationalist Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin. As these processes advance over the next decade and beyond, with adjustments in the national threat assessment, the Russian leadership will face the same conundrum: how to establish a realistic threat assessment concerning the most likely threats facing the state in the future and redesigning the Armed Forces and security forces to meet such challenges (, July 2).

On the issue of threat assessment, despite issuing a “new” Military Doctrine in December 2014, largely unchanged since its previous iteration in February 2010, there is clear evidence that the Ukraine crisis has triggered some level of reassessing Russia’s threat environment. The focal point for this, given Moscow’s negative interpretation of the events on the Maidan in Kyiv and the decision to intervene that ensued, predictably flows from the issue of “color revolutions” and how Russia will combat this hypothetical threat in the future. Defense Minister Army-General Sergei Shoigu has promised defense ministry-led research and assessment in precisely this area, and recent media reports indicate the Academy of the General Staff has already initiated overseeing such a study. Some of the details concerning this research are important in order to better understand how the Kremlin may come to see the threat environment over the next few years. It also offers evidence that the Kremlin expects to “weather the storm” of the current crisis, since it is driving such detailed strategic-level and long-term state security projects focused on 2020 and beyond (Kommersant, June 24).

To begin with, the General Staff Academy has been engaged during the past six months in examining the methodology of color revolutions as part of its preparations to conduct defense ministry–requested research on how to combat the threat of a color revolution to the Russian state. The purpose of this study, according to Academy sources, is to provide insight into the probable threats facing Moscow to 2020, develop approaches to identify, prevent and combat the techniques used during such exposure to “soft power,” and develop policy recommendations (Kommersant, June 24).

However, in a sign of the level of importance attached to such studies, senior sources in the General Staff Academy have disclosed that there will be genuine military-civilian expert cooperation in the process of examining these issues. Moreover, the deputy chief for research of the Academy, Major-General Sergei Chvarkov, said that the Kremlin is awaiting “suggestions and recommendations.” This is unusual for two reasons: the final reporting to the Russian government avoids the approach of being “pre-ordered,” and also implies that there is real anxiety in the Kremlin concerning a color revolution threat to the Russian state. Finally, since security figures close to President Vladimir Putin link this threat to the United States, there is every reason to believe the current chasm in US-Russia relations will continue long term. The level of civilian expertise input in such defense ministry–led studies carries across most leading universities and think tanks. Conceptually, it will try to connect studies of how terrorists use social networks with the methods used during color revolutions (Kommersant, June 24).

In this context, and with Western sanctions on Russia linked to the Ukraine crisis biting into the Russian economy, speculation has been rife that the defense modernization program to 2020 will inevitably be slashed. Among the arms and branches of services perhaps standing most to lose is the Navy, desperately in need of asset modernization. Therefore, unsurprisingly, the defense ministry leadership is keen to send a placatory message to the naval command (, June 29). Deputy Defense Minister Yury Borisov chose the best possible platform to deliver a “business as usual” message to the Navy, during his visit to the International Maritime Defense Show, in St. Petersburg, on July 1. Borisov stressed there will be no cuts to existing plans to modernize the Russian Navy (, July 2).

Nonetheless, this message of hope for Russian military modernization and specifically for naval rearmament was largely undermined by Dmitry Rogozin in his typically bullish style. If some of his statistical statements prove to be accurate, the long-term future for the Russian Navy remains somewhat bleak. On July 2, Rogozin addressed the biannual Maritime Board of the Russian Federation and delivered a damning indictment of financial waste and low capacity in the defense industry to meet modernization targets. His central message was that the whole idea of import substitution in the shipbuilding industry has failed, resulting in wasting billions of rubles. Rogozin said maritime engineering lags behind acceptable technological levels required to meet anything resembling modern standards. According the deputy prime minister, the active part of fixed assets in this area has depreciated by 70 percent; the shipbuilding industry is consequently “three to five times” more expensive than abroad. Rogozin added, “The degree of capacity utilization is not more than 25 percent to 30 percent. Clearly, in such circumstances, customers of ships and marine equipment in recent years have traditionally preferred imported components, leaving the Russian producers, at best, [to house and assemble] the equipment purchased abroad” (, July 2).

On this highly sensitive issue of importing foreign components, industry and trade officials were equally robust. Up to 95 percent of the electronic parts required by the Russian shipbuilding industry are foreign. Sanctions have worsened and exposed this deep vulnerability in shipbuilding plans (, July 2). Speakers during the board meeting indicated that the issue of foreign electronic parts is now damaging even attempts to procure parts for ice breakers.

Of course, the Russian Navy cannot be tasked with a role in preventing a color revolution in Moscow, but the discussion shows the level of disconnect within the system, which is still struggling to define the likely threats facing the state and construct defense planning accordingly. But for the foreseeable future, the main focus in revamping national threat assessment is on color revolutions.