Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 190

Russia has in recent days continued to take heat from the European Union both for Moscow’s escalating military operations in the Caucasus and–apparently–for related pressures to increase substantially the Russian defense budget. In a speech to EU parliamentarians in Helsinki on October 12, Finnish Foreign Minister Tarja Halonen warned Moscow that its ongoing offensive against Chechen rebels and its failure to meet human rights obligations more generally could impede the building of stronger Russian-EU ties. Finland is currently EU chairman and will play host next week to an important Russian-EU summit.

Halonen’s remarks suggested that the summit could be a contentious one. In addition to chiding Moscow for its war in Chechnya, she also called on Russia to forego ambitions of remaining a world power. “Economic realities will compel Russia to abandon hopes of remaining a global great power and to be content with a role as an important European actor,” she was quoted as saying. “It is up to Russia herself to decide how she wants to avail herself of this opportunity” (Reuters, October 13).

Halonen’s admonitions come as politically resurgent military hardliners in Russia appear at last to be making progress in their longstanding efforts to win increases in defense spending. The generally hawkish mood in Moscow these days–one enthusiastically embraced by Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and a number of top lawmakers–has also been reflected in the drafting of a military doctrine which in some ways hearkens back to the Cold War period. The document is said to be strikingly anti-Western. It also describes an international environment full of potential threats to Russia’s national security. The inference is said to be clear that Russia must rearm to a degree which would allow it to counter not only a potential attack by NATO, but also the danger of local and regional conflicts along its borders (Reuters, October 12; see the Monitor, October 12).

Aside from the threat of destabilization posed by the Russian war in Chechnya itself, these calls for increased military spending are becoming a concern for those in the West who monitor the Russian government’s economic activities. The United States has already warned that spending on Chechen military operations could undermine Russia’s economic reform goals.

That point was apparently made more sharply yesterday by IMF managing director Michel Camdessus. He cautioned that IMF lending to Russia could be suspended if the country’s military spending surges. “If I see that the budget is over-shooting because of an uncontrolled increase of military spending, we shall interrupt our support,” he was quoted as saying. The remark drew a testy response from the Russian prime minister, who said that Camdessus does not personally control fund disbursements. Vladimir Putin also argued that the war in Chechnya would be paid out of additional budget revenues which, in his words, “have nothing to do with the IMF money which we use to repay earlier loans.” He had admitted on October 11 that the “military operation in the North Caucasus is putting additional pressures on the budget” (AFP, Itar-Tass, October 13; Itar-Tass, October 11).