Since the inauguration of President Putin in early May, the government has put forward a new foreign policy “concept,” a new national security concept, a new military doctrine and a new economic program. But this is just paper pushing. It has not resolved a long conflict between rival schools of thought about Russia’s armed forces, a conflict embodied in the power struggle between General Anatoly Kvashnin, chief of the general staff, and General Igor Sergeev, minister of defense.
Moscow, like Dodge, is not big enough for both of them. General Kvashnin last week used a meeting of senior defense officials to propose a military reorganization that would make deep and unilateral cuts in strategic missiles, eliminate the Strategic Missile Troops (SMT) as a separate service, and use the resources saved to beef up the army on the ground. General Sergeev, a former SMT commander, went, um, ballistic. “Criminal stupidity,” he called the plan, “an attempt to harm the national interests of Russia.” Sergeev’s own vision of the future is exactly opposite. He wants to transfer all strategic nuclear weapons from the air force and navy to the SMT.
Putin called his warring generals on the carpet for their public feuding, but he did not grapple with the fundamental issues of resources and priorities. The various concept papers call Russia a “great power,” “one of the most influential centers of the modern world,” and (with China) a bulwark against America’s perceived drive for world domination. Strategic forces are essential to that claim. But Putin has also pledged to rebuild the army, modernize its weaponry, reward its officers and professionalize its troops.
Despite promises of big budget increases, defense spending is expected to fall somewhat short of the target of 3.5 percent of gross domestic product (U.S. defense spending is around 3.3 percent of GDP). That level of spending cannot support both a strong nuclear deterrent and a modern conventional force. Who will get what? According to one source, the National Security Council is assembling material on the issue, for a presidential decision around the end of this month.