Category Archives: Strategic Deterrence

How the Third World War Begins

What would happen if the U.S. and some NATO allies decided to intervene in eastern Ukraine by supplying Kyiv with arms or by sending their own troops to the front lines?  Mikhail Khodarenok has tried to answer this question, and provides much-needed tonic for Western observers wowed by the Kremlin’s “surprise” exercises since 2013.  He is a conservative critic of the Russian MOD leadership and post-Soviet military “reforms” up to Sergey Shoygu’s tenure.  

Khodarenok argues against allowing Russian forces to be drawn into an escalating conflict because ill-conceived and continual “optimization” has left them unprepared for a conventional war against the West.

Khodarenok is editor-in-chief of Voyenno-promyshlennyy kuryer or VPK. He’s a retired colonel, professional air defender, General Staff Academy grad, and former staffer of the General Staff’s Main Operations Directorate.  In the late 1990s and early 2000s, he was an outstanding military journalist for Nezavisimoye voyennoye obozreniye, but by 2003 or 2004, he left for VPK.

Mikhail Khodarenok

Mikhail Khodarenok

His latest for VPK is interesting, and follows in its entirety.

Script for the Third World War

Volunteers from the USA and Western Europe are interfering in the conflict in south-east Ukraine.

One has to repeat yet again:  statements, from time to time voiced by ultraliberal Russian politicians like “the problem has no military solution” and “all wars end in peace,” have no relationship to reality.  Wars end only one way — a crushing defeat for some and brilliant victory for others.  If the phrase “there is no military solution” appears, this means that one of the parties to the conflict simply has no strength for the victorious conclusion of the war.  And if some armed confrontation ends like a draw, it is so perhaps because of the complete exhaustion of military capabilities on both sides.  Of course, there are possible variants with some very minor deviations from this general line.

Begin with the immediate and future tasks of the parties to the conflict in the south-east Ukraine.

For the Kiev leadership the immediate, and future, and enduring goal for the historically foreseeable future is only one thing:  restoration of the territorial integrity of the country by any means, primarily military ones.  The strategic mission is to wipe the armed formations of the south-east from the face of the earth.  Waiting for negotiations, for changes in the constitution of Ukraine in the right way for the unrecognized patches of territories, for federalization of the south-east — all this is from the realm exclusively of suppositions and imaginary games. Carthage (i.e. the separatist south-east) must be destroyed — and this thesis, without any doubt, will be dominant in all Ukrainian foreign and domestic policy.  To hold other views today among the [Maydan] Square elite means immediate political suicide.  Still Kiev doesn’t have the forces and means to solve the problem militarily.  But this doesn’t at all signify the Ukrainian leadership’s refusal of a policy of crushing the south-east by military means.

It’s necessary to say directly that, on the whole, the external and internal political missions of Ukraine in the south-east are clear and logical.

It’s more complicated with the unrecognized south-east.  Everything here is much foggier.  It’s possible to demand self-determination for these territories, but what then?  How can people live on this piece of land if it is practically impossible to guarantee the economic, financial and any other independence for the south-east (or more precisely, two torn off and extremely curvy pieces of Donetsk and Lugansk Oblasts)?  Demanding federalization is also theoretically permissible, but official Kiev will never, under any circumstances, grant it.  Return to [Maydan] Square?  But so much blood has already been shed, the scale of destruction of the region’s infrastructure is simply astonishing, and the gulf between the parties to the conflict is so great that this is hardly possible without subsequent pogroms and mass shootings of insurgents by Ukraine’s central government.  In general, a complete zugzwang — what to do is not clear to anyone, and the next move can only worsen the situation.  It seems that the political line of the south-east, in these circumstances, can be only one thing — hiding behind a verbal veil and temporizing.  And then, maybe, something will happen.

In this regard, it doesn’t due to forget one important circumstance.  In predicting the future, futurists of all stripes mainly use the very same method.  From the point of view of a representative of anti-aircraft missile troops, as the author was in the past, —  this is the hypothesis of a rectilinear and uniform motion target.  A significant part of the forecasts is based on this postulate.

But there is the “Black Swan” theory.  Its author — Nassim Nicholas Taleb, wrote about it in the book “The Black Swan:  The Impact of the Highly Improbable. ” The theory considers difficult to predict and rare events that involve significant consequences.

In other words, it is impossible to describe the processes of the real world with only mathematics, employing even the most advanced models.  From a certain point anything and everything can go contrary to predictions, extremely askew.  It seems that the unspoken political line of the south-east — to wait is built on this.  And then it will become apparent.  Is it good or bad — only time will tell.

Today in the south-east of Ukraine a cease-fire regime is in effect.  But all parties to the conflict seem to realize that this is not the end, but rather only a pause before the summer campaign.

We now turn to hypothetical scenarios of the developing situation in the south-east of Ukraine (we emphasize — scenarios exclusively from the realm of hypotheses and assumptions).

How does the war in the south-east present itself from the point of view of military art?  Essentially, two Soviet armies are fighting.  One is a 1991 model (it is the armed forces of Ukraine), the other is a somewhat modernized version of the same Soviet army — better trained in an operational-tactical sense, manned by more competent specialists, and commanded better.  And the armed confrontation is currently playing out solely on the ground — with only the forces of combined arms units and sub-units.  The south-east doesn’t have its own air forces, and Ukraine’s — formerly small — air forces have gradually dwindled to nothing in the course of the conflict.  Practically no serviceable aircraft and trained pilots remain for the [Maydan] Square. Volunteers for the south-east on their TO&E air defense equipment helped the development of such a situation a lot.  Sometimes vacationers in their planes acted fairly quietly and unnoticed for the same purpose.  But from the point of view of military art, the armed confrontation in the south-east is all just a somewhat modernized variant of World War II in its final stage.  Neither this nor that side has identified new weapons and military equipment or new techniques and methods of conducting armed warfare.

As is well-known, volunteer-vacationers are fighting on the side of the south-east. With their TO&E weapons as a rule.  But now suppose such a variant (again, purely hypothetical, why not), that volunteers and vacationers from the USA and Western Europe began to arrive in the ranks of the armed forces of Ukraine, also with their TO&E weapons.

Let’s begin with the air forces.  Suppose F-15, F-16, F-22, A-10, “Panavia Tornado,” E-8A, E-3A began landing on the airfields of Kharkov, Poltava, Dnepropetrovsk, Zaporozhye.  Previous identification markings and side numbers painted over, and marked in their place is the trident and yellow-blue banners of Ukraine.  Prior to this, many flights to Ukrainian airbases delivered fuel and the most modern aviation weapons.

Three CSGs (carrier strike groups) are deployed on the Black Sea coast of Bulgaria which has prostituted itself politically for the past 140 years.  The typical composition of each is one nuclear-powered aircraft carrier, two-three guided missile cruisers, three-four guided missile destroyers, three-four nuclear-powered attack submarines.

Armored and mechanized divisions of volunteers from the West outfitted with “Abrams,” “Leopard,” “Leclerc” tanks, “Marder” and “Bradley” BMPs, modern artillery are unloaded in the area of ​​Mariupol, Pavlograd, Izyum, and Lozove.

In addition, we should make note of the volunteer units and sub-units (also manned by vacationers from the USA and Western Europe), electronic warfare, communications, unmanned aerial vehicles and so on, and so on.  Do not forget also about the volunteer logistics and technical support units, without which modern war is unthinkable.

Now a question.  How long would the armed formations of the south-east hold out if a qualitatively different enemy entered the war, if a hail of modern aviation weapons — anti-bunker bombs, laser- and satellite-guided bombs, air- and sea-based cruise missiles showered down on LNR and DNR formations and units?  If the order-of-battle were attacked by the newest armored combat vehicles and artillery?  And the action of all this military splendor was supported by American intelligence of all types which has not even a close analogue in the world?  And the planes of the volunteers of the West chase after every BMP, gun, and tank of the units and formations of the south-east, separately bomb every trench, firing point, and mortar position taken.  And destroy the target with margins commensurate with the size of the trench itself.

We’ll repeat the question:  how long can the armed formations of the south-east hold out?  A day?  Two?  A week?  The answer is unfortunately:  several hours would be good.

Of course, the elder comrades — the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation — of the volunteers of the south-east can support them.  And precisely at this moment — please get shaved(1) — the Third World War has begun.

Such a version of events is the crystal dream of the current Ukrainian leadership. But Anglo-Saxon blood is too dear to shed for the future happiness of some half-wild Ukrainians.  Therefore, such a version of developing events is still to be assessed as the game of a warmed-over imagination.

And if you still continue to fantasize and try to imagine how the development of such a conflict in the South-West Strategic Direction [YuZSN] might look, if all interested sides take part in it under this or that flag.

We say directly — the success of armed confrontation employing only conventional weapons is obvious in this case.  It certainly will be on the side of the West.  Unfortunately, the modern Russian Army is still less than qualitatively different from its Soviet predecessor of the 1991 model.  And there is not very much of the latest weaponry, meeting the highest demands of the XXI century, in it.

For example, at this time, we do not have a single operational large formation [объединение] of the air forces (which by the way are no longer themselves a service of the Armed Forces), equipped with modern aircraft with supplies of the newest aviation weapons for the conduct of at least 30 days of combat actions.

The Black Sea Fleet today, to our great regret, is a branch of the Central Naval Museum.  On the ships of the BSF it would be possible to study the history of Soviet shipbuilding in the 1960-1970s.

Yes, and combined arms formations and units, if you collected everything that is on the territory of the former SKVO(2), you would get not more than 1.5 army corps (by Western standards).  You clearly couldn’t form a 1st Ukrainian Front from the available set of forces and resources.  There are no operational reserves on the district’s territory.  That is, the formations and units clearly do not have the strength for operational-strategic missions on the YuZSN.

To understand the sharpness of the situation, let’s add just one thing:  if there are four-six specialized EW aircraft on every American carrier, then we don’t have a single similar aircraft in our entire air forces.

One should note still one more very important point — the operational outfitting of theater of military actions in the South-West Strategic Direction hardly meets the tasks of conducting combat actions successfully.  The airfield network, the quantity and quality of roads and railways far from fully meet the demands of pursuing armed confrontation.  It suffices to note that some railroads pass through the territory of Ukraine, and the famous quadrangle in which there are generally no railways lies precisely on the YuZSN.  In a word, the first railroad parallel to the front line goes through Ukraine, and the next — only through Volgograd.  And as is well-known, where the railway ends, and so ends the war.

As for the quartering of formations, units, and sub-units of the RF Armed Forces on the YuZSN, they are located mainly in the dispositions of the Soviet-era North Caucasus Military District.  In those days, this district was deep in the rear with a small set of reduced-strength and cadre units and formations.  The situation in this respect has changed a little since 1991.  But now the neighboring country of the district with the most militant and anti-Russian mood is modern Ukraine.

A fully legitimate question arises:  what did you do the last 20 years?  This period in the life of the Russian Armed Forces awaits its impartial historian. Still one can say the following concisely.  All force in the 1990s and 2000s, maybe, went into continuous organizational-staffing measures(3).  Meaning:  form, then disband the very same, then restore it, disband it again, but incidentally with the aims exclusively of optimizing and improving the organizational structure, zeroize military science and education, cut military academies to the root under the well-meaning pretext of relocating them, scatter valuable cadres in the course of continuous cuts and reformations.  Just two words — “reform” and “optimization” — in their harmful effect on the life of the Armed Forces are comparable, perhaps, only with the consequences of delivering a series of MRAUs (massed missile-air strikes).

Perhaps, if we look at the matter critically, nothing qualitatively new was created (in any case this is debatable).  We have essentially marked time for more than 20 years, while other countries have made a breakthrough in military affairs.  If any positive trend has been noted, then it is only with the arrival of Sergey Shoygu in the Ministry of Defense.

And somebody should be responsible for it — at least in terms of an objective analysis of the situation.  Let’s examine try the defense ministers in recent years – from Pavel Grachev to Anatoliy Serdyukov.

Which of them could be called “a prominent builder of the Armed Forces of modern Russia?”  Or write the line in their performance appraisal:  “A talented military theorist, who made a significant contribution to strengthening the defense power of the state?”  Finally, he “developed, established, introduced, and adopted weapons into the arms inventory?”

Try to include the following lines in their testimonials:

“Extraordinary concentration, inquisitive mind, analytical skills, ability to make correct, forward-looking conclusions;”
“Creative mind and a remarkable memory, ability to quickly grasp a situation, to foresee the development of events;”
“Has a rich combat experience, broad erudition, high operational-strategic training, gave all his strength to the training and education of military personnel, to the development of military science;”
“Distinguished by deep knowledge of matters, persistent daily work, high culture and personal manners;”
“Dedication to affairs, high professionalism, intelligence.”

Having presented a line on the [MOD] leaders noted above, we can say — almost nothing suits, however.  Or its suits, but not much.  In the best case, all the enumerated persons were occupied with only one thing — “merge-unmerge,” and then cut.  But court of history is impartial — no matter how so-and-so puffed out his cheeks or furrowed his eyebrows in the past, it is not at all the generals for special assignments from his inner circle who will write his testimonial for him.

By way of conclusion.  What do Russia’s Armed Forces do in the event of such a development of the conflict?  Threaten to use tactical nuclear weapons?  Meaning:  if you do not stop, we will strike at Ukrainian nuclear power plants, chemical facilities, the series of hydroelectric power stations on the Dnieper River in order to create a flood zone and destruction.  But this, as is well-known, is a double-edged sword.  And there are not so many long-range tactical nuclear weapons delivery vehicles.  After all, with our own hands we destroyed the class of missiles most needed for the defense of the country — RSMD(4).

Of course, all the above described and enumerated is no more than speculation, fantasies, and hypotheses.

But there can be only one exit from the Ukrainian crisis — under no circumstances should the Russian Federation Armed Forces be allowed to be dragged into the conflict in the south-east.  Our country, the army and navy, needs to note objectively that we are still not ready for large-scale armed confrontation employing only conventional weapons.  If you sort out all the criteria of the state’s readiness for war (Armed Forces training, preparation of the country’s economy, the preparation of the country’s territory to support the RF Armed Forces, preparing the population for defense), then most of them have very substantial problems.

And it’s necessary to strengthen the country’s defense capability at a forced (downright Bolshevik) tempo, and create Russian Armed Forces which meet the highest standards of modern warfare.  And the first thing is to stop the nervous organizational-staffing(3) delirium.

A post-script to Khodarenok’s opus:  where does he leave us?  

A frozen conflict [a draw — to use his term] is, of course, a win for the Kremlin.  At least through the medium term.  

If the West intervened militarily in the conflict as Khodarenok hypothesizes, both sides would have to make dangerous decisions about working up the conventional escalation ladder.  Moscow might conceivably back away from eastern Ukraine if given a serious bloody nose.  Along the way, the U.S. and EU might also go “nuclear” economically by revoking Russia’s membership in the SWIFT international money transfer system.  

But if, as Khodarenok suggests, the West trumps conventionally, Moscow could consider a game-changing resort to nuclear weapons. With probably only messy endings in store for him anyway, Putin might have fewer compunctions here than the U.S. or NATO.  He would have fewer choices too — escalate again or lose the war (and his grip on power).  Would Russian military men be willing to use nuclear weapons over eastern Ukraine or to save Putin?

There is, of course, an alternative more likely to be chosen by the West:  Cold War-style containment of eastern Ukraine and Russia. It’s a less dangerous, but slow and frustrating process placing much of the burden of nation-state building on pro-Kyiv Ukrainians themselves and on the West’s willingness to finance the emergence of a viable country in contrast to the Russian-backed statelets in the east.  However, this long road is open everywhere to Russian meddling, and frontline NATO allies would require lots of tangible reassurance.

Whatever the policy course, it isn’t clear to this author that the U.S. and the West possess the same fortitude to pursue it that they did in the 1940s and 1950s.  They don’t have the same cohesion in decisionmaking.  Not many are willing to view what happens in Ukraine as a top policy concern.  The U.S. is tired and distracted. Putin’s Kremlin, however, has already defined Ukraine as an immediate and vital interest.

(1) Refers to Alexander the Great having his men shave before battle.
(2) North Caucasus Military District.
(3) A term used in the Russian workplace for reorganizations entailing closure of some entities, establishment of new ones, physical relocations, and personnel transfers and cuts.
(4) Medium and shorter range missiles — covered by the INF Treaty.

Pacific Fleet Patrols

Pobedonosets Concludes Patrol (photo:

Pobedonosets Concludes Patrol (photo:

On 29 December 2014, Pacific Fleet Delta III-class SSBN Svyatoy Georgiy Pobedonosets returned home from a combat patrol, according to  

The MOD site reported that the submarine arrived in Vilyuchinsk after completing missions at sea.  The chief of staff of Pacific Fleet submarine forces greeted its commander and crew with a traditional roast pig. said Pobedonosets will be ready to fulfill new tasks after replenishing its stores.

34-year-old Pobedonosets is one of only three (two operational) SSBNs in the Pacific Fleet order-of-battle.

It conducted an inter-fleet from the Northern to the Pacific Fleet in late 1983. From 1993 to 2003, it was laid up at Zvezda shipyard for extended “medium repair” due no doubt to a lack of funding at the time.

Then-president Dmitriy Medvedev visited Pobedonosets in 2008.

The submarine fired SS-N-18 SLBMs during strategic forces exercises in 2013, 2012, 2010, and 2009.  The 2013 shot occurred while the SSBN was on patrol and came from the Sea of Okhotsk, according to the VladNews agency.

The Russian Navy conducted only five SSBN patrols in 2012, according to a FOIA response obtained from U.S. Naval Intelligence by Federation of American Scientists scholar Hans Kristensen.  He concludes five were not enough for Moscow to resume continuous SSBN patrols as its Navy CINC promised  in mid-2012.  They would be 73-day patrols end-to-end.

It seems likely Pobedonosets spent 40-50 days in the Sea of Okhotsk or not far off Kamchatka in the extreme northeastern Pacific.

Podolsk Returning to Port in 2014 (photo: Eastern MD Press-Service)

Podolsk Returning to Port in 2014 (photo: Eastern MD Press-Service)

35-year-old Delta III-class SSBN Podolsk patrolled in 2011, VladNews reported. PrimaMedia indicates that Podolsk fired an SLBM, conducted other training, and possibly even an abbreviated combat patrol in mid-2014. noted it was the first launch from Podolsk in more than a decade; all other recent Pacific Fleet firings came from Pobedonosets.

32-year-old Delta III-class SSBN Ryazan inter-fleeted in 2008, launched an SLBM in 2009, but has been inactive undergoing repair since 2011.

So the fleet’s old two-submarine SSBN force performs the arduous job of maintaining some kind of Russian strategic patrol presence in the Pacific. There’s some evidence for maybe four Pacific Fleet SSBN patrols in the last four years.

Meanwhile, the Pacific Fleet awaits the inter-fleet of Borey-class SSBN hulls two and three, Aleksandr Nevskiy and Vladimir Monomakh, in the fall when, the Navy hopes, their new base facilities will be complete.  They are already officially Pacific Fleet assets but based temporarily  in Gadzhiyevo.

Two additional Boreys (for a total of four) are intended for the Pacific at some point.  But, in the meantime, the aged Pobedonosets and Podolsk will apparently conduct occasional patrols.

Russia 2030

Global Trends 2030:  Alternative Worlds

Global Trends 2030: Alternative Worlds

The NIC has released its latest Global Trends publication.  Hat tip to and Igor Korotchenko for taking note of it.  As usual, and rightly, the document focuses more on “megatrends,” and less on individual countries.  Nevertheless, here are excepts of its forecast for Russia.

Under the “Changing Calculations of Key Players,” the NIC says:

Russia’s strategic calculations will depend to a great extent on whether Russian leaders decide to increase Russia’s integration into the international system and mitigate the threat of future armed conflict or whether they choose to continue Russia’s relative isolation and mistrust of others, exacerbating interstate tensions. Russia has serious concerns regarding the threat posed by a rapidly expanding China, particularly Beijing’s growing appetite for natural resources which could eventually encroach upon the Russian Far East and Siberia. Russian leaders believe that they need to be wary of the potential for the US and NATO to intervene in a conflict involving Russia and one of the former Soviet republics.”

The section on military trends has the following:

Nuclear Disfavor vs. Nuclear Renaissance. Nuclear ambitions in the US and Russia over the last 20 years have evolved in opposite directions. Reducing the role of nuclear weapons in US security strategy is a US objective, while Russia is pursuing new concepts and capabilities for expanding the role of nuclear weapons in its security strategy.”

The following appears in a textbox entitled “Russia:  Potential Global Futures.”

“Russia’s role in the world during the next two decades will be shaped by the rising challenges it faces at home as well as in the global environment. Russia’s economy is its Achilles’ heel. Its budget is heavily dependent on energy revenue; efforts to modernize the economy have made little progress; and its aging of the workforce will be a drag on economic growth.”

“Russia’s population is projected to decline from almost 143 million in 2010 to about 130 million in 2030. Although Russia’s fertility rate is similar to that of many European countries and aging populations are also a drag of European economies, life expectancy is about 15 years lower for Russians than for Europeans: since 2007 the size of the Russian workforce has been declining and it will continue to do so for the next two decades.”

“However, Russia’s greatest demographic challenge could well be integrating its rapidly growing ethnic Muslim population in the face of a shrinking ethnic Russian population. There are now about 20 million Muslims in Russia, comprising about 14 percent of the population. By 2030, that share is projected to grow to about 19 percent. Russia’s changing ethnic mix already appears to be a source of growing social tensions.”

“To enhance its economic outlook, Russia will need to improve the environment for foreign investment and create opportunities for Russian exports of manufactured goods. Russia’s entry into World Trade Organization (WTO ) should provide a boost to these efforts and help Moscow to diversify the economy: by one estimate Russia’s membership in the WTO could provide a substantial boost to the economy, adding 3 percent to GDP in the short term and 11 percent over the longer term.”

“Russia’s relations with the West and China are also likely to be a critical factor in determining whether Russia moves toward becoming a more stable, constructive global player during the next two decades. We see three possibilities:”

1. Russia could become more of a partner with others, most probably, in a marriage of convenience, not of values. Russia’s centuries-long ambivalence about its relationship with the West and outside is still at the heart of the struggle over Russia’s strategic direction.”

2. Russia might continue in a more or less ambivalent relationship with the other powers, but over the next 20 years this path would likely be a more troublesome one for international cooperation if Russia rebuilds its military strength and must contend with an increasingly powerful China.”

3. Russia could become a very troublesome country, trying to use its military advantage over its neighbors to intimidate and dominate. This outcome would be most likely if a Russian leader were facing rising public discontent over sagging living standards and darkening economic prospects and is looking to rally nationalist sentiments by becoming much more assertive in the Near Abroad.”

There’s not a lot new here.  But it can’t go without comment.

Are the Russians really not integrated into the “international system?”  Or do they obstruct because they don’t like the outcomes of the “system’s” operation?  Moscow will probably never (at least not for a long, long time) agree with Western views on mitigating a future armed conflict, especially in a former Soviet republic.  Russia always evinces more worry about the U.S. and NATO despite the claim of its “serious concerns” about a threat from China.

One can’t be sure what’s meant by “pursuing new concepts and capabilities” for nuclear warfighting.  The Russians are active developing their strategic nuclear forces for two reasons.  First, conventional force problems.  Second, U.S. ballistic missile defense.  Both require ensuring their deterrent is viable, now and somewhat down the road.

Yes, it’s the economy stupid (and demographics too).  It’s hard for anyone to say what will happen with Russia’s economy, but the latter’s pretty much destiny at this point.  Russia will need more than a better foreign investment climate and WTO to improve its long-term economic prospects.  If years of windfall hydrocarbon revenues don’t do it, perhaps open politics, impartial rule-of-law, and serious anti-corruption efforts might be the path to a modernized, diversified, and stronger economy.

Are Russia’s external relations with the West and China critical in its  behavior as a “global player?”  Or does that behavior stem more from the country’s internal evolution or lack thereof?

The three possibilities look pretty familiar — pretty good Russia, not as good Russia, and bad Russia.  We’ve had the first and second mostly, and a taste of the third occasionally, over the last 20 years.  And elements of one and two, or two and three, can occur at the same time.

Overall, the Russian discussion in Global Trends 2030 is disappointing.

Putin on Nuclear Forces and Aerospace Defense

Today’s meeting on implementing GPV-2020 (the third thus far) was devoted to nuclear forces and aerospace defense.  However, President Vladimir Putin had little specific to say, at least in his published remarks.

He obligatorily noted how VVKO and especially SYaS bear “special responsibility” for Russia’s security, territorial integrity, and global and regional parity and stability.

VKO, the president said, must not only be in permanent combat readiness to defend military and state command and control facilities against a potential enemy’s attack, but also “provide clear and effective coordination with other services and troop branches.”

In other words, lots of air and aerospace defense assets don’t belong to VVKO, and their job is to integrate them into a network.

On the nuclear side, Putin said Russia isn’t looking for an arms race but rather to ensure “the reliability and effectiveness of our nuclear potential.”

To reequip SYaS and VKO, the Supreme Glavk indicated Russia intends to allocate a “significant part” of the total resources for GPV-2020, but, again, nothing more specific.  By 2020, SYaS is supposed to have 75-80 percent modern weapons systems, and VVKO not less than 70 percent.

And that’s all we learn about the meeting.  Or almost all. provided a participant list that’s a bit interesting.  Many officials and industry leaders you’d expect attended.  But some were noticeably absent — missile designers from MIT, missile builders from Votkinsk, and the RVSN Commander.  Surprisingly, the general director of the Makeyev design bureau was present.

Not Enough Resources

Konstantin Makiyenko (photo: Radio Mayak / Kirill Kurganov)

Still parsing reaction to Prime Minister Putin’s manifesto on the army . . . there are lots of positive reviews and recapitulations.  But commentators who don’t exactly agree with Putin are far more interesting and illuminating.

One particularly fitting this description is Konstantin Makiyenko, who makes succinct, obvious, and bravely ventured points.

Makiyenko, Deputy Director of CAST, is by no means anti-regime.  He is, however, honest.  His observations appeared in Interfaks-AVN, and you can read them courtesy of

He concludes simply that Russia may not have the resources for the plan of major army and defense industry modernization Putin laid out in his campaign article:

“The Russian economic system, which, with oil prices at 100 dollars a barrel, provides only four percent GDP growth, isn’t capable of being the base for realizing the plans outlined.”

AVN says Makiyenko doesn’t exclude that, owing to insufficient budgetary resources, the Finance Ministry will have to work out plans for future cuts in spending on national defense.  But, at the same time, he apparently said Putin’s manifesto on the army wasn’t populist, and he has “no objection” to majority of the Premier’s proposals.

But Makiyenko lays down a sharp, if understated, critique of Putin’s stewardship of Russia’s defenses since 1999.  Agreeing that nuclear deterrence has been the only guarantee of Russia’s security, Makiyenko continues:

“In this relation, the current situation is in no way different from the state of affairs in the 1990s, when, as it’s justly noted in [Putin’s] article, ‘other weighty material arguments didn’t exist.'”

“. . . adequately evaluating the situation now, one has to admit that even today other ‘material arguments’ haven’t appeared for Russia during the last 12 years.”

“In this connection, the thought about how one should particularly attentively follow the appearance of new technical means, for example MD systems and long-range, precision non-nuclear means, capable of devaluing Russia’s nuclear deterrence potential, are very important.”

So, conventional weakness drives Russian objections to MD, one supposes.

AVN also indicated Makiyenko is skeptical of Putin’s call for public-private partnerships and more private capital investment in the OPK given that the once-and-future Supreme CINC nationalized first-class companies like Irkut and Saturn.

SSBN Patrols

A Delta IV SSBN (photo: ITAR-TASS)

Not all interesting commentary on the Navy’s future came from Deputy Prime Minister and OPK steward Dmitriy Rogozin last week.  

Media outlets quoted Rogozin saying Russia would soon be able to build an aircraft carrier and six submarines a year.  Subsequently, he claimed he was misquoted, and actually said Russia would be finishing renovations on the Admiral Gorshkov for India and building/repairing six submarines this year.

Navy CINC Admiral Vladimir Vysotskiy also had curious comments of his own.

According to ITAR-TASS, on Friday, Admiral Vysotskiy told an audience that, by June or a little later, Russia will resume continuous SSBN combat patrols.  Then he added, “We’ve waited 26 years for this event.”

That would be, or will be, quite a news story.  To see where the Russians have been on SSBN patrols, consult Hans Kristensen.  He reported Russia conducted ten SSBN patrols in 2008, and might have reached, or be headed back toward, a continuous SSBN combat patrol posture.  But there is, apparently, no patrol data for 2009, 2010, and 2011.

A continuous SSBN patrol would be in line with more strategic bomber patrols and mobile ICBM deployments.  It would make sense for a Kremlin worried about U.S. insistence on fielding missile defenses.

But the difficulty comes with doing it.  Russian SSBNs are down to ten aging boats — six Delta IVs (possibly only three active due to overhauls and repairs) and four Delta IIIs.  The newest Delta IV is 22 years old, and the newest Delta III is 30.  Constant patrols could stress this force to the limit. 

Pinning a return to constant SSBN patrols to the year 1986 [26 years ago] is interesting too.  Did General Secretary Gorbachev order the Navy to reduce patrols?  Did the Yankee I SSBN (K-219) sinking near Bermuda have anything to do with it?

Vysotskiy said there’s noticeable momentum in the fleet, and the state’s leadership sees its development as a priority comparable to VKO.  He continued:

“Yesterday I together with directors of ministries and departments ranking as ministries and deputy ministers conducted a very serious event in Severodvinsk where the shipbuilding program to 2035 was roughly reviewed.  Our Duma, Federation Council have long awaited it, in order to review it.  Proposals were prepared, I won’t say what kind, in my view faithful to taking fleet construction to the state level, lifting it somewhat from a ministerial ‘slot.'”

Vysotskiy sees putting the Navy’s development before the national leadership as a panacea for its ills.  He’s probably long felt the Navy doesn’t get a fair shake from the Defense Ministry.  But it’s likely even Putin 2.0 won’t be able to give the Navy the kind of attention and resources its CINC wants.

The Russian Threat

DNI James Clapper

Ahhh, the annual testimony . . . and a story based mainly on English sources for a change.  Thanks to for picking up the Vzglyad piece which printed a few lines on what Director of National Intelligence James Clapper’s unclassified Worldwide Threat Assessment testimony to the SSCI had to say about the state of the Russian military.  Otherwise, this would have been overlooked.

A few preliminaries . . . Clapper is a tall septuagenarian reared professionally in the Cold War who manages to keep on climbing the career ladder.  His bulbous dome once prompted underlings to dub him “the Martian” (although it’s known he’s actually from Remulak).  But analysts liked him (at least long ago) because he really seemed to listen to them.

Now on to his testimony, or statement for the record.  Clapper didn’t write it, nor did his staff.  It’s carefully crafted compromise language melding the views of CIA analysts mostly, and DIA analysts and others a little.  One guesses the text hasn’t changed too much from previous years.  A comparison of changes (especially adverbs) from year to year might be more revealing than what the document says.

Thanks to the Washington Post for printing the DNI’s sanitized testimony.  Unlike the impression you’d get from the Russian media, Clapper’s statement isn’t all about the Russian threat.  It definitely isn’t 25 years ago when the USSR was front and center throughout.  Russia appears first on page 7 as a state-based cyber threat and page 8 as an economic espionage threat.  Then it retires to page 20 where a mainline discussion of the country finally begins.

Domestic politics gets one-third of a page; foreign policy (you can read it yourself) gets two-thirds.  The document boldly predicts “more continuity than change” under once-and-future president Vladimir Putin “at least during the next year.” 

But that’s just the problem, isn’t it?  Putin can’t change his fragile system of rule without toppling the entire shaky edifice.

The reader’s also told (shockingly) that Putin’s unlikely to be an “agent of liberalization,” will continue protecting his wealthy cronies, and will try to placate the masses (though Russia’s moderate economic growth rates won’t support this). 

This straightline type of assessment is easy and safe to stick with, especially for one year.  Continuity is always the baseline scenario with a sufficiently short timeframe.  

Good thing the document didn’t have to judge whether Putin will complete his third term in office, the conditions under which he could be forced out, or who might take his place. 

One might have even settled for the simple conclusion (that many Russians are making):  Putin’s regime has exhausted its potential after 12+ years.  It’s unlikely to last another six, let alone another 12, even if it’s impossible to foresee exactly what Putin’s undoing will be.

Maybe the real answers are in the classified testimony.  No, not likely.

The next page has 3 paragraphs, two-thirds of the page, at last, on the Russian military.  The first is lost to a largely factual effort to explain the military’s reforms since late 2008.  The second sensibly concludes that:

“. . . funding, bureaucratic, and cultural hurdles—coupled with the challenge of reinvigorating a military industrial base that deteriorated for more than a decade after the Soviet collapse—will complicate Russian [rearmament and force modernization] efforts.”

One could say deteriorated for nearly two decades, and there are many Russian observers who believe it can’t be revived.  Surprising nothing’s said about buying weapons and arms technologies abroad.  Again, perhaps in the secret version. 

But at least this testimony doesn’t assume the military and OPK will automatically and absolutely get every ruble and every system talked about in the context of GPV 2011-2020.

The third paragraph tries to say what all this means.  Russia will have the military might to dominate the post-Soviet space (already largely true for the past 20 years) but not to threaten NATO collectively. 

Which raises an interesting point.  Is this document insinuating  Moscow might try to threaten one NATO member individually to test the alliance’s reaction and cohesion?

But, in the end, the text says until improvements in conventional capabilities really reach Russian troops, the Kremlin will continue looking to its nuclear forces to offset its weaknesses vis-a-vis potential opponents with stronger militaries.

You can read on yourself for more on Central Asia, the Caucasus, Ukraine, and Belarus.