The Bear Awakens: Russia's Military Is Back

November 12, 2014 Topic: Security Region: Russia

The Bear Awakens: Russia's Military Is Back

A million men under arms. Thousands of new tanks and planes. A hundred new satellites. Next-generation weapons. Inside Vladimir Putin's massive plan to restore Russian might.

Much will depend on several factors. The first is whether the Russian treasury will hang on to the same expected level of funds from the export of oil and natural gas to support the military transformation; any major collapse in the price of energy imperils these plans. The second is whether the Russian defense industry can become more agile and adaptive. Will they use increases in state spending to successfully unveil new products? This will be important not only to fulfill Putin’s requirements but also to retain Russia’s traditionally lucrative overseas markets for sales of military goods. Russia will lose its competitive edge not only to American and European competitors but also to Chinese firms if it cannot keep pace with newer developments in defense technology. A third point is whether the Russian military can obtain the manpower it needs, whether by offering better terms of contract service or being permitted to recruit among Russian-speaking populations elsewhere in the former Soviet Union.

But even if the Defense Ministry’s ambitious targets for how many personnel it expects to have under arms and the quantity of advanced equipment it hopes to field are not met in full, the Russian military is growing stronger. Russia may not be in a position to directly challenge the United States—whose spending still far outstrips that of Moscow’s—but given other regional trends, especially in Europe, it is restoring its conventional capabilities to back up claims to great power status. Whether the newfound confidence that results will make Russia more cooperative or obstructionist in the international arena is an open question.

Nikolas K. Gvosdev, a senior editor at The National Interest, is a professor of national-security studies at the U.S. Naval War College. The views expressed are entirely his own.

Image: Wikimedia Commons.

Editor's Note: This piece first appeared in October of last year. It is being reposted due to ongoing events in Ukraine.