Thursday, October 9, 2008

Russia, flush with wealth from its record-level oil and gas exports, is planning to further boost its defense spending by almost 50 percent over the next three years, a senior legislator in Moscow said last week.

“According to a draft federal budget for 2009-2011, expenditure on national defense will increase in 2009 by 25.7 percent from 1.02 trillion rubles ($40 billion) to 1.28 trillion rubles ($51.3 billion) and would account for 14 percent of total budget spending,” said Viktor Zavarzin, chairman of the Defense Committee in Russia’s lower house of Parliament, according to RIA Novosti.

By 2011, Russia’s total defense budget would expand by a total of 45.6 percent compared with current levels, he concluded.

Mr. Zavarzin said much of the money would go toward increasing the pay and boosting the standard of living of serving troops.

Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, Russia’s former president, made a pledge to dramatically improve the living conditions of Russian service members and their families when he took office in May.

The increased funds, however, also will be used to streamline and modernize the Russian armed forces, a strategic goal about which Mr. Putin repeatedly felt frustrated during his two four-year terms as the nation’s president.

RIA Novosti said the Russian armed forces were expected to announce in the near future a new military doctrine that would define and focus that aim. The report said the armed forces would have to create new “structures” that would increase the number, importance and efficiency of combined arms units - something the U.S. armed forces have emphasized in recent years.

RIA Novosti also quoted Russian President Dmitry Medvedev as spelling out last month the focus of the main weapons systems of the modernized Russian armed forces.

“We must ensure air superiority, precision strikes at land and sea targets, and timely deployment of troops,” Mr. Medvedev said. “We are planning to launch a large-scale production of warships, primarily nuclear submarines with cruise missiles and multipurpose attack submarines.”

Russia’s Defense Ministry previously released figures saying it would have a budget of 1 trillion rubles, or $40 billion of federal budget funds, in 2008, a 20 percent increase over 2007.

In the three years 2008 through 2010, Russian military spending was projected to come to 15.5 percent to 16 percent of total federal budget spending, RIA Novosti said. However, those were the figures before Mr. Zavarzin spoke about adding 50 percent more in funding to the military budget.

Much of the extra money Russian leaders are budgeting for their military will be gobbled up hungrily by top commanders desperate to replace their aging, obsolete and sometimes defunct Soviet-era military systems.

“We have completely exhausted the Soviet arsenals of weaponry and military equipment,” said Russia’s deputy minister for armaments, three-star Col. Gen. Vladimir Popovkin, in speaking to the military newspaper Krasnaya Zvezda (“Red Star”) in an interview that appeared Sept. 25, RIA Novosti reported.

“This includes weapons for the strategic nuclear triad and conventional forces: aircraft, warships, space and air defense, communications, electronics … the whole range of weaponry,” Gen. Popovkin said.

The world was impressed, and many were alarmed by the speed and efficiency with which the Russian army occupied one-third of the former Soviet Republic of Georgia in a five-day operation from Aug. 8 through 12. However, Gen. Popovkin said the results of the Georgia campaign did not allow Russian military leaders to feel complacent. He argued that, on the contrary, lessons learned from the operations proved the Kremlin had to accelerate its equipment replacement, modernization and new weapons doctrine plans.

“We originally planned to start the modernization of Russia’s military arsenals in 2011-2012, but the circumstances force us to accelerate this process so that our armed forces are equipped with modern weaponry as soon as possible,” Gen. Popovkin said.

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