Leadership: Living On Cold War Leftovers


February 15, 2009:  The global recession has hit Russia particularly hard, mainly because of the sharp drop in the price of oil and other raw materials. The Russian government gets most of its income from taxes on those raw materials exports. Thus the defense budget is being cut by 15 percent. There may be further cuts. There was no announcement of what programs would get cut. But based on past decisions, the nuclear weapons programs (land and sea ballistic missiles and submarines that carry them) will probably not suffer, and the ground forces will likely take most of the cuts. 

Despite Russians huge size (17 million square kilometers, the largest nation in the world) and long borders (20,000 kilometers worth on land, another 37,000 of shoreline), it's primary means of national defense is its nuclear weapons. The army is a ramshackle force, smaller than the U.S. Army, and much more poorly equipped. Most of the million troops in the Russian armed forces are paramilitary forces working for the Interior Ministry and other branches of the government (like the FSB, which controls border guards.) These forces get by with assault rifles, machine-guns and low tech land transport, patrol boats and aircraft. The Russian army will have to wait longer to get new armored vehicles and other equipment. The government says it will not cut any warship building programs, so the air force will continue to scrape by with poorly maintained Cold War leftovers.



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