February 24, 2013: As expected, it’s recently become more difficult for the Russian military to buy foreign weapons. This is because last November president Putin dismissed the Defense Minister and the Chief of the General Staff. The dismissed minister (Anatoly Serdyukov) had been brought in five years earlier to reform and revitalize the armed forces. He was the first civilian to head the ministry (which had always been led by a retired general). This angered a lot of vested interests, especially in the defense industries. Most of these organizations merged or disappeared after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 (which brought with it an 80 percent decline in defense spending). The surviving defense industry managers have convinced Putin that the kind of rapid reform Serdyukov sought is not possible or desirable.
The new Defense Minister did not cancel existing foreign arms purchases but did try to renegotiate some of the terms. All this is at the behest of Russian arms manufacturers and their political allies. This has made many of the troops unhappy. Many military leaders want Western quality weapons, either from Russian firms or from Western manufacturers. Now Russian troops will have to make do with less capable “Soviet” style weapons. The problem is that a lot of these Russian made weapons suck and efforts to get Russian manufacturers to shape up have not been entirely successful. Putin was convinced that this was not a problem because the Russian nuclear forces are still in good shape and capable of keeping invaders out. The military is effective enough to deal with patrolling the borders and dealing with outlaws in the Caucasus.
Many military reforms will continue, adapting the smaller, post-Soviet forces to many Western innovations (brigade centric organization, battlefield Internet, and improved training). But the Russian forces will continue to have second rate gear, the kind that Russian manufacturers can produce and that won’t threaten the jobs of Russian workers. This means less importing of foreign weapons, except when it means getting new technologies for stuff to be built in Russia.
What’s at stake here is the $900 billion the government has pledged to spend in the next decade to replace the many aging (and often not very good when new) Cold War era weapons. The troops wanted better weapons, like Western forces have. The Russian arms firms and politicians wanted most of that money to stay in Russia and, given the degree of corruption, in their pockets.