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Friday, September 23, 2011

Russian Military Reform and Defense Policy

Jim Nichol
Specialist in Russian and Eurasian Affairs

Russia has undertaken several largely piecemeal and halting efforts to revamp the armed forces it inherited from the Soviet Union. In 2007, near the end of then-President Vladimir Putin’s second term in office, he appointed Anatoliy Serdyukov—the former head of the Federal Tax Service—as defense minister as part of an effort to combat corruption in the military and carry out reforms. After the August 2008 Russia-Georgia conflict revealed large-scale Russian military operational failures, the leadership became more determined to boost military capabilities. U.S. government and congressional policymakers are following the progress and goals of these reforms as they consider issues related to U.S.-Russia relations and U.S. national security interests.

The reforms launched by Russian leadership called for reducing the total size of the armed forces from its size of 1.2 million in 2008 to under 1 million. Three major initiatives included accelerating planned cuts in the officer corps to reduce their numbers from 355,000 to a lateradjusted total of 220,000. The reforms also included revamping the training of noncommissioned officers to make them more effective and introducing military police, both aimed partly at boosting discipline in the barracks. The reforms aimed to reduce the four-tier command system of military districts, armies, divisions, and regiments to a two-tier system of strategic commands and fully manned brigades that could be quickly deployed for combat. A large-scale ten-year weapons modernization plan also was launched, and military budgets are being increased substantially. The weapons modernization plan prioritizes the procurement of new missiles and platforms to maintain strategic nuclear deterrence, but also includes new planes, helicopters, ships, missiles, and submarines for the Ground Forces, Air Force, Navy, and other arms of service.

Russia’s national security strategy, military doctrine, and some aspects of the military reforms reflect assessments by some Russian policymakers that the United States and NATO remain concerns, if not threats, to Russia’s security. Other assessments, however, emphasize enhancing counter-terrorism capabilities and possibly hedges against the rise of China. Seeming to stress these latter concerns, in December 2008, Serdyukov asserted that the reforms were aimed at switching to a performance-capable, mobile, and maximally armed military ready to participate in at least three regional and local conflicts.

Compared to Russia’s previous attempts to revamp its armed forces, the current reform effort has gone further in altering the force structure and operations of the armed forces, according to most observers. However, the reforms face daunting delays, modifications, and setbacks. It remains highly uncertain whether Russia will be able to marshal the budgetary and demographic resources to field a substantially professional military with high readiness, as planned, or to modernize its ailing defense industries to obtain a new array of weaponry over the next ten years.

U.S. policymakers have maintained that Serdyukov’s defense reforms pose both risks and opportunities for the United States and the West. While warning that Russian military programs are driven largely by Moscow’s perception that the United States and NATO remain the greatest potential threats, U.S. policymakers also have raised the possibility that Russia’s military reforms might in the future make it feel less strategically vulnerable and that it might participate more in international peacekeeping operations. In general, U.S. policymakers and others have urged a policy of hedging against these possible risks through countervailing diplomacy and defense efforts while also following an engagement policy with Russia to cooperate on global issues of mutual interest and to encourage Russia to democratize, respect human rights, and embrace pro- Western foreign policies.

Date of Report: August 24, 2011
Number of Pages: 49
Order Number: R42006
Price: $29.95

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