Onet.pl: 20-26 September, the Russian-Belarusian strategic military exercises Zapad-2013 were held, during which the defense scenario of the union state of Russia and Belarus, as well as cooperation in the field of regional security was worked out. Do these two countries "play with muscles" or, in fact, peacefully test their defenses?
Andrzej Wilk (Andrzej Wilk): I would not consider military exercises through the lens of opposition: a political demonstration is a training event. Maneuvers always serve to test the level of training. Another thing is the assessment of the result of the exercises and subsequent conclusions. “Playing with muscles” is a minor matter, which relates, rather, to the sphere of foreign rather than defense policy of the state. Military exercises, regardless of their scale, can be made as public as possible, or you can try to silence them. In the era of satellite intelligence, everyone who needs to learn about the teachings will still learn about them, and they can make this information public (although fearing retaliatory steps usually do not). This is also true of Russia: only a fraction of the several hundred maneuvers conducted in recent years looked like a “muscle game”, but all of them were useful for assessing the state of the armed forces.
Of course, some aspects of the teachings are arranged in advance and conceived for demonstration “to the public”: this is always the case when representatives of authority appear on the test site. In this case, presidents Putin and Lukashenko and, of course, the media. In other words, the most interesting things certainly did not occur at the Gozhsky proving ground in the Grodno region.
I personally would be interested to know the composition of the landing forces (according to the scenario, of terrorists), the landing of which was reflected by the latest Russian rocket corvettes. By the way, a couple of years ago, the Russians, together with the Chinese, practiced the flooding of a nuclear submarine.
- In an interview with Gazeta Wyborcza, Minister of Defense Tomasz Semoniak (Tomasz Siemoniak) expressed "concern and surprise" with the fact that "Russia continues to believe that Europe and the West are threatening it." Where does the Kremlin see the source of the most serious danger?
- If you take with seriousness the military doctrine in force in Russia, then in it the main threat is NATO and all that is connected recently with the actions of the Alliance: activity outside its territory; interpretation as actual, and not only formal members of NATO, the countries of the former Warsaw Pact; and also “management” in the Russian sphere of influence.
In the political aspect, the situation begins to look somewhat different: NATO becomes just a signboard under which the US and their (from the Russian point of view) satellites are trying to shape reality, while harming any kind of interests of Russia. For many years Moscow has not taken the Alliance as a single whole, hostile to the military alliance of the Cold War, although, of course, it would like to see it formally eliminated. From the Russian point of view, this is a bizarre entity consisting of almost allied Russian countries (Greece), friendly and neutral (France, Germany, Italy) and (realistically or potentially) hostile (the United States and dependent countries led by the largest "state" - UK).
On the other side of Eurasia, the same thing happens, where the “hand” of Washington is Japan. Meanwhile, according to the Russian exercises of recent years and the changes taking place in the Russian army, it is clear that the main potential battlefield for the armed forces of the Russian Federation remains the territory of the CIS, and a potential opponent is the army of the state that will resist Russian domination, like Georgia in 2008. However, I would not underestimate the effects of the Soviet brainwashing, which is still ongoing.
A significant number of Russians, and the military, perhaps, without exception, believe that the threat comes from America. The US attack on Russia is seen as a logical consequence of the current policy of Washington. On the other hand, Moscow seems to be completely unaware of threats where they see their western countries: in Central Asia, in China.
I don’t know how it’s with China, and about Central Asia I wouldn’t be surprised at the logic of the Russians: everyone who has spent at least a little time there knows that these states are primarily a danger to themselves. And if in the foreseeable future they become a hotbed of some kind of threats to their surroundings, then they will not be of a military nature.
- In October 2008, the Kremlin began a radical reform of the armed forces, which caused a lot of controversy in the military. What are the main directions of change, and what is the most dissatisfied with the military?
“For many years now, I have been fighting the myths imposed by the Russians themselves through so-called independent military experts, who without any consequences for themselves regularly drop all dogs into the army and promote the idea of its complete decomposition outside the country. Discussions about the form of the Russian army never took place in the civilian leadership (there are no civilians in Russia who would understand the armed forces and would have any plans on this subject, unless they are former military men), they were originally an internal army affair. More precisely, these are disputes between the current leading cadres, whose military career began during the collapse of the Soviet Union, often in Afghanistan, and the group of military retirees who are apologists for the Soviet army, whose path began in Brezhnev’s golden years. Contrary to popular myths, the reform of the Russian army did not begin after the war with Georgia, but ten years earlier. It was launched by the 1998 financial crisis of the year, a string of humiliations from the war with Chechnya in 1994 - 1996, the expansion of NATO and the Alliance's blow to Moscow’s Yugoslav ally in 1999.
If you name specific names, the foundation of the reform was laid by General Anatoly Kvashnin. Two factors of a non-military nature became decisive for the realization of reform: President Vladimir Putin and the growth of Russia's oil revenues. The beginning of the process of actual modernization of the armed forces was laid in 2004 three events: the supply (first in small quantities) of new military equipment and weapons; the implementation of the program of transition to the contract system of service and the formation of an experimental joint command in the Far East.
From the very beginning, the reform was aimed at getting rid of the legacy of the Soviet army and the creation on its fragments of modern armed forces with high mobility and a level of professionalization close to those of leading Western countries. The war with Georgia in 2008 gave rise to a decisive blow, and the so-called reform of Serdyukov, who played the role of a buffer between the old and new cadres, was already a nail in the coffin of the Soviet army system. The strongest discontent (and not only among the military) was caused by the liquidation of the Soviet logistics support system, which was a state within the state. The communists, who organized protest actions on this occasion, took several times more people to the streets than the anti-Putin opposition. What worried the military the most? Of course, the money: up to 2012, they received big surcharges. A Russian contract soldier now receives about the same amount as a Polish contractor - about 800 dollars, and officers are much more (up to nine thousand dollars on nuclear submarines). The military in Russia still have a lot of social privileges, while living expenses outside Moscow are much lower than in Poland. Serving in Russia just became profitable.
- How can one assess the military potential of the Russian Federation? Are the Russian armed forces capable of conducting an operation comparable in scale to the 2008 Russian-Georgian war of the year?
- In recent years, the Russian army has returned to the world major league and is trying to take a firm and as high as possible place in it. In terms of the number and quality of equipment, it is undoubtedly inferior to the American. Although it is developing at a faster pace, there is no indication that it will be able to catch up with the US military. It remains and will remain smaller in number than the Chinese army, although from the point of view of technology, it still confidently surpasses it.
This is best demonstrated by China’s efforts to acquire Russian military technologies, which the Russian Federation prefers to share with India approaching the Big Four, which have become especially noticeable in recent months. The backlog of European armies is becoming ever more distinct. Already now the Russians are not behind them in technological terms, starting to overtake in training. Most importantly, they have clearly defined goals for which it is becoming increasingly difficult in Europe. In terms of training activity, the Russian armed forces returned to the Soviet level. At first, this phenomenon was selective and asymmetric, affecting individual parts fleetand then air force. The apogee occurred in the summer and early fall of 2008, when a total of 200 thousand people were involved in exercises at the operational-tactical and operational-strategic level. From that moment on, there were more and more tactical exercises, thanks to which every year new tactical associations, or at least new units, take part in high-ranking events. The sudden combat readiness tests begun in February of this year (for the first time since Soviet times) make it possible to recognize the achieved level of training activity as optimal.
The armed forces of the Russian Federation are not only capable of conducting an operation now similar in scale to the war with Georgia, they can realize it more quickly, with smaller forces and means, reducing the period of preparation. I am afraid that the Russian army, with all its noticeable and less noticeable flaws, is capable of participating in a much larger conflict. It should not, however, be forgotten that the strength of this army, especially in the CIS, is also interconnected with the weakness of its possible adversaries.
- According to the project of the authorities, by the 2015, the equipment of the army with military equipment of the new generation will reach 30%, and by 2020 - 70-100. Is Russia able to implement these plans from a financial point of view? Is the Kremlin going to carry out modernization, relying on its own technical thought, or on weapons purchased in the West?
- Almost all the previous decade changes in the Russian army took place against the backdrop of an extremely favorable financial environment. Military spending has steadily increased: from eight billion dollars in 2001 to 51 billion in 2011. These funds helped to prevent the degradation of military capabilities, and since the 2004 year - to launch a reform. Despite the upheavals associated with the global financial crisis, Moscow’s military spending continues to increase.
Reform of the armed forces remains an indisputable priority for the Russian authorities. It was not suspended in the crisis 2009, and it is unlikely that it will be suspended now despite a slowdown in the country's economic growth. This can be seen in the draft budget forwarded to the Duma in September, in which almost all the articles, with the exception of national defense, affected the cuts. This year, Russia has spent about 70 billions of dollars for military purposes, and in the future it is going to allocate 77 billions to this sector.
Surprisingly, one of the recent statements by Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, in which he argues the need to limit social spending while simultaneously increasing the military — such a Russian “cannon instead of oil” — went unnoticed in our media. Perhaps these words did not resonate, because in recent years everyone in the West considered Medvedev to be a liberal. Financial problems (especially for the costly process of technical modernization) can only begin with a long and significant reduction in energy prices. Arms are interpreted not only as an instrument of great-power politics, but primarily as an engine of economic development and an element of social policy. The modernization of the armed forces as a symbol of Russian power is accompanied by the approval of society.
If I had to bet, I would say that Russia would rather go bankrupt than refuse from the current armaments program. If she decides to limit it, it is purely symbolic and, most likely, temporary. And it will be so regardless of who is in power: Putin or Navalny.
In the foreseeable future, the real limiter of technical modernization, which is now the main element of the reform, may be the structural and technological lag of some military enterprises, which are finding it harder to meet the high demands of the Russian army.
Overcoming this lag, which is particularly noticeable in shipbuilding, should be served by cooperation with the countries of Western Europe and India. The problem (especially for those willingly presenting their new products in the Moscow region testing grounds of the French, Germans or Italians) is that Russians need not finished cars (if yes, then in a minimum amount), but technologies. Another problem lies on a different plane: continental Europe has little to offer Moscow. Of course, the Americans and the British have the necessary developments, but, for obvious reasons, they do not want to share them with the Russians.
If I had to answer the question about the significance of cooperation with the West for the Russian program as a whole, I would say that it is minimal. Of the 650 billions of dollars allocated under the State Armaments Program for 2011 – 2020 years, only 1% will go to buy equipment abroad. Of course, it cannot be ruled out that Russia continues to search for technologies outside the framework of the official program and by less honest methods, which is sometimes hinted at by reports from Western special services. Nevertheless, the first place is occupied by its own (or relatively own) technological thought.
In many areas, Russia remains in the group of world leaders. It is worth remembering at least the assessment of Jane's experts, in whose opinion, only the USA, Great Britain and Russia can be attributed to the group of countries possessing technologies for creating the fifth generation fighter, and in the foreseeable future only South Korea can join them.
- What technology is lacking in Russia the most?
- If you look at the range of purchases - it lacks everything. It is fair to say that so far the Russian fleet has not yet ordered new aircraft carriers.