As the American public turns its attention to the growing military threat posed by China -- sparked by this month's visit to the U.S. by President Hu Jintao and the unveiling of China's stealth fighter prototype -- the once-great military of an older foe appears to be falling apart.
A report called "The New Russian Army" released in Moscow this week by the Center of Analysis of Strategies and Technologies, a widely respected Russian think-tank, says Russia's post-Cold War military suffers from a lack of modern weapons, vague military doctrine, no significant allies, and an alarming depletion of manpower.
According to State Department figures, the Russian military that once stood at nearly 4 million men during the height of the Cold War has dropped to 1.1 million men today. On top of that, the report estimates their deployable force to be the equivalent of just two American-sized brigades, somewhere between 8,000 and 10,000 men. The U.S. has almost 100,000 men and women deployed today in Afghanistan alone.
Russia's changing military strength is due in large part to its new minister of defense, Anatoly Serdyukov. He's a former furniture salesman who, aside from serving one year in the Soviet Army, had almost no connections to the military before taking its most senior leadership position in 2007. His plan to cut spending and eliminate waste has raised caused controversy in Russia, and it blows away plans by U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates' to cut the defense budget by $78 billion over five years.
The New York Times reported late last year that, among other things, Serdyukov has called for reducing the officer force by nearly 200,000 men (including 200 generals), cutting central headquarters staff by 60 percent, and dropping force levels by 130,000 over 5 years. Just before the New Year, he caused an uproar in Russia when he suggested the military get rid of its famed Kalashnikov rifle and start buying more effective, foreign made weapons.
Pavel Felgenhaeur, a prominent and long-time Russian military analyst, examined the center’s report and determined Russia now suffers from a poorly trained, poorly motivated force that is accepting an increasing number of men with a criminal record and that recruiting has become a huge burden.
"The defense ministry today is calling up 18-year olds born in the early 1990's, when the birthrate of males plummeted in Russia from 1.5 million in the mid 1980's to under 800,000,” Felgenhaeur wrote. "Drafting criminals into the interior and defense ministry units has promoted criminal hazing in the barracks and reduced combat readiness.”
In addition to manpower problems, Russia’s weapons manufacturing industry, which until recently was second only to the United States, has suffered some embarrassing setbacks. Algeria recently returned a shipment of the Russian made fighter jets because of defects. And late last year, Russia decided to purchase French-made Mistrall Class helicopter carriers for the Russian navy.
FOX News military analyst retired Lt. Gen. Robert Scales was blunt on the point: "Russia simply doesn't have much of a military anymore."
This is good news for some, Scales said, "but it also amplifies the chance that Russian pride will rub against their capabilities and raise the odds of miscalculation, particularly given their reliance on nuclear weapons as a substitute for conventional capabilities.”