Russia-NATO arms deals could bolster regional security

Another Oxford Analytica piece, this one from late September. Some of the details have been overtaken by events (i.e. Mistral sale), but the overall point is still valid, so it’s worth posting.

I’ll have one more of these next week. New posts will resume in mid-January. Happy holidays!


EVENT: Russia and France have finalised the details on the long-discussed sale of Mistral-class ships, according to comments yesterday from a senior Russian naval officer.

SIGNIFICANCE: Russian efforts to procure Western military equipment are gradually bearing fruit, as the taboo on NATO sharing sensitive military technologies with Russia is fading.

ANALYSIS: Moscow’s cooperation with NATO and its member states is accelerating, as the Russian government and military adjust their threat assessments to focus more on Russia’s unstable southern neighbours and on China. In recent years, Russia and NATO states have conducted joint anti-piracy operations off the coast of Somalia. They have also reached agreements for extensive intelligence-sharing in the area of counter-terrorism. Russia has played a critical role in NATO operations in Afghanistan by allowing for the transit of both lethal and non-lethal cargoes to the region by both land and air routes.  One of the potentially most fruitful areas for further cooperation involves the rapidly accelerating trend toward Russian procurement of military equipment from NATO countries.

Signed contracts The Russian military has considered a number of purchases from NATO countries. Contracts have been signed to purchase:

  • UK sniper rifles and Austrian pistols for special forces units;
  • thermal imaging equipment for T-90 tanks, to be manufactured at a Russian plant in Vologda under license from the French firm Thales;
  • avionics for Russian military aircraft, manufactured in France by Thales; and
  • communications units for armoured vehicles, also purchased from France.

Procurement possibilities Negotiations are underway to purchase the following equipment:

  • The French Safran Corporation manufactures infantry integrated equipment and communications units (FELIN).  The FELIN units include a set of navigation tools, secure radio communications equipment, computer equipment, GPS receivers, helmet sights for individual small arms and integrated electronic targeting devices. A limited number of these may be purchased for Military Intelligence Directorate special forces units.
  • The Defence Ministry is also interested in Italian armour for installation on Russian-designed armoured vehicles.  This scales back previously discussed plans to license production of Italian LMV armoured vehicles to be built in Russia.
  • The most visible of Russia’s negotiations has been the ongoing effort to procure French Mistral amphibious assault ships.

In addition, the Russian military has received 12 unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) from Israel, with another 36 (worth 100 million dollars) to be delivered later this year. Those received so far include:

  • two Bird Eye 400 systems (worth 4 million dollars);
  • eight I View MK150 tactical UAVs (37 million dollars); and
  • two Searcher Mk II multi-mission UAVs (12 million dollars).

Russian and Israeli negotiators are currently discussing the possibility of forming a joint venture to build more UAVs for the Russian military, which estimates it will need 100 or more UAVs to ensure effective battlefield reconnaissance.

Mistral negotiations The purchase of up to four of these ships has been under discussion for over a year. Recently, the Russian military announced that it would conduct an open tender for an amphibious assault ship, rather than negotiating exclusively with the French. Other potential participants include amphibious assault ships such as:

  • the Spanish Juan Carlos class;
  • South Korean Dokdos; and
  • the Dutch Johan de Witt class.

The Russian United Shipbuilding Corporation is also expected to make an offer, though its spokesman announced that it would participate in cooperation with foreign partners. In other words, Russian shipbuilders have admitted that they are not capable of building such a ship without foreign assistance.

It is likely that the tender is purely a formal exercise, designed to satisfy Russian laws and mollify domestic critics who oppose such a major platform being purchased abroad. There have been no discussions with the other potential foreign sellers, so the French Mistral will most likely win the tender, with two ships being built in France and two more in Russia under license.  Furthermore, top Russian military officials have recently announced that if Russia purchases the Mistral, it will have the same equipment as the French version, excluding only the codes for communicating with NATO battle control systems. This means that the Russian military would be allowed to purchase French communication, navigation and weapons control systems for these ships.

NATO worries Some Central-East European governments, as well as some Western analysts, oppose NATO arms sales to Russia on the grounds that Russia continues to pose a military threat to parts of Europe. The argument is that the Russian Navy could use these ships to launch an amphibious assault on Georgia or the Baltic states.

Setting aside Russia’s lack of desire to invade these countries except to defend against another attack — as was the case in the August 2008 Russo-Georgian war — such a scenario is highly unlikely for several practical reasons. Russian naval commanders have stated that these ships are intended primarily for the Northern and Pacific Fleets. Furthermore, even if some of the ships were assigned to the Baltic and Black Sea Fleets, possession thereof  would not significantly increase Russian amphibious capabilities in those areas. The Russian Navy’s current amphibious landing ships are as fast and can carry as many troops as the Mistral-class ships.

Instead, the Mistrals would be used by the Russian Navy primarily as command and control vessels for overseas operations.  However, the main purpose of the purchase is to revitalise domestic shipbuilding capabilities through the introduction of Western technologies and methods for construction of the two ships to be built domestically.  The ships would be able to carry 450 troops and as many as 40 tanks, capabilities similar to existing Alligator-class landing ships, as well as the Ivan Gren-class ships currently under construction.

Revitalising cooperation? On the other hand, arms sales have the potential to bring Russia and NATO member states closer together on military and security issues. Using NATO equipment would lead to greater ‘interoperability’ between Russian and NATO military forces, making their efforts at military cooperation more effective. Since the two sides are much more likely to work together on potential issues such as piracy, smuggling and counter-terrorism than they are to actually fight each other, selling NATO equipment to Russia is likely to lead to improvements in security for NATO states.

Greater ties between states generally reduce the likelihood of conflict between them. If France or other NATO states sell military equipment to Russia, they will not only establish closer ties between their militaries, but also make the Russian military more dependent on NATO. This would further lessen any perceived threat arising from Russia.

CONCLUSION: Major arms sales by NATO states to Russia would increase Russian dependence on the West, decreasing the likelihood that Russia would take unilateral military action contrary to Western interests. Such sales would also enhance regional security by improving the ability of Russian forces to cooperate with NATO against threats to their mutual interests.

Hi-tech imports could revive defence sector

The following piece was written in August for Oxford Analytica. I haven’t updated it, but it’s probably still useful as a summary of Russian plans for foreign procurement as of a few months ago. I’ll follow up in a few days with a second post with more details on cooperation with NATO.


SUBJECT: Shifts in the military’s procurement strategy from purely domestic to a mix of domestic production and purchases from abroad.

SIGNIFICANCE: The government is accelerating efforts to procure major military platforms from abroad, including from NATO countries. These acquisition plans show that the government has finally realised that the domestic defence industry is incapable of producing complex platforms in a timely manner, forcing it to turn to foreign sources to re-equip its ageing military.

ANALYSIS: The Russian military’s procurement strategy has recently undergone a fundamental revision. Whereas in the past, government policy called for the military to procure virtually all equipment domestically, there has recently been a well-publicised effort to purchase some major equipment from abroad.

Slow pace Much of the disappointment with the defence industry stems from the slow pace of construction for major platforms:

Air Force This has been particularly evident in the Air Force (VVS):

    • The VVS received no new aircraft between 1994 and 2003, and only three since then.
    • Planners staked the future on the acquisition of the T-50 fifth-generation fighter aircraft, which was first proposed in the late 1980s, with design finally beginning in 2002. The goal was to procure 150-200 T-50s by 2030, with India procuring at least another 200-250.
    • It took five years for the first prototype to be built. At the time, the VVS commander indicated that three such planes would be ready by 2009. Instead, the original prototype’s maiden flight did not take place until January 2010 because of various technical problems, the most serious of which concerned engine design.

    Current plans call for the plane to enter serial production in the next three to five years, with the VVS receiving the first planes in 2015. However, given the history of manufacturing delays, it is more likely to enter active service no earlier than 2018.   If this is the case, it will mean that Russia will be about 12-15 years behind the United States in fighter aircraft design, and about on par with China.

    Ground Forces and Navy Similar problems have plagued the Ground Forces and the Navy (VMF). The military recently cancelled procurement of the T-95 battle tank, which had been in development for over 20 years, because it was already obsolete before it had even entered production.

      The VMF began construction of its new Admiral Gorshkov frigate in 2006, with the goal of completing the first ship in 2009 and procuring 20 by 2015. Since then, construction of the Gorshkov has bogged down so that the first ship will not be ready until 2011 at the earliest.  It will be impossible for the VMF to get more than four or five of these ships by its 2015 target date, and this more modest goal is contingent on no further slippage in the schedule.

      Workmanship defects The poor state of Russia’s defence industry is the main reason behind the delays. The best workers — those left over from the Soviet years, when the industry was well funded and highly prestigious — have retired or are about to do so. Few good people went into the field in the 1990s, when there was virtually no financing and the industry came close to collapse. At the same time, because there was no money for equipment modernisation, industrial plants began to deteriorate. By the start of Vladimir Putin’s presidency, even the allocation of additional financing was not enough to counteract the decline in the defence industry’s ability to produce high-quality products.

      Defects in workmanship have had a major impact on the military’s ability to develop new systems and platforms:

      • In addition to problems with the T-50 engines, there have been significant difficulties with the new Lada-class diesel submarine. The St Petersburg, the first submarine of this class, spent six years in sea trials (after seven years of construction) while the builder sought to resolve defects in its power plant.
      • The Bulava sea-launched ballistic missile has suffered multiple test failures, with each failure coming because of construction flaws (not design flaws) in various parts of the missile.

      Workmanship problems are very difficult to resolve compared to design flaws, because of their tendency to pop up in different places on each unit and because they quite often occur on parts built by sub-contractors.

      Hi-tech deficiencies The defence industry’s problems extend beyond poor workmanship. While design bureaus and major builders at least have experience building major platforms such as fighter aircraft, tanks and submarines, they are hopelessly behind European and US manufacturers in their ability to produce modern electronics and advanced equipment. Russian arms suppliers are still able, at least to some extent, to manufacture equipment that they built in the Soviet era. However, such technologically advanced items as digital communications equipment, identification friend-or-foe systems and night vision technology require fundamentally new designs that the defence industry is simply not capable of producing on its own.

      Domestic procurement Nonetheless, the Russian military will continue to procure most major weapons and platforms domestically. This includes items such as:

      • missiles;
      • tanks;
      • aircraft; and
      • most ships.

      Some of these items, such as ballistic missiles, cannot be purchased from abroad because of the sensitive nature of the equipment.  In any case, the SS-26 (Iskander) theatre ballistic missile is considered effective.  For tanks, aircraft, and ships, slightly modernised late-Soviet designs will serve quite well now that the Russian government has decided that its military should be configured to fight in smaller regional conflicts, rather than a major frontal war against NATO or China.  Furthermore, some of these modernised Soviet designs, such as the S-400 air defence systems and the An-124 transport aircraft, are of excellent quality and utility.

      Given the amount of money now being invested into military modernisation, it is likely that many construction problems will be at least partially resolved in the next few years. If this is the case, it is likely that Russia will see increased domestic procurement of:

      • new aircraft (both the T-50 and Su-35BM);
      • new ships (Gorshkov frigates, various submarines);
      • T-90 tanks; and
      • various types of artillery.

      There is already some evidence of this trend: Russian officials have rolled back announced plans to procure armoured combat vehicles abroad, and will instead use Italian armor on vehicles built domestically.

      Purchases from abroad However, for certain types of equipment, the Russian military will have no choice but to go abroad. Russia would like to procure advanced electronic equipment and platforms where such equipment is integral.  Digital communications devices, guided munitions, and unmanned aerial vehicles are especially important in this regard, as the domestic defence industry largely lacks the capability to produce such equipment. True guided munitions are hindered by the archaic nature of GLONASS, the Russian equivalent to the US-designed GPS system.  Negotiations to purchase Mistral ships have largely focused on persuading France to include the electronics package that essentially runs the ship.  Russian officials would like to license production of two of the four ships in order to use the construction of the last two Mistral ships in Russia to revitalise Russian shipbuilding.

      CONCLUSION: The authorities hope that foreign procurement, especially if it includes licenses to produce the equipment in Russia, will help revive the domestic defence industry. The idea is that foreign purchases are a temporary measure designed to maintain Russia’s military capabilities while the defence industry is restored over the next 10-15 years. However, they are likely to run into difficulties receiving permission to purchase the most advanced technologies from NATO states.

      Russian Politics and Law, November 2010 Table of Contents

      Volume 48 Number 6 / November-December 2010 of Russian Politics and Law is now available on the web site at Contents after the cut.

      This issue contains:

      Russia in the Western World: Russian Interactions with Europe: Editor’s Introduction p.3
      Dmitry Gorenburg
      Russians’ Views on Foreign Policy After the Caucasus Crisis p.7
      Andrei Andreev
      The Anti-Russian Discourse of the European Union: Causes and Main Targets p.19
      Pavel Tsygankov and Filipp Fominykh
      Perceptions of Russia in the European North: Signs of the Times p.35
      Konstantin Voronov
      An Answer to the “Polish Question” p.51
      Iurii Solozobov
      Alienation as a Resource in Ukraine’s Relations with Russia p.64
      Aleksandr Slin’ko
      The Power of Mutual Repulsion: Russia and Ukraine—Two Versions of One Transformation p.70
      Vladimir Pastukhov

      Russia in the Western World: Russian Interactions with Europe

      Since at least August 2008, Russian foreign policy toward the West has come to be seen by many analysts as aggressive and bent on extracting maximum economic and political benefit regardless of the long term consequences for relationships. In this issue, six Russian scholars discuss their perceptions of Russian attitudes toward and relations with its neighbors to the West.

      The first three articles in this issue focus on how Russians and Europeans view each other. The issue opens with Andrei Andreev’s article on “Russians’ Views on Foreign Policy After the Caucasus Crisis.” In this article, the author argues on the basis of survey data that the Russian–Georgian war of August 2008 greatly accelerated a gradual shift already underway in Russian public opinion, creating a consensus opposed to the West and to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). He discusses the rapid increase in negative public perceptions of the United States in the aftermath of the war and similar changes in attitude toward other countries that openly supported the Georgian side, include Great Britain and Ukraine. Negative feelings toward international organizations are pronounced only in the case of NATO. Other such organizations are viewed quite positively by most Russians.

      Although Andreev recognizes that attitudes are fluid, he nevertheless characterizes the post-war situation as indicative of a qualitatively new stage in Russian foreign policy – one that is more oriented toward shows of strength and the achievement of results regardless of how Russian actions are viewed internationally. However, this finding has not stood the test of time. Russian attitudes toward the US and other Western countries have gradually returned to their pre-war average values, while Russian leaders have recently shown signs of willingness to compromise in their foreign policy decision-making.

      In “The Anti-Russian Discourse of the European Union: Causes and Main Targets,” Pavel Tsygankov and Filipp Fominykh analyze the content of anti-Russian rhetoric in the European Union (EU) as it pertains to Russian economic strategy, domestic policy, and foreign policy. They explain its causes mainly in terms of divergent economic interests and the EU’s internal needs for identity and consolidation. They separate the traditional West European powers from the new East European EU members, arguing that the latter are driven in their anti-Russian views by an inferiority complex toward the rest of Europe that paradoxically leads them to actions that violate European norms.

      The authors also note some aspects of Russian policy and internal development that lead to anti-Russian attitudes in Europe. They argue that Russian economic growth and the strengthening of Russian internal political and economic control over its own territory as factors that infringe on the political and economic interests of European elites. But in the end, they return to internal European factors as the key to explaining European attitudes, arguing that Europe needs a “significant other” in order to maintain its drive toward greater internal unity. Russia, in their argument, is the best candidate for filling this niche.

      Whereas the first two articles examine relations between Russia and Europe as a whole, the other articles in this issue focus on specific subregions or countries. Konstanin Voronov, in “Perceptions of Russia in the European North: Signs of the Times,” examines the images and perceptions of Russia prevailing in Scandinavia and the Baltic states and the historical and contemporary factors that have shaped them. He contrasts good-neighborly attitudes in Finland and Scandinavia with hostility to Russia in the Baltic states. He argues that most of the population of this region is disenchanted with Russia’s behavior in both its internal affairs and its foreign policy and continues to view Russia as simply the continuation of the Soviet Union in the present day. At the same time, he believes that if the political elites of these countries decided they would benefit from a change in attitudes, they could begin a campaign of “reeducation” of the masses that, as the Finnish example has shown, could work in the long run.

      The author comes to the conclusion, however, that the image of Russia among the Scandinavian population does not really matter for bilateral relations or policy making in the region. Despite negative attitudes among their populations, the Scandinavian governments have friendly and pragmatic relations with Russia. However, this is not the case for the Baltic states, which continue to blame Russia for the occupation of their countries by the Soviet Union.

      The last three articles, address relations between Russia and the two European neighbors with which bilateral relations were most hostile for the second half of the last decade. In “An Answer to the ‘Polish Question,’” Iurii Solozobov assesses the improvement in Russian–Polish relations since the Tusk government took office in Poland. He notes that Tusk has carried out a far more pragmatic foreign policy than his predecessor, which has led to a decline in tension in the relationship. The article was written before the air crash in Smolensk that killed the Polish president and a significant number of other members of the Polish political elite. Russian actions in the aftermath of this disaster have led to further improvements in Polish-Russian relations.

      Solozobov also argues that Russia should aim to Finlandize neighboring states, in the sense of developing mutually advantageous pragmatic cooperative relations that avoid demeaning lectures about questions of democracy and human rights. He calls for a policy of compromises without one-sided concessions and dialogue without giving up any sovereignty. As a result of such a policy, he believes that the two sides will develop an understanding of the strategic and normative value of a positive relationship between Russia and Poland.

      In “Alienation as a Resource in Ukraine’s Relations with Russia,” written while Viktor Yushchenko was still President of Ukraine, Aleksandr Slinko surveys the range of attitudes toward Russia among Ukrainian specialists. He divides them into four groups: nationalists, conspiracy theorists, critics of the Orange revolution, and rationalists. He argues that the latter group, which believes that good relations are the dominant tendency in Russian-Ukrainian relations, is now dominant and the period of anti-Russian populism in Ukraine has passed its peak. Given the trajectory in bilateral relations since the election of Viktor Yanukovich, he may well be right.

      In “The Power of Mutual Repulsion: Russia and Ukraine—Two Versions of One Transformation,” the last article in this issue, the philosopher Vladimir Pastukhov reflects on Russian–Ukrainian relations, emphasizing their subjective or psychological aspect. He argues that proximity is not conducive to cooperation but instead generates mutual repulsion. Respectful—albeit not friendly—cooperation, however, would be a rational response to certain threats faced by both Russia and Ukraine.

      He argues that the two countries are currently united by their positions in the world, where they are surrounded by more economically and culturally powerful states. At the core, they both face crises of spiritual values that need to be resolved before they can modernize their political or economic systems. The threat posed by these crises will force both countries to accelerate the tempo of their internal development or become essentially colonies of more powerful neighbors. Cooperation will increase the chances of success for both, while continued competition will come to resemble a fight between two paupers. Of course, this competition cannot be arrived at immediately, but given the recent tenor of bilateral relations, will need to be developed gradually.

      The six articles in this issue show that Russian political scientists recognize that the conflictual nature of relations between Russia and its neighbors is harmful for Russia’s long term political development. Recent signs of a more pragmatic and cooperative tone in Russian foreign policy pronouncements shows that its rulers may be coming to recognize this as well.

      Wikileaks reaction makes the US government look bad

      Wikileaks continues to stir a lot of discussion. It seems to me that the US government’s reaction has so far been entirely counter-productive. The heavy-handed efforts to destroy the site’s ability to function has only fed the image that Wikileaks is the victim here. It seems pretty clear from past experience that it is pretty much impossible to prevent information hosted on one site from being replicated elsewhere on the internet if the original site is taken down. After it was taken down in the US, it has relocated its primary site to Europe, while dozens, if not hundreds, of mirror sites have sprung up all over the world. It seems clear that it will not be possible for the US government, even with the cooperation of other governments, to take down all these sites. And even if they did, new ones will just appear. All Wikileaks has to do is maintain its ability to upload new cables once in a while, and the mirrors will continue. Plus, the traditional newspapers that have collaborated with Wikileaks on releasing the materials will continue to publish the stories and the cables that accompany them.

      If the US government can’t actually stop the release of the cables at this point, then what is the purpose of its attacks on Wikileaks and its founder? It seems to me that the goal is to punish Assange  and his organization. As I’ve written before, I think publishing the cables is reprehensible. But at the same time, it seems to me that the way the government has chosen to go after Assange has only made it look like a bully, throwing its weight around, while Assange and Wikileaks have taken up the role of David courageously fighting off Goliath with whatever minimal resources it can find at hand. In this situation, world opinion will rapidly swing (if it hasn’t already) toward the underdog. Wikileaks will find much more support than it would have otherwise. And the US government’s standing in the world will be damaged more from its reaction than from the revelations in the cables themselves.

      Domestic reaction within the US is also in flux. The policy of preventing government employees from viewing the cables, which I mentioned in my previous post on this subject, has now gotten widespread attention, especially because of ham-handed efforts to warn students at various universities that sharing information about the content of the cables may negatively impact their ability to get government jobs in the future. Again, the US government seems to be on the side of censorship and acting like “big brother.” Everyone on some level understands that getting a government job requires background checks, which involve doing things like checking people’s facebook accounts. But it really doesn’t help the government’s image to rub this fact in people’s faces, especially in the immediate aftermath of last month’s flap about overly intrusive airport screenings.

      This is not to say that there should be no consequences for the leaks. If laws were broken by Wikileaks and/or Julian Assange, either those of the US or of another country, then the legal system should be used to prosecute the violator(s). And if Wikileaks’ actions aren’t actually illegal, then efforts to go after Assange and his organization seem even less appropriate.

      The US government should stop its efforts to shut down Wikileaks, end its idiotic policy that prevents government employees and contractors from viewing the publicly available cables, and focus on changing its security procedures so that this type of leak can never happen again.

      Conflict Localization Reaches Dagestan

      The Russian military recently announced that it will form three new battalions in Dagestan, staffed entirely by locals. The first of these battalions, to be located near Makhachkala, is already being trained, while the other two will be formed in the near future and will be stationed in the northern and southern parts of the republic. The total force strength will be around 700-800 people.

      The formation of these battalions is, in essence, an admission by the Russian military and other security services that they are failing at containing the spreading insurgency in the region. According to official sources, 104 security service personnel were killed in the region in 2010 (data through mid-November). The sizable contingent of federal forces located in Dagestan now includes the 102nd MVD brigade, the 136th Buinaksk motorized infantry brigade, the Botlikh Mountain Brigade, a naval infantry battalion, and various FSB and MVD special forces units. But despite their presence, the insurgency continues to gain strength.

      Russian authorities seem to have decided to try to solve this problem by using one aspect of the Chechen model — the part where they handed over fighting the insurgency to Chechen troops. In fact, NVO reports that the new battalion in Dagestan is being trained by specialists from Chechnya. But Dagestan is not Chechnya and there is no Dagestani equivalent to Ramzan Kadyrov. Instead of a strongman willing and able to use whatever means necessary to either bring insurgents to his side or kill them, Dagestan is run by a complicated set of clans from different ethnic groups all vying with each other for power in the republic as a whole and in various individual districts.

      The idea, I guess, is to combine the advantages of local knowledge possessed by locally recruited forces (usually found in the police) with the heavy armament usually possessed by federal troops. Unlike the police, these troops will not have to call in reinforcements with heavy weapons and armored vehicles when they find a group of armed insurgents. They will already have these weapons and equipment on hand.

      At the same time, the absence of strong leadership at the regional level may lead to internal conflicts within the battalions, as well as the possibility that their members may defect with their weapons to the side of the insurgents. On the other hand, the presence of locally recruited military units could lead to a loss of federal control over the territory in much the same manner as Moscow has pretty much lost control of Chechnya under Kadyrov. This is especially likely should strong republic leadership emerge at some point in the future and be combined with a successful assault on the insurgency by these units.

      Overall, this seems to be a risky strategy on Moscow’s part, driven perhaps by a sense that everything else they’ve tried has not worked. The chances of this tactic working also seem quite low.