Russian Insecurity

Fed on a thin diet of knowledge about Russian power exclusively from mainstream media in the United States or from the Chairman of its Senate Armed Services Committee, you could be forgiven for believing that we are all in imminent danger. This is the inevitable result of the sustained resistance to Donald Trump’s presidency. But we need to get beyond it.

The publication in June of the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency’s Russia. Military Power. Building a Military to Support Great Power Aspirations therefore comes as a welcome perspective from those who cannot afford to get assessments wrong. From this it is clear that Russia fears the United States both at home and abroad, and reminds us that the Kremlin seeks wherever it can to readjust the balance of power to its own advantage by fair means or foul.

The initial reaction to these 111 pages shows surprise that the DIA ever put out such data so objectively – unlike Caspar Weinberger’s notorious polemic, Soviet Military Power, issued under the Reagan Administration and a source of acute embarrassment at the DIA.

The second, more considered, Russian reaction to the DIA’s booklet was anxiety to demonstrate that Moscow is not as relatively weak as one would suppose; or, at least, that it is getting better much more speedily than one might have thought.

Both responses come from one and the same military commentator, Aleksandr Sharkovskii, writing in Nezavisimaya gazeta on Monday 3 July and then again only four days later in Nezavisimoe voennoe obozrenie, at the end of the week.

The first reaction was modestly entitled “Soon Russia will become more confident and effective” – so obviously they are not so now – and subtitled, with some relief, “American intelligence highly values measures to enhance the Russian Federation’s military power.”

After due reconsideration, however, the second piece that appeared was positively ebullient: “The West is seriously disturbed by the growing power of Russia.” The subtitle was “In the development of armaments and in military construction Moscow is surging ahead.”

Unease about Russia’s standing in the balance of military power is reflected in the second article’s focus on the problem of overwhelming U.S. anti-missile defences.

This doubtless reflects the distinct unease at having the American system, Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD), so close to Russia, in South Korea. Even if the system can deal only with theatre nuclear weapons, its radar reaches uncomfortably into Russia across the North Korean frontier. Under a further subtitle, “What the West underestimates”, Sharkovskii highlights current and future deployments of advanced ICBMs that can counter U.S. defences: the Yars and the new Sarmat systems.