An atmosphere of self-congratulation over recent victories in Syria has combined with a pugnacious reponse to minimal NATO improvements to its defence posture to create the image of a newly self-confident Russian bear. But how realistic is that image? We have noted in a previous post real nervousness beneath the bravado.
Normally, particularly when the armed forces are engaged on the field of battle, the Russian military are treated to the benefit of the doubt, if not undue deference. This, one still sees in TASS coverage of the latest military improvements and in Rossiiskaya Gazeta‘s respectful treatment today of Defence Minister Shoigu’s celebratory comments on defeating the last hold-out of terrorists in Syria (‘Shoigu rasskazal o razgrome poslednego oplota terroristov v Sirii’).
Yet Aleksandr Sharkovskii, deputy editor of Nezavisimaya Gazeta, has evidently had enough. More aware than many of Russia’s vulnerabilities, he has come out and challenged Valerii Gerasimov, the Chief of the General Staff, for seriously overstating a whole range of achievements over the past five years; most notably the construction and operation of the Angora space missile complex, which he says is by no means up and ready.
Sharkovskii is not convinced by any of this. Nor is he taken in by ‘new, sensational data about the participation of the Russian military in the Syrian war.’ The numbers are not, on his view, credible. More importantly, he insists, ‘there is a danger that the military-political leadership of the country will at some point in time take decisions on the bases of the distorted data’ (‘Genshtab zavysil pokazateli. V otchete Minoborony obnaruzhilis’ nekotorye nesostykovki’, Nezavisimaya gazeta, 10 November 2017.) This is a damning and embarrassing revelation for such a senior figure. Is there something going on we do not know about?