by Nikolai Berger, a student of BA International Relations at King’s College London.
Russian president Vladimir Putin plans to spend more than 20 trillion roubles ($700 billion) bringing military equipment up to date by 2025. As part of this, Russian spending on the military is set to rise by 85% between 2012 and 2017. In 2015 most economic sectors face a 10% cut as Russia heads into recession, due to falling petrol prices and Western sanctions. However, the military budget rose by 33% to about 3.3 trillion roubles (some $50 billion). Russia now almost spends 5% of its GDP on its military, higher than any other European country and even the USA.
This huge spike in military spending is allowing Russia to rearm itself as it was under Communism. Indeed, Russia is reviving Soviet-era airfields and opening new military bases in the Arctic. Last year, the Russian armed forces obtained a record number of 38 nuclear-tipped intercontinental ballistic missiles. This year they are to get another 50, allowing the military to fulfil its ambitious goal of replacing Soviet-built nuclear missiles, which are approaching the end of their lifespan. As well as replacing it’s dying nuclear weapons, for the first time in decades Russia is talking about increasing its nuclear arsenal as a whole.
The Russian air force received more than 250 new planes and helicopters last year and is set to receive more than 200 this year, these too are numbers unseen since Soviet times. In 2014 Russia built a new nuclear submarine – and are working on 5 more – which would bring their total to 8 once completed. Furthermore, Russia has always been the global leader when it comes to tanks, possessing an estimated 15000; almost double the USA’s numbers and three times more than all European nations combined.
Estimates claim the Russian Armed Forces number roughly 760,000 active troops and in the region of 2,485,000 reserves. The vast majority of the west doesn’t have conscription, however Russia does. As of 2008, some 480,000 young men are brought into the Army via conscription in two call-ups each year. The term of service is 12 months. Eligible age is 18 to 27 years old.
As well as undergoing a huge remilitarisation, Russia is testing its European neighbours. Indeed, there were more than 39 Russian violations of European airspace and waters in 2014 alone, even as recently as January 30th 2015 Russian fighter jets came close to violating UK airspace as they conducted “out of area operation” in the North Sea, Atlantic Ocean, Irish Sea and the Channel. On 3 March 2014 the nearest miss occurred when a SAS passenger plane taking off from Copenhagen and a Russian reconnaissance aircraft, which did not transmit its position 50 miles south east of Malmo, almost collided.
A remilitarising country on the doorstep of Europe, with a grudge against it, is all too familiar. The links with 1930s Germany are even more worrying when one sees Putin’s justifications in annexing Crimea (and trying to take Eastern Ukraine although he denies it) mirror those of Hitler’s Anschluss or his annexation of the Sudetenland. Both blamed it on wanting to protect and/or unite all lands in which their ethnic people found themselves. A powerful propaganda machine and widespread poverty further strengthen the similarities between Nazi Germany and Putin’s Russia. Whilst this does not mean Putin will act as Hitler did, it should worry us.
In the 1930s Europe chose appeasement. Today there are mixed signs from the European countries. As the European continent deals with a fragile economy, the rise of populist right wing parties and religious tensions within their societies, Russia can be seen as minor, far away issue. Nevertheless, on February 6th 2015 German chancellor Angela Merkel and French president François Hollande held talks with Putin in Russia to try and mediate the situation in Eastern Ukraine and prevent any escalation. As well at this, the EU has already imposed many sanctions on Russia and many of its leaders have gone on record publically condemning the Putin Regime.
Therefore, the parallels between modern day Russia and Hitler’s Germany can be drawn when it comes to the leaders actions towards their perceived spheres of influence, and the conditions within their countries allowing such regimes to grow in the first place. However, the European response bears little similarity with that of the 1930s. Indeed, Europe now is not only more united in its response but taking a proactive role in trying to reduce tensions. Furthermore, times have changed since the 1930s and thus one could not imagine a similar scenario playing out today in an ever globalised, nuclear, world.
Still, issues remain and Europe may put on a strong act, but behind closed doors their hands are tied. After decades of military de-escalation and the slashing of defence budgets Europe is genuinely weak compared to Russia, especially seen the extent of her rearmament. What’s more, the EU for all its positives is lacking in a joint defence and military organisation, which if war were to break out, would seriously hinder their capabilities to wage it. It is time for Europe to wake up and face the facts; Putin’s Russia is a serious military threat. The Cold War may be over for the West but for Putin it has only began.
Global Fire Power