Academic journal article Connections : The Quarterly Journal

The Russian Military in 2020: Russia's Way Back to Power Projection? Implications for NATO

Academic journal article Connections : The Quarterly Journal

The Russian Military in 2020: Russia's Way Back to Power Projection? Implications for NATO

Article excerpt


"Russia Has Lost its Army." This headline of an editorial published on the global defense and military portal DefenceTalk in October 2003 gives proof of the perception of the Russian military leadership at the beginning of the twenty-first century.1 The developments after the collapse of the Soviet Union led to multiple efforts to reform the Russian armed forces. In the early 1990s, former Russian Defense Minister Pavel Grachev initiated a number of military reforms, but met heavy resistance within the Russian officer corps (still strongly influenced by the Soviet era) who were trying to preserve their system and positions.2 Most of the additional reform efforts of the last twenty years - which were mostly limited to downsizing manpower and equipment, without addressing the larger military system and organizational structure - failed to achieve the goal of a restructured modern Russian military. This led the Russian military journalist Alexander Goltz to publish a book in 2004 titled The Army of Russia: 11 Lost Years, in which he concludes that between 1993 and 2004 the military reforms that were carried out in Russia had no meaningful results.3 In response to the lack of progress in armed forces reform, the newly appointed civilian Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov introduced the so-called "New Look" on 23 February 2008. Will the "New Look" reforms lead to the "reappearance of the Red Star," the symbol of the former Soviet Army? What are the possible implications of such a resurgence for NATO? To understand the imperatives behind Serdyukov' s "New Look," it is necessary to understand Russia's national interests, as every government will calculate their military reforms based on their perceived national interests, as well as on identified threats and risks.

Key Aspects of Russian Foreign Policy

Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, Russia's national interests have remained basically unchanged, with one exception. The importance of economic prosperity with respect to oil, natural gas, and other extractive resources has risen considerably, as this wealth is perceived as the foundation of any Russian attempt to tackle existing and future domestic challenges, as well as a way back to gaining dominance in Russia's socalled "near abroad."4 Russia's traditional national interests, which are stated in the July 2008 Foreign Policy Concept and the 2009 National Security Strategy, include bolstering demographic health and security as well as maintaining security on its borders and within the near abroad. Additionally, Russia wants to ensure that it remains the primary actor in the region, especially in Central Asia.5 The more recently published "New Military Doctrine" of February 2010 refers to the importance of the "near abroad" and underlines Russian concerns about NATO encroachment in this region. To ensure its regional dominance and to protect Russian interests, the Russian armed forces "might be used operationally outside Russia" unilaterally, according to this doctrine.6 Russia seems also to be more willing to deploy their forces within the arrangements of the Collective Security Treaty Organization.7 Russia's national interests and their translation into the New Military Doctrine as well as the ongoing focus on the "near abroad" have to be considered when analyzing any efforts to reform Russia's military.

After the "Collapse of the Red Army": Russian Forces at the Beginning of the Twenty-first Century

"Not since 1941 has the Russian military stood as perilously close to ruin as it does now," stated Dr. Alexei Arbatov, the Deputy Chairman of the Defense Committee in the Duma in 1998.8 At the beginning of the twenty-first century, the Russian armed forces - which inherited the larger part of the Soviet Red Army in terms of soldiers and equipment - still struggled with a heritage that relied heavily on the mentality of the Soviet era and with the legacy of outdated equipment. The first review of Russia's military doctrine, carried out in 1993, was largely unsuccessful in organizing the Russian forces and in changing the old Soviet military mentality; Russian forces were spread out all over the expansive area of the former Soviet Union, with a lack of general strategy and organization. …

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