In the US's easy defeat of Saddam Hussein's army, Russia sees a
lesson for its own conventional forces.
The Iraqi Army - which was cloned from the Red Army in the final
decades of the Soviet Union - mounted only a feeble defense before
"The key conclusion we must draw from the latest Gulf war is that
the obsolete structure of the Russian armed forces has to be
urgently changed," says Vladimir Dvorkin, head of the Russian
Defense Ministry's official think tank on strategic nuclear policy.
"The gap between our capabilities and those of the Americans has
been revealed, and it is vast. We are very lucky that Russia has no
major enemies at the moment, but the future is impossible to
predict, and we must be ready."
The swift victory by mobile, high-tech American forces over
heavily armored Iraqi troops dug in to defend large cities like
Baghdad has jolted many Russian military planners. "The Iraqi Army
was a replica of the Russian Army, and its defeat was not predicted
by our generals," says Vitaly Shlykov, a former deputy defense
minister of Russia.
Like its Soviet prototype, Iraq's Army was huge but made up
mainly of young, poorly trained conscripts. Its battle tactics
called for broad frontal warfare, with massed armor and artillery,
and a highly centralized command structure. But those forces were
trounced in a few days by relatively small numbers of US and British
forces, who punched holes in the Iraqi front using precision weapons
and seized the country's power centers more rapidly than traditional
military thinkers could have imagined. "The military paradigm has
changed, and luckily we didn't have to learn that lesson firsthand,"
says Yevgeny Pashentsev, author of a book on Russian military
reform. "The Americans have rewritten the textbook, and every
country had better take note."
Last week, the independent Council on Foreign and Defense Policy -
a group of top Russian military experts and former policymakers,
including Mr. Shlykov - met to assess the implications of the US
triumph in Iraq for Russia. Their conclusion: The Kremlin must drop
all post-Soviet pretense that Russia remains a superpower, and make
rebuilding and redesigning the nation's military forces a top
priority. "We cannot afford to postpone this any longer," Boris
Nemtsov, head of the liberal Union of Right Forces, told the
Twelve years after the USSR's collapse, the most unreformed
branch of Russian society remains its armed forces. Though its
numbers have been halved to about 1.2 million personnel, and its
annual budget has dropped to a mere $10 billion, the structure,
weaponry, and doctrines of today's Russian military remain those of
its Soviet predecessor. Each Russian defense minister since 1991 has
pledged sweeping reform, yet more than half of the Army's combat
forces remain ill-trained conscripts required to serve for two years
for just 100 rubles ($3) a month. Aside from the strategic nuclear
forces, no branch of the Russian military has acquired significant
quantities of modern weaponry in more than a decade.
According to a Defense Ministry survey in early 2003, cited in
the daily Izvestia, more than a third of Russian officers and their
families live below the poverty line, and fewer than half of the
officers want to remain in the service. …