Tectonic Shifts and Putin's Russia in the New Security Environment

By Kipp, Jacob W. | Military Review, March/April 2002 | Go to article overview

Tectonic Shifts and Putin's Russia in the New Security Environment


Kipp, Jacob W., Military Review


AS THE U.S. Government mobilizes for homeland defense and a protracted war against terrorism, it is evident to the Russian national security elite that fundamental features of the international security landscape are undergoing "tectonic shifts."1 Such shifts, as described by diplomatic historian John Gaddis, involve the process of globalization, the decline of the power of the nation-state, and emerging nonstate actors with the will and means to challenge the international system's stability.2 History did not end with the cold war, but it does assert a new set of fault lines. The current revolution in the international security system cannot be understood in isolation. In the case of U.S.-Russian relations, there have been two seismic shocks in only 2 years. The first, during spring 1999, was associated with NATO's intervention in Kosovo that ended the post-cold war era and any illusions of a U.S.-Russian partnership. The second occurred in the aftermath of 11 September 2001 and the initiation of the war on terrorism. The first shock pushed the United States and Russia apart on key security issues; the second drew them together as allies.

The Postmodern Russian Military: Post-Soviet and Post-Yeltsin

During spring 1999, this author wrote about a dying Russian military whose chronic problems remain numerous and deep.3 Low morale and the military's diminished status in society broke the link between the nation and the armed forces. A topheavy officer corps with too many senior officers and too few junior officers fed stagnation and inertia. A conscript pool based on a small portion of eligible age cohort, drawn from the lower strata of Russian youth, brought health and social problems into the ranks. Barracks life, with its brutal hazing, caused suicides among recruits. Criminalization and corruption throughout the officer corps undermined self-respect and public confidence. Grossly inadequate training reduced the force's combat effectiveness. A decade of barely procuring new weapons and the problem of looming block obsolescence in the first years of the next century precluded modernizing the force. The officer corps. open disdain for and distrust of the current government created a dying military.

As an acute observer notes, their inability to deal with their own decline into chaos and disorder has gone hand in hand with a remarkable fact of their marginalization in Russian national politics. Disgruntled officers perceive themselves as sheep going to the slaughter.4 Each time the sheep complain of starvation, the political shepherds respond with another round of cuts in manpower and wage arrears. One of Boris Yeltsin's government's most vocal critics, Colonel Viktor Baranets, uses precisely that language to describe Russia's "lost army."5 During spring 1998, the much-publicized film, "Chistilishche" ("Purgatory"), which was written and directed by nationalist journalist Aleksandr Nevzorov and produced by oligarch Boris Berezovsky, carried the metaphor even further by depicting the Russian Army in Chechnya as a crucified Christ.6

The resurrection of the Russian military began during spring 1999. The rebirth involved a combination of international and domestic events, which brought in their aftermath renewed pride and importance for the Russian Armed Forces. Russia's inability to forestall NATO military intervention against Yugoslavia during the Kosovo crisis undermined the strategic posture of relying on strategic nuclear weapons to secure Russian political interests. Former Russian Minister of Defense Marshal Igor Sergeev made modernizing those forces and restructuring their command and control the capstone of his military reform program at the expense of Russia's conventional forces. The NATO air campaign over Yugoslavia served Sergeev's critics in two ways. First, it underscored the limits of strategic nuclear deterrence in defense of interests that were beyond Russia's immediate frontiers and not perceived to demand capital engagement. …

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