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The Influence of Air Power upon Syrian History

Here are some recent videos of Russian bombings of Islamic state oil infrastructure (LOL at the guy getting out of Dodge at 0:25).

And a bombing of a nicely arraigned line of oil tankers:

All of which raises a rather obvious question: If this is easy as easy as shooting fish in a barrel – and it sure looks like it – why are there still any such installations and orderly truck columns in the empty desert to bomb in the first place?

The US military claims that such attacks were “minimally effective.” Considering that this was not the case even in 1944, when Allied (primarily US) bombing crippled German mobility despite Germany’s formidable IADS and the much more primitive surveillance and targetting technology of the time, this is implausible. At least the US has since started doing the same thing, after getting named and shamed into doing so at the UN by Putin. (And attempting to attribute Russian strikes on ISIS oil infrastructure to themselves. I wonder if in two generations’ time most Westerners will come to believe the US played the most important role in defeating ISIS, as happened with WW2).

The Daily Beast's coverage of Russia's Syria intervention by neocon Michael Weiss.

The Daily Beast’s coverage of Russia’s Syria intervention by neocon Michael Weiss.

The reason is that the strategy has always been not to decimate Islamic State, but to “funnel” it away from “moderate” rebels towards the SAA. Had that not been the case, ISIS would have never been able to travel across the hundreds of kilometers of open desert to take Palmyra. To add insult to injury, neocon propagandists continually claim (actually: Project) that Assad is in a functional alliance with ISIS, a characterization that was extended to Russia when it waded in.

To be sure there were plenty of Whac-a-Mole type of strikes, but these by themselves are militarily meaningless. Offing individual scumbags such as “Jihadi John” makes for good propaganda, but those guys are a dime a dozen in ISIS. Ultimately, victory lies in regaining ground from the terrorists, and on that front the tide seems to have turned decisively in favor of the SAA.

As I wrote three weeks ago:

This is where the Russian Air Force can hopefully make a big difference. Even the fighters already in place will allow the Syrians to effectively double their number of sorties, and Russian fighter pilots are much more skilled and have more modern armaments than their Syrian counterparts. Effectively, this translates to a tripling or quadrupling of Syrian air power that can be concentrated in support of SAA ground operations. Air power can seriously degrade the combat power of enemy formations that do not have adequate AA counters to it (that describes both the FSA/Al Nusra and ISIS). Whereas a front might have once been in equilibrium, due to roughly matching combat power on either side, a sustained air campaign could begin to systemically swing the advantage over to the SAA and eventually enable the reconquista of Syrian territorities currently under renegade Islamist control.

That is pretty much exactly what seems to have happened at Kweiris Airbase, finally relieved after a 2.5 year siege by an SAA armored thrust supported by Russian air power.

Click to enlarge.

The Aleppo-Raqqa Route. Click to enlarge.

And the doubling of the Russian air contingent in Syria proper – together with the introduction of strategic bombers (the Tu-160 Blackjack has been used in anger for the first time ever) – has now for all intents and purposes amplified the air power available to the SAA relative to before the Russian intervention by an order of magnitude.

The pace of ground operations is likewise only going to pick up from here. With ISIS shattered around Kweiris, a further thrust through Deir Hafir to Jirah Airbase (captured by ISIS last August) would cut off the northern part of the organization from its capital at Raqqa; the last remaining connection, via Tishrin Dam, could be easily plugged with the air power now at the SAA’s disposal.

Palmyra would be the other obvious target, and indeed activity seems to be heating up there as well. That said, it would probably be worthwhile to wait for a few months before starting any assault. With air control, and the vast expanses of open desert between Palmyra and the Islamic State heartlands, it would make sense to starve the Palmyra defenders of supplies first.

In the meantime, ISIS is beginning to bleed dry. Not helped by its flashy policy of mass POW executions, which has predictably resulted in their opponents starting to fight to the death, they wasted a bunch of fighters in a last ditch attempt to capture Kweiris before its relief, and have continued to mount extremely costly frontal assaults against Deir ez-Zor (DEZ).

issam-zahreddineWith ISIS now getting rolled back in both Syria and even more spectacularly in Iraq, it makes sense that it would want to focus on consolidating its internal communications lines, which the heavily fortified DEZ bisects. But that outpost is guarded by some of the SAA’s most elite units and commanded by the legendary Issam Zahreddine (see right). Having held out for years, the chances of it falling now with the arrival of Russian air power are much reduced.

So it will continue serving as a meatgrinder, admittedly largely for the hapless and judging from the rate of executions for desertion not overly enthusiastic conscripts that Islamic State increasingly has to rely upon.

A Geopolitical Coup?

From a geopolitical perspetive, Russia’s involvement is beginning to look like a coup of the first order.

Three weeks ago, in Syria and the Three Wars, I identified a few possible pitfalls as well as advantages that could accrue from this. To date, Russia hasn’t fall into any of the pitfalls, and lapped up all the advantages.

Possible pitfalls

Afghanistan-like quagmire – Nope. Still no ground intervention on the horizon. One suicide, zero direct military casualties. (Though the Saker does identify incipient mission creep).

Will enable “Putinsliv” (abandonment) of Novorossiya – Contra Prosvirnin & Co.’s fears, there is no indication that this is happening either. (At the moment tensions are beginning to heat up again there. Considering the multitude of false war scares we’ve had there, however, chances are it will continue to remain frozen for the foreseeable future).


Provide RL training – Is happening.

“Politely” demonstrate Russian military power – This plan was not just fulfilled but overfulfilled, with many second-rate Western analysts apparently shocked – shocked! – that Russia with its decades-old Orc Tech built a functional air base from scratch within a few month from which it maintains extremely high fighter sortie rates that put the USAF to shame, and flings cruise missiles from thousands of miles away with pinpoint precision. Even observers otherwise familiar with Russian military capitabilities were impressed by the magnitude of the improvements since the South Ossetian War. Incidentally, and exactly as I suggested, this also makes a mockery – in the most graphic and explicit terms possible – of the Ukrainian junta’s tall tales that it was “at war” with Russia and beat back Pskov paratrooper brigades and Buryat divisons by the dozen.

Further Advantages

That I hadn’t spelled out in detail, but which are becoming increasingly evident.

Very good PR both for the Russia Stronk! crowd and beyond – To be fair, at least until the Paris Attacks, this was limited to Putin’s usual Western fans – i.e., those not under the spell of neocon “Assad killing his own people” propaganda (i.e. a decided minority). But nice to have nonetheless. The world defender of Christian civilization, and not just in word, as was the case before, but in deed.

And the “only one” such, according to a remarkable recent statement by Assad (this does make one wonder if there is anything to the rumors that Alawites are actually crypto-Christians).

The Russians are now getting called crusaders by Islamists, an honor previously reserved for just the US and its allies (not that there’s necessarily anything wrong with that). Here is an inspirational video on this “Holy Crusader Order” theme by a Russian “patriotic trolling” group:

Western narrative shift after Paris? – It was clear that Russia was going to be at loggerheads with the US and its allies/satraps once it waded into Syria. Indeed, some of the crazier neocons and US Republicans were calling for the US to establish a no fly zone (which would have been a direct act of military aggression against Russia), though I never expected anything to come out of that since it was inevitable that the hotheads would be set straight by the hard realists at the Pentagon if things ever went that far south. Nor was I expecting anything particularly game changing in the wake of the Paris Attacks (in the bleakest version, if anything, the Western elites would merely use them as a cynical ploy to double down on their anti-Assad stance).

But in the event, things appear to be surprising to the upside, and in a very major and unexpected way. Hawkish Hollande, more American than the (post-Bush) Americans in his zeal for intervention, has finally admitted that ISIS is France’s prime enemy, not Assad. Not perfect, but good enough. The Russian military in the Levant has been told to treat the French soldiers incoming on the Charles de Gaulle aircraft carrier as allies. Although speaking of any wider rapprochment in West-Russia relations is very clearly premature, the worst outcomes now appear to be ruled out and things are looking up. Obama has even called Putin a “constructive partner” in the Syria talks, which would have been unimaginable just a year ago when he was the butt of Western opprobrium at the Brisbane G20 summit. Considering that Putin remains constant to his position – the same as that proposed by Kofi Annan at the 2012 Geneva Conference – that Assad must be included in any negotiations between the regime and (truly) moderate factions about political transition, the apparent dropping of the removal of Assad as the West’s Number One priority in Syria basically implies that the Western political elites have been forced come round to the point of view of their worst international bugbear.

These political developments are getting reflected in the Western media. Even the neocon rag The Daily Beast has gone from “Russia’s Giving ISIS an Air Force” to “Russia Pounds ISIS with Biggest Bomber Raid in Decades.”

Irish journalist Danielle Ryan has a very good article on the diplomatic aspects of this development at The BRICS Post:

Before the Paris attacks, some analysts had been worriedly warning that Putin was winning the “PR war” in Syria. In the aftermath, Moscow’s articulation of its position looks less like PR and more like an appeal to common sense.

To risk an understatement, it’s depressing that 132 innocent people had to die in Paris before Obama, Cameron et al realized that Russia could be an indispensable partner in the fight against ISIS, and that disagreements over the fate of Assad should not be “the altar on which the country of Syria is slaughtered”.

If only this realization could have been made in 2010, when the Syrian government offered Western powers a chance to join up and fight ISIS together. Or in 2012, when Russia is rumoured to have offered the West a proposal which would have seen Assad step down as part of a broad peace deal.

is-isis-buying-ukrainian-arms Shady actors hurrying to tidy themselves up – So very conveniently soon after the Paris Attacks, Qatar arrested 6 men who had been supplying arms, including MANPADS, to Islamic State.

Their provider? Ukraine.

Perhaps the Ukrainians took Interior Ministry bigwig Anton Geraschenko’s injunction to “help ISIS take revenge on Russia by the canons of sharia” a bit too literally. So pathological is Maidanist village hatred for Russia that many of them lack the self-awareness to comprehend that ISIS and their own Western sponsors don’t exactly see eye to eye. (Ironically, it is not altogether impossible that this was because they took conspiracy theories from the more unhinged elements of the Russian nationalist scene about how the Americans control ISIS at face value). Certainly the Maidanist types have never had any compunctions about allying with people who ultimately despised them just to spit in Russia’s soup, from the Nazis in WW2 to Islamist fanatics today.

The alternative, less exciting but admittedly far more realistic possibility, is that this is a mere consequence of Ukraine’s failed state status.

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As Russian fighters begin their baptism of fire in Syria, it is worth pointing out there are at least three separate wars going on here. And they’re all quite distinct.

(1) The Actual War

Once again I urge people to familiarize themselves with a map of the Syrian conflict (e.g. here). All of Assad’s most critical fronts – the big region between Aleppo and Latakia, and the pockets around Homs and Damascus – are FSA/Al Nusra/Al Qaeda. So long as they threaten Syria’s three biggest cities, including its capital and the Alawite heartlands (where Russia’s airbases happen to be located), focusing on the Islamic State would be sheer military folly.

Striking ISIS intensively right now would be pointless because there are no ready SAA forces that could rush in to exploit it. The US coalition’s own record proves that. Which is not to say that Russia is avoiding striking the Islamic State on principle, as the more deranged neocons have been claiming. You will just not be hearing much of them, first because (as per above) Al Nusra/FSA are the main priorities right now, second because the Western MSM has clearly been given a directive to discredit the Russian intervention.

Here is a side-by-side map of areas of control in Syria, and of the location of the Russian air strikes. ISIS territories do get bombed, but the main targets are logically those that are closer to SAA positions.


As those of you who have been following my recent writings on the Arab militaries will know, one of the key problems that the SAA – as a conventional Muslim Arab army – continues to face even now is a relative lack of morale (compared to those who fight for God, like Al Nusra or IS, or those who fight for clan, like the Kurds, the Druze, and the Shi’ite militias). This means that although it is able to hold on quite effectively when defending its Shi’ite heartlands, it finds it much more difficult to make offensive gains, since its combat efficiency is lower due to those morale hits that typically accrue to any Arab conventional state army, and its superiority in military capital (tanks, fighters, etc) is considerably nullified by their incompetence in using them. Like it not, but the sad reality is that clannish, ~85 IQ peoples just do not make good soldiers for the purposes of modern combined arms warfare. Needless to say, it also doesn’t help that it is usually attacking well-fortified urban outposts (attackers generally need a 3-to-2 total combat power advantage to make gains in such conditions).

This is where the Russian Air Force can hopefully make a big difference. Even the fighters already in place will allow the Syrians to effectively double their number of sorties, and Russian fighter pilots are much more skilled and have more modern armaments than their Syrian counterparts. Effectively, this translates to a tripling or quadrupling of Syrian air power that can be concentrated in support of SAA ground operations. Air power can seriously degrade the combat power of enemy formations that do not have adequate AA counters to it (that describes both the FSA/Al Nusra and ISIS). Whereas a front might have once been in equilibrium, due to roughly matching combat power on either side, a sustained air campaign could begin to systemically swing the advantage over to the SAA and eventually enable the reconquista of Syrian territorities currently under renegade Islamist control.

Why are American air strikes hopeless? Because they are missing the ground element. Even in its most benign interpretation it is nothing but a big Whac-a-Mole game. It refused to countenance any sort of coordination with the SAA. If it had, then the ISIS takeover of Palmyra – which involved crossing 150km+ of open desert over a single major road over a period of a month – would have been impossible (and Khaled al-Asaad, the executed architect who became the object of many MSM crocodile tears, would still have his head attached to his shoulders). Even the Pentagon has admitted that its project to train “moderate” fighters to combat IS has been a colossal, expensive failure. It claims that its airstrikes killed 10,000 ISIS fighters but these are frankly dubious. Even if it did, considering that IS probably has close to 100,000 troops by now, it wouldn’t have made a major difference anyway.

(2) The Propaganda War

This pretty much says everything there is to say.

Homs Airstrike: White Helmets Caught Faking Syria Casualties


No wonder everybody sane from Russia to Hungary to Egypt are kicking out American NGOs!

Mark Adomanis sardonically points out that whereas the US couldn’t find moderate rebels in 3 years, the Russians did so in 24 hours.

Senile Cold Warriors from McCain to cuckservative icon Tom Cotton rave and demand to knock Russian fighters out of the sky to protect their beloved Al Qaeda proteges. On the off chance this leads to WW3 and the world of Stalker/Fallout, Americans should know that they did this to protect literal cannibals, genocidal fanatics, and – horror of horrors – homophobes.

Note also that there were no loud proclamations from Obama and his stooge Hollande when Turkey hit only Kurdish targets under the pretense of fighting ISIS.

This is because the US is disinterested in combatting ISIS and cares only about overthrowing President Assad, no matter if doing so involves flagrant violations of international law (Syria never gave it permission to use its airspace) and effectively allying itself with the people who carried out 9/11.

Perhaps the only redeeming feature in all of this is that, to the elites’ horror and bewilderment, the general public and their representative The Donald have stopped lapping up their lies and propaganda, something that is easy to observe from the comments sections on sites from YouTube to CNN (incidentally, has anyone else noticed how all the MSM sites are beginning to close their comments sections? What’s up with that LOL).

(3) The Geopolitical War

Remember my account of Egor Prosvirnin’s recent legal travails? Well, his Sputnik i Pogrom site has produced the following propaganda poster:


“The finale of Soviet regimes is remarkably simiar: Afghanistan, 1979 – Syria, 2015.”

This poster encompasses two big criticisms of Russia’s new Syria adventure from the (nationalist) Right.

(There are is also the usual predictable whining in Russia from pro-Western liberals going on about how Russia is supporting a “bloody dictator” and hoping the freedom fighters knock Russian fighter jets from the sky but nobody cares about their opinions except the American NGOs who finance them).

(1) The idea that Syria will become an Afghanistan-like quagmire.

After all, the Soviet Union never *invaded* Afghanistan either (even if it was presented as such by the Cold Warriors). It came by request of the legitimate Afghan authorities. And it ended getting bogged down and losing the lives of 15,000 soldiers, in an ultimately futile attempt to preserve some semblance of civilization against mujahedeen financed and sponsored by the Saudis and their best friends the Americans. According to Islamist propaganda, which neocons admire greatly (at least so long as it is aimed against Russia), this provoked the collapse of the Soviet Union.

The key difference: So far Russia is only sending fighter aircraft, and military advisors who will not be actively taking part in the fighting. So long as things stay that way, the Syria intervention will not constitute a major financial commitment, or a major commitment in terms of morale and approval ratings. The worst that can happen is that a fighter pilot is captured and gruesomely executed by Al Nusra or ISIS.

That, however, runs the risk of provoking a larger-scale Russian ground intervention, especially if the SAA fails to make the hoped for advances with the help of the Russian Air Force. They could get gradually sucked in like the Americans did in Vietnam. At least this is how this argument goes in Russian liberal and some nationalist circles. But I assume the Russians are familiar with that particular history and will not fall into a similar trap, no matter how much the neocons might be wishing otherwise.

(2) The idea that it involves abandoning the Novorossiya project.

There is, in fact, a recent Guardian article to that effect, which happens to quote Prosvirnin himself:

In Moscow, too, there are rumblings that the “Novorossia project” to carve out a pro-Russian statelet in east Ukraine has been well and truly closed down. Egor Prosvirnin, editor of the nationalist blog Sputnik and Pogrom, has been called in for questioning in recent weeks over suspicions that his website may contain “extremist material”.

The article in question, while advocating for Russia to take full control of eastern Ukraine, does not contain anything that could not have been heard regularly on Russian state television over the past year and a half, and Prosvirnin believes Russian authorities are now trying to stuff the genie back into the bottle.

“The conflict is being frozen and we are too strongly in support of the Novorossia project, we’re too independent. This is a warning to us to stop what we’re doing,” he said.

As a result, there is currently a great deal of hatred for Assad and Syria in Sputnik i Pogrom circles. (The hatred for Putin has always been there).

At this point, it’s worth quoting the main parts of SiP’s “conspiracy theory” as I recounted it (otherwise known in Russian discussions as “Putinsliv” theory, lit. Putin flushing [Novorossiya] away):

But then again… back in July of this year, Prosvirnin on his Facebook page – I can’t locate it now, but it was certainly there – predicted that Novorossiya would soon be betrayed (nothing new) and replaced with a propaganda campaign in favor of Russian involvement in Syria, including boots on the ground (very new!).

He even argued that this would be a way of mending US-Russian relations, which certainly cuts against the conventional wisdom – both in the mainstream and the altsphere – that the West and Russia are fundamentally at odds in Syria and that the US is committed to seeing Assad go.

In effect, Russia would doing the “dirty” work of wrapping up the Syrian Civil War with the quiet acquiescence and approval of the West and the Gulf Arab states while they get to wash their hands of it, condemn Russia, take meaningless symbolic actions against it (e.g. requesting that Greece close its airspace to Russian military cargo only for Greece to promptly refuse it), and otherwise quietly shake Putin’s hand and congratulate him with the restoration of order in the Levant and, in the Europeans’ case, for helping end the refugee crisis.

And for all my, and the Saker’s, prior skepticism… some of this does seem to be happening.

Russians tanks and gunships are appearing in the Alawite heartlands. Bases are getting expanded. According to the latest reports from (an anti-Kremlin publication), Russian military contractors are being sent to Syria to fight for Assad against their will.

It looks increasingly that Prosvirnin must have either guessed very, very well… or that he had very, very senior informants in the Kremlin.

If this version of affairs is in any way accurate, then it appears that Putin is setting himself up for a fail of epic, 1989-like proportions.

My operating assumption is that the US does not tend to honor those of its commitments that are not both written and binding (just ask Gorbachev about NATO expansion). Imagine that Russia “sorts out” Syria, assuming onto itself the opprobrium of keeping “bloody Assad” in power and doubtless taking some military casualties in the process to boot. Assume it also betrays Novorossiya, as Prosvirnin has been insisting it would for over a year now. Assume it does all this on some promise from the US to drop sanctions, accept Crimea, and help reintegrate Russia into the international (read: Western) community.

But why would it?

Fool me once, shame on me. Fool me twice, shame on… shame on you, as that old Texan saying somewhere in Tennessee goes. If Putin falls for a trap this obvious, he will have nobody to blame himself. And with an approval rating now presumably in tatters, he will find both nationalists and liberals coming at him with knives unsheathed (unless, perhaps, he takes care of them beforehand).

And indeed the points in support of this theory have arguably grown since then. Now we know for sure that Russia’s intervention in Syria is 100% real. We have evidence of a real de-escalation in the Donbass, perhaps even in preparation for “stuffing back” the LDNR into Ukraine (though I should remind panicky readers that the DNR is preparing to go forwards with local elections on October 18th and the LNR on November 1st, which is is evidence against Putinsliv because these elections do not abide by the conditions of Minsk 2). And, away from neocon and Cold Warrior hysterics, it seems that the CENTCOM and the Russian military, and Obama and Putin at the higher level, are initiating a real dialog on avoiding costly “misunderstandings” in Syrian airspace.

All of this must be very distressing for those Russians who consider Novorossiya to be orders of magnitude greater importance than what is going on in Syria. That is perfectly understandable.

But as I also wrote in my answer to a question on the future of Novorossiya:

The military power of the NAF continues increasing. It now has 40,000 well-equipped troops and (reportedly) 450 MBTs. A year ago, it had no more than 20,000 troops, with just a few dozen MBTs. More importantly, it is a *real* army now, with centralized C&C, whereas a year ago it consisted primarily of independent militias. These can be adequate in defense, but you cannot carry out coherent, large-scale offensive operations with that kind of structure. Prosvirnin and Co. say the purging of the most recalcitrant militia leaders is “proof” that a zrada is nigh. But it could just as plausibly be interpreted as rational, consecutive steps to increase the NAF’s military power. I do not think these changes could have been possible without Russia’s support. Ultimately, why would Russia bother with upgrading the NAF if it planned to give it all back to the junta anyway?

In the meantime, with any luck, the Ukrainian economy will continue to degrade, and Poroshenko finds himself trapped between a rock (the Minsk Accords) and a hard place (the Maidan absolutists and the hardliners of the Far Right), and we will see a collapse into complete chaos, which may finally convince the Western powers to give up on Ukraine and create many other opportunities. But it’s also quite possible that the system will manage to pull through. That is the risk Putin took when he decided against military intervention last April.

Ultimately, the military power of the Novorossiya Armed Forces (to say nothing of the Russian Southern Military District) is still incomparably bigger than Russia’s current, ultimately modest investment in Syria.

The transfer of a couple dozen modern ground attack fighters to Latakia does not represent any real diminution of Russia’s military capabilities relative to the Ukrainian junta.

It will however provide valuable “real life” training opportunities for the Russian Air Force, much like Spain in the 1930s or Korea in the early 1950s.

And another potential advantage (though one I expect absolutely no-one will exploit) is that observing the fighting in Syria will serve to better demonstrate what real Russian combined arms warfare actually looks like in practice. So that the next time some two-bit neocon propaganda stooge like Paul Goble or Roderick Gregory claims a bazillion Pskov paratrooper casualties in the Donbass they would be laughed off the stage instead of getting endlessly and respectfully requoted in MSM outlets. But in fairness I don’t expect any of this to happen, since Poroshenko is in the West’s pocket and the “independence” of the Western media is mostly a fiction, while Russian soft power doesn’t have the requisite reach and sophistication.

So as before I still say that the Putinsliv theory remains unproven, and as such, there is no reasonable cause for dismay just yet. It’s not a very satisfying answer, to be sure, but if I was in the business of giving simple, satisfying, and self-confident answers, my readership would be a lot higher than it actually is.

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The Victory Parade on May 9th in Moscow to mark the 70th anniversary of the end of World War 2 will be accompanied by the display of an impressive amount of new military hardware. The centerpiece will be the Armata combat chassis, which will form the basis not just for what is likely to be the world’s most advanced tank, the T-14, but a whole family of other armored vehicles. This cross-platform utilization is a hallmark of Soviet military design philosophy which stressed efficiencies of scale and interoperability in the chaos and rapid wear and tear of the modern battlefield.

After many months of waiting, the tanks have been finally fully exposed, including the unmanned and fully remotely controlled turret equipped with autoloader, 125mm smoothbore gun that can fire both shells with a muzzle velocity higher than the 120mm Rheinmetall gun used in Leopards and Kornet-D anti-tank/helicopter missiles, a smaller 30mm cannon, a machine gun capable of taking out incoming projectiles such as anti-tank missiles, and the latest in AESA-based radar, information control systems, and remote sensing technologies. It also has the capability to go fully robotic in the future. It runs on a 1500hp diesel engine and the crew is housed in an internal armored capsule that should greatly improve their survivability.

Here are some photos published on the Russian Defense Ministry website with details of other projects based on the Armata chassis:


Medium tank “Armata”


“Coalition-SV” self-propelled artillery system


BMP “Armata”

The parade will also feature vehicles with the Bumerang wheeled chassis, which will form the base for a new APC, and the Kurganets-25 tracked chassis, which will form the basis for a new infantry fighting vehicle and APC, and the Kornet-D1 anti-tank guided missile mounted on a modified chassis of the all terrain infantry vehicle the GAZ Tigr.

The manufacturer, Uralvagonzavod, plans to produce around 2,300 of Armata T-14s by 2020, which if successful would replace around 70% of Russia’s modern armor based on the T-72 and T-90 systems. At around $5 million per unit, it will also be twice cheaper than modern Western tanks. This forms part of a vast $700 billion rearmament program which will see Russian military spending rise to 4-5% of GDP for at least the next five years, even as the government cuts back on many other social programs. Because of Russia’s lower costs (one dollar buys more there), the greater share of the budget that is devoted to procurement and research relative to the US (because it has few bases and no wars abroad, and conscripts still make up around 40% of its total forces), and declines in US military spending, it actually appears that Russia will soon be spending more than the US on procuring new equipment.

Does this represent some radically new militarization? It depends on how you look at it. Relative to European countries that now spend 1-2% of their GDP on the military, sure. Relative to the USSR, which spent anywhere from 12%-25% of GDP on the military, certainly not. It is however understandable in the context of an increasingly dangerous international situation as well as the massive depreciation of Russian military capital stock during the crisis years of the 1990s and the recovery-orientated years of the 2000s. In 1990, the Soviet and American total stocks of military equipment were approximately equivalent in real terms; today, Russia’s is only a quarter or a third as big. After this rearmament, this gap will significantly narrow – a fact that will be reflected on the ground in a modernized armored force, a whole bunch of modernized boomer (Borey), nuclear attack (Yasen), and quiet diesel (Kilo, Lada) submarines, over a thousand new helicopters, modest increases in the surface fleet, and some fairly limited quantity of the fifth generation PAK FA fighters (due to a combination of program delays and cost overruns). The current recession and decline in oil prices, even if they are prolonged, are unlike to critically torpedo these plans.

Will this be “good” or “bad” for peace and international relations? The intuitive answer is the latter, but that is not at all that evident on closer examination. First, Russian military weakness during the 1990s and 2000s probably at least somewhat explain why the West was so cavalier about expanding into its sphere of influence, who possibly even went as far as funding the Chechen militants. Surely the perception of Russian military weakness at least partially explained why the US gave tacit approval to Saakashvili’s assault on South Ossetia in 2008. Second, in an inverse of the situation during the Cold War, it is now official Russian military doctrine to use limited nuclear strikes to “deescalate” a conventional confrontation with other nuclear powers (read: NATO) that they are losing. A restoration of the military balance is perhaps the better outcome even for the West than the increased chance of nuclear war with a conventionally weak Russia.

• Category: Foreign Policy • Tags: Military, Military Porn, Russian Military 
Anatoly Karlin
About Anatoly Karlin

I am a blogger, thinker, and businessman in the SF Bay Area. I’m originally from Russia, spent many years in Britain, and studied at U.C. Berkeley.

One of my tenets is that ideologies tend to suck. As such, I hesitate about attaching labels to myself. That said, if it’s really necessary, I suppose “liberal-conservative neoreactionary” would be close enough.

Though I consider myself part of the Orthodox Church, my philosophy and spiritual views are more influenced by digital physics, Gnosticism, and Russian cosmism than anything specifically Judeo-Christian.