New Developments in Russian Military Capability 🔒

[wcm_nonmember] This report includes:

  • Growing capabilities of the Russian military
  • Current Russian nuclear doctrine, including “first use”
  • The prospect of a new US-Russia arms race
  • And more…

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The following is a synopsis of a panel discussion hosted by the Center for Strategic International Studies (CSIS). The panel included:

  • Olga Oliker as moderator, and the director of the Russia and Eurasia Program at CSIS
  • Pavel Podvig, a security blogger and senior research fellow at the UN Institute for Disarmament Research
  • Nikolai Sokov, of the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies

Russia’s improved missile strike capabilities featured prominently at the 27 June presentation.

Podvig spoke of an ongoing Russian “strategic organization program” which he described as “fairly ambitious.”  New intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) projects, new strategic submarines and bombers, and new production of old bombers were included as items of note.  Russia has also combat-tested and further deployed a new air-launch cruise missile.  Improvements to land- and satellite-based early warning radar systems are underway, in addition to improvements and upgrades to many Russian command-and-control centers.

Podvig also mentioned the development of an underwater drone, as well as Russia’s new “hypersonic glider” system, which is believed by some to be able to avoid US missile defenses. In the end, Podvig says the logical question is, “What are they up to?”  Optimistically, he says “maybe not very much,” positing that these new programs could be nothing more than a normal “generational change pattern.”  The simple fact of the matter is that old systems will always be subject to death by attrition and, therefore, will always stand in need of ongoing enhancement and replacement. Russia is no different, with many of their missile systems originally deployed in the late 70s.

As optimistic as he may be, Podvig still believes Russian president Vladimir Putin was intentionally leveraging Russian nuclear capability during last fall’s Crimean operation in alleging that he’d put nuclear forces on alert.  The message was simple, he says, alleging that Putin intended to communicate, “You don’t want to get involved in any kind of a conflict with Russia, because…nuclear weapons may be a part of the equation.”

Following Podvig, Nikolai Sokov gave a brief primer on two decades of changes to Russia’s military philosophy, beginning with the transition out of the USSR into a discrete nation. The former nuclear negotiator reported that, beginning in 2000, Russia’s official military doctrine called for the use of nuclear threat to de-escalate regional war.  Prior to 2000, Russia’s official position only called for the deployment of nuclear threats in the event of global war.

There have been subtle shifts of emphasis from 2000 to the present day, but since 2014, Russia’s military doctrine allows for the threat of “first use” nuclear warfare, along with “tailored damage” commensurate to the scale of the threat perceived by Russia.  The Russian military has at least raised the threshold for nuclear warfare: in 2000, nuclear options were available “in situations critical for national security.”  Since 2010, nuclear options are only permitted when “the very existence of Russia” is under threat.

Sokol did not clarify how last fall’s Ukrainian skirmish fit that model, other than to offer that perhaps Putin mentioned nuclear weapons more as a comfort to Russian citizens (i.e., “no one will mess with us so you’re safe”) than a threat to global powers.  Since 2014, non-nuclear deterrence has become an option for Russian military and political tactics—primarily on the strength of the developments to the Russian arsenal detailed earlier by Podvig. In effect, Russia has improved its non-nuclear arsenal to the point that it no longer has to lean so heavily on nuclear threats.  Taken at face value, this seems like an improvement, as it reduces the likely threat of nuclear warfare.

However, Sokol cautions that this actually enables Russia to be more aggressive.  Essentially, nuclear threats carried such a large stigma that Russia could not deploy them often enough or systematically.  Conventional missile warfare, heinous as it may be, does not carry the same social stigma in the eyes of other nations.

This means that Russia’s new assets, such as Kalibr missiles deployable from the Caspian and Mediterranean Seas, give Russia a power previously reserved only for the US.  According to Sokol, America is no longer the “only power in the world that [can] use military power to support foreign policy. Starting last fall, we got the second one.”

Sokol calls this development “fundamental” — a “sea change” in international relations and military posturing.  Further complicating things is the fact that many of Russia’s new systems are “dual-capable,” meaning they can deliver either conventional or nuclear weapons.  This new Russian capability could affect the long tradition of the US exporting and protecting democracy abroad.

“Democracy and human rights are very nice things,” Sokol says, “but they’re not worth a single nuclear explosion.  In effect, Russia is threatening, ‘You mess with us, you’ll get five, eight, ten nuclear explosions… Fundamentally, we are talking about going back to the 50s and 60s.”

Regarding the possibility of arms control, Sokol is similarly pessimistic. “An unrestricted arms race is likely,” he reports, adding that since Ukraine, “no one will even pretend to try” to break the US / Russian deadlock.

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OSINT Analyst-1 mines open sources, and produces timely and relevant intelligence reporting.

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