The year-end MOD Collegium fell on December 22. International news agencies headlined what sounded like bellicose braggadocio from President Vladimir Putin. “We are stronger now than any potential aggressor,” he said according to AP.
But his remarks were more nuanced than it’s possible to tell from that wire service quote.
His full speech to the assembled Russian brass is available here.
Putin featured Syria prominently, and indicated that Russia will take advantage of the greater demand for its weapons and equipment because of the war.
He listed force development priorities including “precision weapons, modern communications, reconnaissance, command and control, and electronic warfare systems” and strategic non-nuclear forces.
He noted that the SAP will be completed “by 2021,” effectively giving the military and industry all of 2020 (not just until the end of 2019) to reach its 70 percent modernization goal. But he also mentioned “five years” to complete rearmament which sounds like 2017, 2018, 2019, 2020, and all of 2021. The dates on the arms program are increasingly elastic as necessary.
Not surprisingly, Putin described a higher level of threat on Russia’s borders this year.
A complete translation of Putin’s speech follows.
“Today at the annual Ministry of Defense Collegium we will discuss results of work during the latest period, and determine near- and long-term tasks for the development of Russia’s Armed Forces and strengthening the country’s defense capability.”
“In 2016, the course of modernizing the army and fleet continued, rhythmically, and their reequipping went according to schedule.”
“The condition of the nuclear triad, which plays the key role in preserving strategic parity, was supported at the necessary level. I note that the share of modern armaments in the nuclear forces is almost 60 percent.”
“The level of combat training of troops rose substantially. The results of strategic command-staff exercise Kavkaz-2016 convincingly demonstrated this. Its successful conduct increased the security of Russia’s southern borders, including from terrorist threats, and helped work out the organization of territorial defense in the Southern and North-Caucasus Federal Districts, including questions of supporting troops, for example their financing in wartime, that require coordination from many state organs and elements, including branches of Russia’s Central Bank.”
“I note also that four surprise combat readiness evaluations of troops took place in the course of the year. They confirmed that units and sub-units could effectively deploy at great distances and in short periods of time to establish groupings in strategic directions. The Defense Ministry needs to analyze the results of the evaluations in detail and consider them in combat training plans for the future, and also in the organization of other measures of a similar type.”
“The potential of the Russian Armed Forces passed a stress test also in combat with international terrorists in the Syrian Republic. The Syrian Army received tangible support, thanks to which it conducted several successful operations against militants.”
“I also note the great assistance which our Armed Forces renders to peaceful Syrian citizens. Almost 800 tons of foodstuffs and medicine alone have already been transferred. I want to thank the leadership and personnel of the Armed Forces participating in the operation once more for their professionalism and courage.”
“In the coming year, the Ministry of Defense needs to concentrate on resolving the following key tasks.”
“First, to support the balanced development of all services and branches of troops, and to continue the assimilation of precision weapons, modern communications, reconnaissance, command and control, and electronic warfare systems.”
“It is necessary to strengthen the combat potential of strategic nuclear forces, primarily missile systems capable of assuredly overcoming existing and future missile defense systems.”
“Strategic non-nuclear forces also need to be brought to a qualitatively new level, allowing them to neutralize any military threats to Russia.”
“Second. It is important to maintain the tempo achieved in rearming the army and navy. To control the realization of measures in the State Armaments Program and fulfillment of the state defense order effectively.”
“By 2021 we need to achieve the established indicators of troop equipping with modern weapons and equipment at not less than 70 percent.”
“We need to make note that five years is not such a long period of time for such a large-scale rearmament program. Any delay in fulfilling its tasks can cause a break in the production chain, which is then highly difficult to reestablish. Therefore sanctions for breaking contracts should be severe to the maximum extent. Meanwhile, it is important to effectively expose causes of violations and expeditiously eliminate them.”
“I note that essential measures to resolve problematic issues in the fulfillment of the state defense order have been taken at all levels. On the whole, we need to keep the situation with the realization of the State Armaments Program and with the state of affairs in the defense-industrial complex under constant control. You know we discuss these issues twice a year at regular meetings in Sochi. This has already become a tradition which has been highly useful in practical work. This year two cycles of such meetings occurred. They allowed us to determine joint steps in the sphere of rearmament, and to support constant working contact between the leadership of the Ministry of Defense and industry.”
“Third. We must closely follow any changes in the balance of forces and military-political situation in the world, especially along Russia’s borders, and simultaneously introduce corrections into plans for neutralizing potential threats to our country.”
“I ask you also to synchronize these plans with updated future planning documents. Just a few weeks ago the new Information Security Doctrine of Russia was approved, and a little earlier the Scientific-Technical Development Strategy. The milestones given in them concern all organs of authority, including also militarized departments.”
“Fourth. The introduction of the newest training means and programs should be among the priorities of operational and combat training.”
“And last. The effectiveness of employing Russian weapons in Syria opens new possibilities for the development of military-technical cooperation. We need to use them to the maximum extent. We know what kind of interest foreign partners are showing in modern Russian armaments.”
“Respected collegium participants!”
“One of the most important directions of military organizational development is increasing social support of servicemen. You know how much has been done in this relation in recent times. For example, since January 2012 the line for housing in the Defense Ministry system has been reduced 2.8-fold. In 2016, 27 thousand servicemen were provided service housing, and almost 20 thousand permanent housing. Within the mortgage-savings system, 14 thousand servicemen obtained apartments.”
“It is necessary also to remember: concern about personnel, and strengthening the social guarantees of soldiers and officers is important, the most important investment in the indoctrination of the young generation of defenders of the Motherland, and guarantee of the prestige of military service and the authority of people in uniform.”
“On the leadership of the Ministry of Defense, and on commanders at all levels, lies the special responsibility for the qualitative modernization of the Armed Forces. I believe that in the future you will do everything necessary to achieve high results in combat training.”
“I want to thank the leadership and personnel of the Armed Forces for the precise fulfillment of established tasks, and for their conscientious service.”
“Allow me to wish you further successes.”
After Defense Minister Sergey Shoygu’s lengthy remarks, Putin concluded the session.
“Respected Sergey Kuzhugetovich, respected comrades!”
“In recent years, much has been done to increase the country’s defense capability. But, it stands to reason, much is still not enough. The minister just spoke about this when he formulated tasks for 2017 and coming years.”
“We need to do much along the lines of strengthening the nuclear triad, perfecting the BMEWS system, in the Aerospace Troops [sic], still more at sea, and in the Ground Troops. We need to perfect reconnaissance and communications systems. We still have much to do.”
“However today, given a very large number of factors, including not only military ones, but also our history, geography, and the internal condition of Russian society, it is possible with certainty to say: today we are stronger than any potential aggressor. Any.”
“At the same time, I would like to turn your attention to the fact that, if we were to allow ourselves for one minute to relax, to allow even one substantive failure in the modernization of the army and navy, or in troop training, the situation could change very quickly given the speed of events transpiring in the world. We may not even notice. Therefore, a very great deal depends on the continuation of our work, which began and has been conducted in the course of recent years.”
“I count greatly on you working in a coordinated manner, and being responsible for work assigned to you. And, working in such a way, we, certainly, will fulfill all tasks which stand before us in the most important sphere of strengthening Russia’s defense capability.”
“I want to thank you again for your service in the past year and wish you success in the coming one.”
“All the best to you.”
So Putin wasn’t exactly bragging that Moscow is the biggest bully in the world, but rather claiming that, given Russia’s history and geography as well as its recent military modernization, the Kremlin can now be sure of repulsing any attack on its territory. Assertions about evil U.S. and NATO intentions notwithstanding, what aggressor has designs on Russia today?
Putin’s contention is a little abstract, lacking as it does any particular scenario or temporal context. But it isn’t really as sinister as it sounded in Western media.
More to the point than Putin, however, is Maxim Trudolyubov’s conclusion from his recent op-ed:
“. . . Russia — with its renationalized economy and aging population — is now incapable of competing on equal economic and political terms with other major powers may have led the Kremlin to believe that it can compete only by other means — namely by displaying no hesitation at using force or covert influence to claim Russian greatness again.”