Friday, October 21, 2016

Moscow Can’t Afford Butter but May Not Be Able to Pay for All the Guns It Wants

Paul Goble

            Staunton, October 21 – The Kremlin is shifting money from social welfare programs to the military, but Russia’s economic situation is now so dire that there are indications that it can’t afford to expand its military effort as much as it would like or to engage in a long-term struggle with a major adversary.

            Those like Lev Shlozberg who have pointed to the cutbacks in the budget for schools, hospitals, pensions and the like have a strong case: the Putin regime is throwing Russian society under the bus in its pursuit of military strength and doesn’t seem to care how much Russians suffer as a result (

            Money taken from health care and pensioners is certainly being shifted to the military, although exactly how much is difficult to determine given that a quarter of the budget is classified, something that allows the powers that be to claim they are cutting military spending when they aren’t (

            But there are three steps the Kremlin has already taken and one major one now under discussion that suggest the Russian government doesn’t have enough money to pay for all the defense buildup it would like to have and is trying to cut those parts of the defense budget where it can.

            The three steps it has already taken include:

·         Using Cossacks rather than uniformed service personnel to guard Russia’s borders, something that will allow the center to cut personnel costs in the military (

·         The introduction of short-term military contracts so that Moscow can raise forces for specific tasks and then send the personnel home as soon as that task is completed or dismissed, another way to save money while building up forces (

·         New legislation has been introduced to allow Moscow to use private armies abroad, groups that may cost more on a per capital basis for any given time they are employed but that can be dropped and in any case will not require the government to come up with pensions and medical care (

            But there is a fourth measure, apparently only under discussion, that highlights just how difficult a budget crunch the Kremlin faces even in the case of the defense sector.  According to the news agency, officials in Moscow are discussing cutting pensions for those who retire from the military (
            That is a step a government would only take under duress because one of the most important “contracts” any regime makes with its soldiers is that if they survive and reach pension age, they will be taken care of. Calling that into question has serious implications for unit cohesion and recruitment.

            The news agency publishes its report about this under the headline “Russia risks remaining without an army” and says that if Moscow is forced to go ahead with this, something it says is now being discussed in the finance ministry, that one step will undermine the prestige of officers and the effectiveness of the military.

            Viktor Murakhovsky, a retired colonel who edits the journal “Arsenal Otechestva,” says that “the idea under discussion is genuine insanity. I very much hope that it will not pass in the Duma [because] if we want again to destroy our armed forces … this is a very good way to do exactly that.”

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