Mark Leon Goldberg and myself talked Russia-Syria on Wednesday:
This week’s Over the Horizon column suggests that the Russian arms industry is in for some long term trouble:
During the Cold War, the Soviet Union’s military-industrial complex sustained the massive Soviet military institution, which regularly gobbled up 15-25 percent of the nation’s GDP. In an odd and unexpected twist to the end of the Cold War, the Russian arms industry has turned to sustaining itself by arming a pair of Asian giants: Arms exports to China and India have proven lucrative for Russia — and have even had a synergistic and competitive quality. The unease each country has felt due to the other increasing its military capability has led to higher revenues for Rosoboronexport, the Russian state-owned arms exporter. For the post-Cold War Russian arms industry, this trade has represented a boon, helping to replace lost customers in the Middle East, Eastern Europe and the Russian military itself. However, this situation is almost certainly unsustainable in the long run, as both China and India appear to be outgrowing their dependence on the Russian military-industrial complex. This will spell trouble for Russia, which has had great difficulty developing exports based on anything other than arms or energy.
Finishing a book manuscript, and so haven’t had much time for serious blogging recently. Nevertheless, would like to drag everyone’s attention to Dmitry Gorenburg’s excellent series on Russia’s military relationship with India. First part examines naval, second part ground and air, third part joint projects.
There’s a lot of interest here. From a strategic point of view, the Indo-Russian relationship suggests that there’s something wrong with geopolitical scenarios that don’t take balance-of-power considerations between the three Eurasian giants seriously; I’m not looking at any one in particular, of course, but… From a technical point of view, I think it’s interesting how dependent both China and India continue to be on updated Soviet technology. I think that Feng might have more to say on this, but there’s a fascinating contrast between India and China as customers of Russian military tech. India is a better international intellectual property citizen than China, and also lacks any serious security flashpoints with Russia. On the other hand, China seems to be interested in pushing beyond what Russian technology can offer, even if major questions about the quality of the product of the Chinese military-industrial complex remain.
Cross-posted at ID.
My latest at WPR takes a look at the Russia-China arms trade:
By the middle of the last decade, however, the factors that made the relationship so strong had begun to subside. The sophistication and reliability of Chinese military equipment improved, while the quality of Russian industrial production declined. Some Russians also began to express concern about the growing military might of China, with which many border issues remain unsettled. By contrast, the military relationship between Russia and India appears to have remained relatively healthy, even in the face of recent disagreements over the price and delivery schedule of a refurbished Russian aircraft carrier.
The problem of intellectual property rights also looms large in the Sino-Russian arms trade. Russia remains concerned that China will not respect Russian intellectual property rights for arms transferred to China or licensed for Chinese production. Those concerns are well-founded. China’s lack of respect for intellectual property rights in civilian fieldsremains a sore spot with the United States. Moreover, China has clearly copied Russian weapon systems that were transferred in the past. While Russia and China have engaged in repeated discussions over intellectual property concerns in the past four years, China’s ability and interest in complying with Russian requirements remains suspect. The problem is exacerbated by the fact that Russia now views China as a major competitor in the international arms market. If Russia believes that sales to China will actively undercut the position of its exports to the rest of the world, then the future of Russia-China arms trade seems grim.
The major problems afflicting the Russia-China arms relationship can, in large part, be traced to China’s growing power and influence. Russian desperation and Chinese weakness produced a great match in the 1990s, but as the situations in Moscow and especially Beijing have improved, tensions have inevitably developed. The problem lies not simply with Russian fears of Chinese power, but also with China’s “natural” desire to play a global role commensurate with its strength. For China, this means becoming a major player in the international arms market, not to mention ignoring demands from Moscow and Washington that it reform its intellectual property policies.
Second, Eli Lake has additional sourcing on the Georgia bombing. Two US intelligence officials describing a classified report ain’t gospel, but it’s a lot better than sole sourcing the story to the Georgian Ministry of the Interior. I suspect that the administration would prefer that the activities of the GRU not interfere with larger US-Russian relations, although of course the motives of individual intelligence officers will vary. If the US intelligence community believes that the GRU is responsible, them I’m inclined to give much more credence to the report. See also Spencer.
Sourcing is a little thin (and by thin, I mean entirely sourced to the Georgian Ministry of the Interior), and implication seems strong (based on Russian behavior in Georgia, we should scotched New START, put Russia on terror sponsorship list, etc.), but interesting nevertheless:
A bomb blast near the U.S. Embassy in Tblisi, Georgia, in September was traced to a plot run by a Russian military intelligence officer, according to an investigation by the Georgian Interior Ministry.
Shota Utiashvili, the most senior official in charge of intelligence analysis for the ministry, said in an interview with The Washington Times that the recent spate of bombings and attempted bombings – including what he said was a blast targeting the U.S. Embassy – was the work of Russian GRU officer Maj. Yevgeny Borisov.
A Georgian court has charged Maj. Borisov, who is based in the Russian-occupied province of Abkhazia, with being the mastermind behind a spate of 12 bombings and attempted bombings throughout the country in the past year. These attempts include the detonation of a military-grade explosive about 100 yards from the U.S. Embassy in Tblisi on Sept. 22. No deaths or injuries were reported.
Lake’s description of the South Ossetia War is… tendentious, but I wouldn’t be all that surprised to find that Russian intelligence had embarked on a campaign like this. Whether the United States should react to such a campaign by suspending- I’m not sure what, exactly, but it has something to do with “reset”- is a different question entirely.
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Russian President Dmitry Medvedev has signed legislation that officially classifies beer as alcohol in Russia.
The new law will allow controls on the sale of beer and other “low alcohol” beverages in an attempt to reduce alcohol abuse in Russia, a country with an alcohol consumption that is twice the critical level set by the World Health Organization.
Until now, any drinks containing less than 10 percent alcohol have been classified as a foodstuff in Russia, with no restrictions on sales.
Russians have tended to treat beer as if it were a soft drink, and it is has even been marketed as a healthier alternative to vodka, the BBC says. Beer has soared in popularity in recent years, while vodka sales have fallen.
My latest at WPR takes a look at the future of Russian Navy deployments:
Consequently, Russia faces a strategic dilemma whenever it makes decisions about the basing of its warships. Because of the relative isolation of its fleets, warships deployed to one region cannot be readily redeployed in times of crisis, and the influence that a fleet provides over its surrounding region cannot be transferred to other areas. In short, Russian naval power is neither fungible nor flexible. Other states face similar issues, but not usually to the same extent. Russian naval deployments must therefore reflect a level of political and strategic commitment to a region not required in the strategic planning of other nations.
One of the more interesting cables revealed by Wikileaks involved a meeting between Russian and US diplomats that touched on the question of Iran-North Korea collaboration. One of the key charges made by the Americans was that a number of BM-25 ballistic missiles had been shipped, in various states of construction, from North Korea to Iran in 2005. If you read the cable, you’ll note that the Russians are surprised by the claim, and refuse to give it much credence. The Russian objections seem quite sensible to me, although the US diplomats have some decent responses. An article in the WaPo today gives some detail about the motivations of both sides, and puts into severe question the claim that 19 whole missiles were transferred. This degree of doubt (and, you know, reporting) was utterly absent in the New York Times coverage of the same cable, which failed to even note Russian objections to the US claims. See also.
I also kind of have to wonder whatever happened to this report, which involved essentially the same missile.
One lesson I take from this is the US-Russian cooperation on nuclear non-proliferation is altogether a good thing:
In November 2009, six years after the government of Libya first agreed to disarm its nuclear weapons program, Libyan nuclear workers wheeled the last of their country’s highly enriched uranium out in front of the Tajoura nuclear facility, just east of Tripoli. U.S. and Russian officials overseeing Libya’s disarmament began preparations to ship this final batch of weapons-grade nuclear material to Russia, where it would be treated and destroyed.
The plan was to load the uranium onto a massive Russian cargo plane, one of the few in the world specially equipped to fly nuclear materials. On November 20, the day before the plane was to leave for a nuclear facility in Russia, Libyan officials unexpectedly halted the shipment. Without explanation, they declared that the uranium would not be permitted to leave Libya. They left the seven five-ton casks out in the open and under light guard, vulnerable to theft by the al-Qaeda factions that still operate in the region or by any rogue government that learned of their presence.
For one month and one day, U.S. and Russian diplomats negotiated with Libya for the uranium to be released and flown out of the country. At the same time, engineers from both countries worked to secure the nuclear material from theft or leakage, two serious dangers that became more likely the longer the casks sat exposed. On December 21, Libya finally allowed a Russian plane to remove the casks, ending Libya’s nuclear weapons program and with it the low-grade game of nuclear blackmail they had been playing.
Read the rest. The downside of letting the hacks at the Heritage Foundation call the tune on GOP nuclear policy is that relatively small, little known moments like this become precarious. Pretending that we can dictate to Russia, and that Moscow’s preferences matter for naught, is extraordinarily dangerous.
In light of growing disquiet about Chinese intentions and capabilities in the Pacific among US security types, it’s worth taking note of this fairly alarmist Russian analysis:
This brings [Aleksandr] Khramchikhin back to China. He has previously written some fairly alarmist pieces about the potential Chinese threat to Russia, so this time he focuses on the possibility that China would attack Kazakhstan. This seems to be a sufficiently fantastic scenario that it could be dismissed out of hand, but instead he argues that China would easily win such a conflict while absorbing Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan with minimal effort. This means that Russia would have to come to Kazakhstan’s assistance or face the prospect of a 12,000km border with China stretching from Astrakhan to Vladivostok. (I’m not sure what happens to Mongolia in this scenario, but I assume it’s nothing good.) And at this point, Khramchikhin argues that Russia might as well capitulate on the spot.
A couple of thoughts:
1. This scenario is fascinating in that it very nearly mirror-images US concerns about Chinese expansion into the Pacific. It doesn’t include any nonsense about reputation and resolve (“If we allow the Chinese to seize Taiwan, then the Japanese and Indians will be forced to accommodate themselves to the reality of Chinese hegemony etc. etc.”) but otherwise it’s quite similar in tone. I guess that everybody has to come up with a reason why they should get paid.
2. In mild, brief defense of US analysts on the subject, I do think that a move to the Pacific is more likely than the conquest and annexation of Kazahkstan. I’m pretty sure that the PRC does actually kind of want Taiwan, and I’m not certain at all that it would want Kazahkstan even if someone were selling at bargain basement prices. I would also think that as a future grand strategy the Athenian sea-focused empire makes more sense in the modern context than the Spartan land-focused; nationalism and the expanding material and intellectual tools available to insurgency have made land based empire prohibitively expensive, which the Soviet Union discovered to its dismay.