October 17, 2021


Russia Rearms for a New Era

Russia Is Building and
Expanding Bases in the Arctic

Russia is reinvesting in its bases in the Arctic: building new ones, expanding old ones and deploying personnel to operate them. Analysts say Russia’s efforts in the Arctic are driven in part by climate change, as the country seeks to exploit and defend maritime trade routes and oil and natural gas resources in areas made more accessible by melting ice.

Northern military activity since early 2014:

New or updated military bases:

Source: Center for Strategic and International Studies

Its Military Budget Has
Been Growing Steadily

Russia has made big increases to its military budget, including a jump of nearly $11 billion from 2014 to 2015. According to Moscow, it is making up for years of disinvestment after the collapse of the Soviet Union. But sanctions from the Ukrainian conflict, dropping oil prices and other financial problems have weakened the Russian economy, and analysts expect military spending to slow.

Large-Scale Military Exercises

Russia has scheduled mobilizations of more than 100,000 troops, as well as unannounced exercises that move thousands of troops with almost no notice. These efforts serve as combat training for the troops and as a show of military strength to the world. They often involve units that control Russia’s nuclear arsenal, calling attention to the country’s nuclear abilities. NATO has responded by expanding its own exercises.

“The image that Russian official sources convey is that they’re preparing for large-scale interstate war,” said Johan Norberg of the Swedish Defense Research Agency. “This is not about peacekeeping or counterinsurgency.”

One military exercise, March 16 to 21: 80,000 troops

Phase 1 In the first phase, units in the Northern Fleet were deployed to the Barents and Norwegian Seas. Troops in the Arctic mobilized. Naval helicopters began antisubmarine drills, and antiaircraft missile battalions defended the skies.

Phase 2 In the second phase, units from central, eastern and western Russia joined the exercise. Ships, aircraft and troops rehearsed exercises and combat, including shooting down enemy drones.

Phase 3 The third phase was “a scenario simulating a war with the United States and/or NATO,” according to the European Leadership Network. It brought the total exercise to 12,000 pieces of heavy equipment, 65 warships, 15 submarines and 220 aircraft.

Source: European Leadership Network

Confrontation in Other
Countries’ Airspace

Russia has repeatedly entered or skirted the airspace of other countries, including the United States. Since it annexed Crimea in March 2014, the incidents have grown in number and seriousness. In November, Turkey shot down a Russian plane it said entered its airspace. The pilot was killed, as was a marine on a subsequent rescue mission.

Other incursions have been dangerous, like a near collision in March 2014 between a commercial plane carrying 132 passengers and a Russian reconnaissance plane that did not transmit its position.

“Putin is trying to provoke the United States and NATO into military action and create the appearance that they are posing a threat to Russia, in order to bolster his own popularity,” said Kimberly Marten, a professor at Barnard College and director of the United States-Russia Relations program at Columbia University’s Harriman Institute.

Air incidents, March 2014 to March 2015:

.High-risk or serious incidents

.Low-risk incidents

Source: European Leadership Network

Deploying Its Military
in Foreign Conflicts

In several regions, Russia has exerted its military authority, rattled its rivals, and seeded instability to preserve its influence.

Russia’s role in the Syrian war escalated in September 2015 when it started airstrikes to support the Syrian government of President Bashar al-Assad. Most of Russia’s airstrikes have been in rebel-held territory, rather than areas controlled by the Islamic State. Amnesty International has accused Russia of using cluster munitions and unguided bombs that it says have killed hundreds of Syrian civilians.

In early 2014, Russia sent special forces troops into Crimea, when Ukraine’s pro-Moscow president was ousted. Crimea then joined Russia in a referendum that Ukraine and Western leaders consider illegal. Later that year, Ukrainian forces in eastern Ukraine fought Russia-backed separatists. A cease-fire agreement in February 2015 slowed the fighting, but clashes continue.

Russia won a war with Georgia in 2008, driving Georgian forces away from the separatist region of South Ossetia. The Kremlin asserts that it is protecting the interests of ethnic Russians in those areas.

Modernizing Its Military Equipment

The country is buying, updating and developing its military equipment, with the intent to modernize 70 percent of its military by 2020.

“This is Russia catching up on where the West has gotten itself technologically,” said Nick de Larrinaga at IHS Jane’s.

Russia’s State Armament Program 2011-2020

400 Intercontinental ballistic missiles  and   600+ Fixed-wing aircraft

66 Vityaz and S-400 missile systems  –  1,000+ Helicopters

10 Iskander-M missile brigades   –    2,300+ Heavy armored vehicles

28  Ballistic missile and attack submarines

2,000+ Self-propelled artillery systems

50 Surface ships  and   17,000+ Other military vehicles

Illustrations by Guilbert Gates/The New York Times|Source: IHS Jane’s