The military-industrial complex rules in Russia
IN HIS autobiography, Georgi Arbatov, the eminence grise of the Soviet foreign policy establishment, asked this question, referring to the Soviet intervention in Angola and Afghanistan, “Why did we in the eyes of the world become an aggressive expansionist power in the second half of the 1970s?” But he didn’t really answer it. So given the opportunity to talk to him for a good three hours I had the time to push him for an answer, an answer that presidents Carter and Reagan wished they knew when they had to deal with the Soviet Union. Both overreacted, the former by arming the Mujahideen that later transfused into Al Qaeda and the latter by licensing the South Africans to fight an Angolan liberation army (the MPLA, now the government) which then turned to Cuba to help them defeat South Africa and make a negotiated peace possible. Of course, it is true if they known the answer their policies might not have changed one wit. “My guess”, replied Arbatov, “is that our military-industrial complex had grown to such proportions that it escaped political control. The leaders depended on the military-industrial complex to stay in power. So they didn’t want to estrange relations with it. Not everything was controlled by one man. The whole system was infiltrated by the military industrial complex.”
I then asked Arbatov if the military-industrial complex was today under control. “The economic difficulties of post Soviet Russia”, he replied, “make military expenditures much more modest than they were, but we have a new thing, our new leader, Putin. He is in the hands of this military-industrial complex, and a lot of his appointments go to these people. I don’t know how much control he has over them. In general they have to worry about their survival in the military-industrial complex, not about enhancing peace… Maybe Putin is afraid of being blamed for neglecting the needs of the military. The communists would blame him, Zhironovsky would blame him. You have a lot of adventurers now.” Clearly, this pressure on Putin would have led to a degree of hardening of Russian foreign policy even without the provocation of the expansion of Nato, the growing influence of the US in the soft underbelly of Russia, the former Asian republics, and the decision to build on Polish and Czech soil an anti-missile system. But for those with a bent towards traditional Russian paranoia, an urge to recapture a past imperial status, this is all the evidence they need to justify an attempt to rebuild the Soviet military machine. “But the main thing is that real negotiations have stopped”, adds Arbatov in an important caveat. “Both sides are at fault. We need to start with two or three summits to discuss the new international situation, possible lines on the behaviour and responsibilities of big countries… You need to meet your adversary regularly and you get to know him and then it is easier to negotiate. This meeting in Kennebunkport. This wasn’t a negotiation. I know how the old summit meetings were. All organisations, including mine, were busy up to the ears -- the whole political and military establishment. We had to work, work, work. Now they have lost interest. Now it is theatre, just to show. I have no idea where they get their information from. Putin’s is the least transparent governmental system in my memory. Even in Stalin’s time we knew Malenkov meant this and this, and after it became much more visible.”
Once launched on a critique of Putin, Arbatov does not spare the knife. “Putin has done a lot of good work -- he has re-established the governmental system. But at the same time he gives not a single speech that gives the prospect. What are we striving for? What do we want to have in internal policy, in foreign policy?” In Arbatov’s view it is time overdue that the two countries cut back their nuclear armaments. “Both sides have lost their enemy. They see no imminent danger from the other side. Neither seems to understand that it can quickly reappear. Just the existence of so many weapons makes deteriorating relations more likely and stability less dependable…Being honest, we in Russia are not right in our approach. We have so many weapons we could decrease the numbers unilaterally and show an example.” Arbatov’s final point: “If you have so many nuclear weapons you have to say there is a plan to get rid of them even if you can’t give an exact date. Otherwise other countries say, if you have them why can’t we?” Later that evening I walked by the Kremlin. Who is listening? Neither the military-industrial complex in Russia nor, come to that, its almost equally powerful counterpart in the US.
Russia will not allow other countries to put restrictions on its arms exports, President Vladimir Putin said on Wednesday. Speaking at a session of the military-technical cooperation commission, President Putin said that Russia would not take into consideration attempts to impose restrictions "based on unilateral and politicized assessments". Putin also said deliveries of Russian weapons are aimed exclusively at increasing the defense capability of the countries receiving them, and at maintaining their stability. "It is an absolute priority for us. Russia has strictly observed, is observing, and will strictly observe all international commitments in the military technical sphere, in particular, the export control regime," Putin said. U.S. authorities have repeatedly called on Russia to stop arms deliveries to countries whose political regimes Washington disapproves of. Last week, U.S. Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Nicholas Burns urged the Russian government to stop arms deliveries to Iran. Russia and Iran concluded a contract in late 2005 for deliveries of Tor-M1s. Tor-M1 is a high-precision missile system designed to destroy manned or unmanned aircraft, as well as cruise missiles flying at an altitude of up to 10 kilometers (6 miles). Russia subsequently supplied 29 Tor systems to Iran for $700 million. U.S. State Secretary Condoleezza Rice criticized on Wednesday Russia's weapons deliveries to Syria. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has repeatedly said Russian arms deals with Syria do not alter the balance of forces in the Middle East region. He also said Russia is fully in line with international commitments in the sphere. Another country the U.S. would not like to receive weapons from Russia is Venezuela. The South American country has recently bought over 50 military helicopters and 24 Su-30MK2 fighters from Russia, as well as 100,000 Kalashnikov assault rifles. According to a U.S. Congress report, in terms of arms deliveries to developing countries, Russia only lags behind the U.S. Last year, Russia concluded arms contracts with developing countries worth $8.1 billion. In 2005 the sum was $7.2 billion. Putin also said Russia must considerably toughen reliability criteria for its military hardware. "The most important thing is that together with an increase in [military hardware] exports, the responsibility for the quality of the products delivered to the customer, especially that of sophisticated arms systems and complexes, must grow. It goes without saying that it is impossible to completely exclude glitches. However, the reliability criteria of the weaponry and military equipment must be toughened," Putin said. Putin said military hardware quality is "not only an economic category, but a question of state prestige".
In related news:
Russia parliament votes to suspend arms treaty
Russia's parliament voted unanimously on Wednesday to suspend a key arms treaty limiting conventional forces in Europe, saying the United States and NATO were using the pact to undermine Russia's defenses. Ignoring appeals from the United States, the Duma (lower house of parliament) approved 418-0 a law allowing Moscow to stop complying with the Conventional Forces in Europe (CFE) Treaty, seen by the West as a cornerstone of European security. The suspension, ordered by President Vladimir Putin as part of a wave of increasingly aggressive moves against the West ahead of elections, will take effect on December 12. Russia's top general Yuri Baluyevsky said the CFE treaty, which limits the number of heavy conventional weapons deployed and stored between the Atlantic and Russia's Ural mountains, unfairly penalized Moscow. "The current treaty fully suits the United States and NATO," Baluyevsky, the chief of general staff, told parliament. "The treaty allows, practically without any limits, the realization of the strategy for NATO to move eastwards, carrying out the reconfiguration of the U.S.'s military presence in Europe and for constant monitoring of the composition and state of Russia's military in the European zone." Russia had no plans to immediately deploy more forces in the West and in the Caucasus, he added, though it reserved the right to do so. Russia's move comes after months of sparring with the United States and European Union over plans for a missile defense shield and proposed independence for Serbia's Kosovo province. Putin, who has sought to restore the Kremlin's international clout after the chaos which accompanied the 1991 fall of the Soviet Union, gave formal 150-day notice in July about suspending the treaty. The United States, Europe and NATO have all urged Russia not to scrap the treaty, saying it is a vital guarantor of stability in post Cold War Europe. But Moscow has been adamant it will suspend the pact unless NATO agrees to major changes. NATO did not offer immediate comment on the Duma vote but one official said the alliance's position remained unchanged. "We do not want to see any suspension on the treaty and there are intensive consultations continuing among the parties," said the official, who requested anonymity.
MOSCOW "NOT HEARD"
Russian diplomats said Moscow was trying to send a message to the West that the treaty needed to be reworked and ratified but that the West had "not heard" Moscow's concerns. "Russia's actions do not have an aggressive or destructive character -- they are directed not to destroy the system of current agreements but to attract attention of our partners to our concerns," said Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Kislyak. "We are not trying to bring any damage to arms control but to give an impulse to the resumption of a workable treaty," Kislyak, who deals with U.S. relations, told parliament. The debate in parliament was full of references to how Russia had been "deceived" by the United States and NATO. The law approved on Wednesday -- just three clauses long -- gives Putin a free hand to suspend Russia's participation in the treaty or to restore it at any time in the future. The draft still needs final approval from the upper house of parliament and from Putin before becoming law but these steps are regarded as formalities. The CFE treaty, signed in 1990 and updated in 1999, limits the number of tanks, combat aircraft and heavy artillery which can be deployed or stored in the vast area stretching from the Atlantic to Russia's Ural mountains. Western partners have refused to ratify an amended version of the pact until Russia pulls its forces out of Georgia and Moldova, as it promised in 1999 when the treaty was reviewed. Russian forces are being withdrawn from Georgia. But Russia has so far been reluctant to pull out peacekeepers from Moldova's breakaway province of Transdniestria. Russia, unhappy about NATO's expansion eastwards into territory formerly occupied by the Soviet-led Warsaw Pact, says U.S. plans to open bases for several thousand soldiers in Romania and Bulgaria this year are in breach of the CFE. NATO officials insist that the bases are not intended as permanent and thus cannot be seen as a breach.