Russia intensifies efforts to rebuild its military machine
At a major security conference this past weekend, Russian President Vladimir Putin blasted the US for its militaristic approach to foreign policy, saying its actions were "nourishing an arms race."Skip to next paragraph
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But little noticed amid the sharp US and European response to Mr. Putin's comments is Russia's burgeoning military-industrial complex, generally thought to have collapsed with the Soviet Union.
The cold war days when the USSR matched the US missile-for-missile may be gone. But experts say that Russia is increasingly capable of turning out cutting-edge weaponry and selling it to countries that are shunned by Western suppliers.
"The fact that our country is playing a leading role in the world in the sphere of export of military production is a sign that the Russian defense industry has not only survived but has a powerful potential for further development," Sergei Chemezov, the head of the state arms-export monopoly Rosoboronexport, told a political meeting late last year.
Russian defense budgets have been soaring since Putin came to power, buoyed by a rising tide of petroleum income, and are set to jump by 23 percent in 2007 to a post-Soviet high of $32.4 billion. Moscow does arms business with over 70 countries, including China, Iran, and Venezuela, and in 2006 exported $6 billion worth of arms.
"Under Putin there has been a wish and an attempt to go beyond the Soviet inheritance," in developing high-tech military capabilities, says Ivan Saffranchuk, Moscow director of the independent World Security Institute. "Now there's cash, and a good political situation, to intensify that effort."
• Last week Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov unveiled a $189 billion rearmament program that will replace about half of Russia's current military equipment by 2015. Among the armed forces' acquisitions will be a completely revamped early-warning radar network, new intercontinental missiles, a fleet of supersonic Tu-160 strategic bombers, and 31 new warships, including aircraft carriers.
• Last month Mr. Putin offered to partner with India to build a futuristic "fifth generation" fighter plane, which Russian designers is already under development and could be flying as early as 2009. Only the US has so far managed to field one of these new era combat jets – which have breakthrough capabilities of stealthiness, supersonic cruising, ultramaneuverability and over-the-horizon electronic visibility. And at $260 million per model, the new F/A-22 Raptor is by far the world's most expensive warplane.
• Russia is already supplying India with the Sukhoi-30MKI, an advanced "fourth generation" warplane that consistently defeats its Western counterparts, such as the frontline US fighters, the F-15C and F-16. Versions of the Su-30 are also being sold to China, Venezuela, and Malaysia.
• At a recent press conference, Putin said that Russia has nothing to fear from US missile defense systems because the new Topol-M intercontinental ballistic missile has stealth characteristics that enable it to penetrate the American shield. "But this is not all," he added, mentioning a "new generation ... of strategic weapons systems," against which missile defense systems would be "powerless."
• In January, Moscow announced it had completed deliveries of 29 sophisticated Tor-M1 mobile antiaircraft batteries to Iran, and Mr. Ivanov hinted that Russia might also supply S-300 long-range air defense weapons. Experts believe that the Tor-M1, which can track 48 targets simultaneously, could seriously complicate any potential air strike on Iran's nuclear facilities.