“Russia doesn’t think the world is a safe place,” says Siemon Wezeman, Russian expert at the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, SIPRI.
“NATO is expanding and there’s been international pressure on Russia. They still see themselves as a global power and therefore they think they need to show military strength.”
This year alone, Russia planned to increase spending by 20%, but the national economy didn’t allow that. The increase is likely to amount to 15% this year compared with 2014 according to SIPRI.
“They lack money and technology, and the oil price is low right now,” Wezeman explains.
Defence spending down in Sweden and the US
In the United States, defence spending decreased by 0.4% between 2005 and 2014. In Sweden it has decreased by 2.5%, while Russia’s defence spending has increased by 97% in inflation-adjusted prices in the same period. At the same time, the US defence budget is still many times larger than the Russian equivalent.
Russia Europe’s biggest investor
Russia is the European country that is investing the most in military spending in relation to its gross domestic product, or GDP, says SIPRI. Currently Russia is investing heavily in electronic surveillance and the Armata tank. According to SIPRI, Russia is planning to invest in 2,300 of this type of tank. That’s more tanks than currently exist in all of Europe.
Russia is also investing in its air force. It will be implementing new versions of its old SU-30, SU-35 and MIG-29 models, as well as developing a fifth generation of the T-50 fighter plane.
Russia is also investing in the new Borei-class strategic nuclear-powered submarines.
“They want to invest in everything: nuclear submarines, aircraft, big battleships,” Wezeman says. “But that’s going to be a problem – their budget is too small.”
“80% a possibility”
Russia expert Cecilie Sendstad at the Norwegian Defence Research Establishment, FFI, says that Russia plans to triple its weapons budget between 2011 and 2020.
“It’s a huge investment. And I think 80% of it is likely to go through,” she says.
Big maintenance problems
But Russia also faces massive problems with maintaining their defence equipment.
“They’re starting to run out of spare parts for the old strategic nuclear missiles,” says SIPRI’s Wezeman.
“They were manufactured in Ukraine, which doesn’t want to export to Russia. So Russia needs to build new missiles of its own, which will be difficult and expensive.”
The gas turbines for the giant warships are also made in Ukraine. So the old ships will soon run out of spare parts and new ships will be left motorless in the shipyards, according to SIPRI.
“The Russians want to build gas turbines themselves, but it takes time, costs money and requires technology they don’t have yet,” says Wezeman. “In the meantime, they’re building smaller ships with Russian diesel motors.”
Military tension in the Baltic
According to SIPRI, tensions in the Baltic region have increased recently. Russian aircraft and ships are conducting increasingly bold manoeuvres in the air and on the sea.
“They’re close to NATO’s and Sweden’s aircraft, and close to Swedish territorial waters,” says Wezeman.
Major exercises are not always announced beforehand and Russia has likely developed a new generation of its Piranha mini submarine. And regarding the submarine intrusion in Swedish water last autumn a piranha was likely involved, Wezeman says.
“Russia wants to show Europe and the United States that they’re on the ball and are not to be taken lightly. They want to demonstrate military power to put pressure on the Baltic countries and others.”