Russia's Armed Forces: The Power of Illusion Russie.Nei.Visions, No.37, March 2009
Paradoxically, Russia's military success during the "five day war" in the South Caucasus in August 2008 highlighted the deplorable state of its conventional armed forces, weakened by years of underfunding, failed reforms and declining social prestige. Nevertheless, the Kremlin sees the military as one of the principal elements in the restoration of Russian power. As a result, it seeks to promote a positive image of the armed forces, which is nothing more than an illusion, manipulated for both domestic and international ends. The return of heavy weaponry to annual parades on Red Square and Soviet-era symbols on military uniforms, the resumption of strategic bomber flights, and the deployment of Russia's navy to Latin America and the Caribbean all play a role in the staging of this illusion. Taking into account Russia's current economic difficulties, it will be difficult to realize the ambitious reform agenda laid out after the Georgian war; in these conditions it remains likely that the Russian authorities will be tempted to undertake a marketing campaign, rather than a reform program.
Roger N. McDermott is an Honorary Senior Fellow at the Department of Politics & International Relations, University of Kent, Canterbury, and a Senior Fellow in Eurasian Military Studies at the Jamestown Foundation, Washington DC. He specializes in defense and security issues in Russia, Central Asia and the South Caucasus, and his published research appears in journals such as the Journal of Slavic Military Studies and the International Journal of Intelligence and Counterintelligence.
Russie.Nei.Visions is an electronic collection of policy papers published in French, English and Russian by the Russia/NIS Center, Ifri.