Russia’s Massive and Growing War Machine

By Walter Derzko and

Dr Andrew Zhalko-Tytarenko


The buildup to the current conflict between Russia and Ukraine has been clearly telegraphed in advanced, to anyone who would only take the time to analyse something as basic as the spending priorities in the Russian State budget over the past four years.

The stark figures show the concerns and priorities of President Putin and his regime. Spending on the military and internal security, policing and debt repayments grew the most by double digits annually in the last four years, while at the bottom were social sector needs, such as culture, funding for the national economy, housing, health, sports, media and education. All these sectors dropped from 2011 levels to 2014, in some cases by over 50% - 80%.

The table on the right side shows that the fastest growing sector of the Russian State Budget have been military expenditures which grew annually by double digits from 1,532 Trillion Roubles in 2011 to an estimated 2,750 Trillion Roubles in 2104 or 80% over the last four years.

Defense expenditures amounted to 4.5% of Russian GDP in 2012. On average NATO countries only spend about 1 to 1.5% of GDP on military expenditures. Only four NATO members--the U.S., U.K., Greece and Estonia--spent at least 2% of GDP on defense. A majority of NATO members in fact reduced defense spending in 2013. Among the more drastic defense cuts last year were Canada (-7.6%), Slovenia (-8.7%), Italy (-10.3%), Hungary (-11.9%) and Spain (-11.9%).

Clearly, Putin is concerned with only military superiority and internal national security to quash any forms of rebellion, opposition or “Moscow Maidans or Muslim Maidans”, while basic human social needs and concerns have been ignored and relegated to the sidelines.

Black Sea Plans

On 6 May, 2014, the Russian Defence Minister Sergey Shoygu said that by 2020 Russia plans to spend R86.7bn (2.44bn dollars) on the Black Sea Fleet base infrastructure. The Interfax-AVN military news agency quoted him as saying: “The development of a Black Sea Fleet deployment system is taking place as part of the ongoing federal targeted-development programme ‘The creation of a Black Sea Fleet deployment system on Russian territory in 2005-2020’. The overall volume of funding for the programme is R86.7bn.” Forty-eight pieces of infrastructure have already been commissioned at the city of Novorossiysk and in the areas of deployment of coastal troops at the town of Temryuk and the village of Utash, he said.

Military Expansion

Russia’s defense industry employs 2.5 – 3 million people, accounting for 20% of all manufacturing jobs. Russia is the world’s second largest conventional arms exporter after the United States.

As Russia continues to illegally occupy Crimea and threaten eastern and southern Ukraine, it’s preparing to take delivery of several French-built warships designed specifically to put Russian boots and their weapons on the ground anywhere in the world. Reuters reports that France will push forward with a 1.2 billion-euro ($1.66 billion) contract to sell 4 helicopter carriers “Mistrals”to Russia because: “cancelling the deal would do more damage to Paris than to Moscow, said French diplomatic sources on Monday, May 12, 2014.” France has come under pressure from Washington and some European partners to reconsider its supply of high-tech military hardware to Moscow. It had said it would review the deal in October - but not before. However, French diplomatic sources said the 2011 contract with Russia for two Mistral helicopter carriers, with an option for two more, would not be part of a third round of sanctions against Moscow. “The Mistrals are not part of the third level of sanctions. They will be delivered. The contract has been paid and there would be financial penalties for not delivering it.

So much for western solidarity on sanctions against Putin. This decision could come back to haunt the west, just like the refusal of Motorsich in Ukraine to impose a weapons embargo on Russia. They continue to supply the Russian army with Ukrainian-made engines for helicopters, jets, airplanes, missiles and rockets, supplying and servicing Russian weaponry that is stationed on Ukraine’s boarders, that in turn threates to attack Ukraine. Feeding the hand that bites you- a reversal of the popular saying-“biting the hand that feeds you.”

These French Mistrals are classed as amphibious assault ships. The 32,000-tonne DWT (deadweight tonnage) vessels can carry up to 30 Ka-52 attack helicopters or alternatively 16 helicopters, four landing barges, up to 70 vehicles including 13 main battle tanks. Each ship has a 69-bed hospital and a 450 troop landing party and has a 17,200-kilometre range. Two of the Russian Mistrals are scheduled for Kamchatka deployment, threatening Canadian Arctic and Pacific Coast blue waters.

Arctic Imperialism

Russia has long been eyeing the Arctic for its potential oil and gas reserves and the need to protect it militarily.

As the Gazprom’s gas supply from old existing deposits in Siberia gradually runs out, it has to move production much further north. The latest addition is the Bovanenkovo gas field, which is about 400 kilometres above the Polar Circle, close to the west coast of the Yamal Peninsula. Bovanenkovo, with its reserves totaling 26.5 trillion cubic metres of gas and about 1.64 billion tons of oil and gas condensate, is the future supply for the two Russian pipeline mega- projects, North Stream and South Stream (now suspended by EU), which are being built to bypass Ukraine.

On Sept. 30, 2013, a Russian navy group returned after a month-long voyage to the New Siberian Islands in the Arctic. The group included the heavy nuclear missile cruiser Peter the Great, landing and support vessels and four nuclear ice-breakers. The highlight of the exercise was a landing and invasion on the islands-- reminiscent of naval exercises in the Black Sea before the 2008 invasion of Georgia.

The heavy-missile cruiser Admiral Nakhimov, was pulled out of the navy reserve and is undergoing a thorough overhaul, with a completion date scheduled for 2018. Admiral Nakhimov is to join the Pacific Fleet. This means that by the end of the decade, Russia will have a powerful navy group, based in the Northern Pacific that will have very strong landing operations capability and three Arctic brigades. The navy group will protect the Siberian coasts from the New Siberia Islands to the Bering Strait, Chukotka and Kamchatka.

Meanwhile, the distance from Viluchinsk to the New Siberian Islands (the most eastern point of the September voyage of the Russian navy) is about 4,200 kilometres. The same distance by sea separates Viluchinsk and Tuktoyaktuk in the Yukon. The amphibious Mistral assault vessel can cover this distance in five days. It will become clear where a ship is really heading only after it passes the Bering Strait. It will take the Mistral about two days either way from this point. There are no indications of aggressive Russian plans in the Northern Pacific and in the Beaufort Sea, but if such plans exist, Canada would have very little capability and capacity to counter it.

For more on Russian Arctic Expansion and what is means for Canada see