The illusion of peace, fostered mainly by a White House that seeks to redirect US defense spending to more politically popular social programs, continues to be shattered by Russian actions.
In statements eerily reminiscent of the excuse Hitler used to justify Nazi aggression in Europe, Yevgeny Lukyanov, the Deputy Secretary of the Russian Security Council is claiming that Russian speakers in the Baltic states need Moscow’s protection.
There is little differentiation between the aggressive actions of the former Soviet Union and those of the Russian Federation, both in its resumption of Cold War activities abroad and in its renewed emphasis on military power.
Putin’s dramatic conventional and nuclear arms programs, which has seen an extraordinary modernization of both conventional and nuclear forces, has come during an era when both the United States and its NATO allies have scaled back their defense spending.
While the U.S. was in the midst of an extensive reduction in military spending, Moscow, starting in 2010, launched a $720 billion modernization program. As noted by the Economist in 2014, “Russia’s defence spending has nearly doubled in nominal terms since 2007. This year alone it will rise by 18.4%.”
Russia has major increases in defense spending budgeted each year to 2020. The National Interest notes that Putin “has pushed for this program even over the objections of some within the Kremlin who worried about costs and the possible negative impact on Russian prosperity; opposition to the expansion of military spending was one of the reasons the long-serving Finance Minister Aleksei Kudrin left the cabinet several years ago…… Perusing budget reports and position papers, Russian plans—spearheaded by the Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu and Dmitry Rogozin, the deputy prime minister in charge of the defense industry—certainly look impressive—and ominous. … If all goes according to plan, the Russian military, by 2020, will return to a million active-duty personnel, backed up by 2300 new tanks, some 1200 new helicopters and planes, with a navy fielding fifty new surface ships and twenty-eight submarines, with one hundred new satellites designed to augment Russia’s communications, command and control capabilities. Putin has committed to spending billions over the next decade to fulfill these requirements.
And a growing number of Russians support the military buildup. A Levada Center poll found that 46 percent of Russians were in favor of increasing military spending even if it led to an economic slowdown (versus 41 percent opposed if defense increases caused economic hardship.”
The Kremlin has not been shy about flaunting its power. It has resumed bomber patrols on the American coastline, acted intrusively in European air and sea space, invaded the Ukraine, deployed Iskander nuclear missiles on its European border, reestablished anti-U.S. military relations with Cuba, Nicaragua, and Venezuela, and engaged in large scale war training maneuvers with its ally China.
It also militarized the Arctic. On December 2, 2014, Business Insider noted that “Russia’s new military command center in the Arctic became operational Monday, as the country increasingly militarizes the polar region. Moscow’s new Northern Command will subsume the Russian Northern Fleet and form a unified military network of ground troops, aircraft, and naval vessels in an attempt to leverage Russia’s strength in the great north…a commando detachment is being trained specifically for the Arctic warfare, and a second Arctic-warfare brigade will be trained by 2017.Furthermore, a year-round airbase is under construction in the New Siberian Islands Archipelago alongside an additional 13 airfields and ten air-defense radar stations. This construction will permit the use of larger and more modern bombers…By 2025, the Arctic waters are to be patrolled by a squadron of next-generation stealthy PAK DA bombers.”
Russia has also violated the Intermediate Nuclear Forces treaty. According to the U.S. State Department, “The United States has determined that in 2014, the Russian Federation continued to be in violation of its obligations under the INF Treaty not to possess, produce, or flight-test a ground-launched cruise missile (GLCM) with a range capability of 500 km to 5,500 km, or to possess or produce launchers of such missiles.”
Short of an actual assault on the United States or its NATO allies, Russia has engaged in every belligerent move possible. That assault is not a mere distant concern. Russia has engaged in threatening words and actions against Baltic states NATO members Latvia, Estonia, and Lithuania, an action which could precipitate a major Russia-NATO clash.