WASHINGTON, Jan. 20 (UPI) -- Despite facing the threat of bankruptcy because of rock-bottom global prices for its oil exports, the Russian government is pushing ahead with a costly new plan to re-equip and upgrade its armed forces with state-of-the-art and high-tech weapons by 2020.
The Moscow newspaper Nezavisimaya Gazeta reported Monday the Russian Defense Ministry has already begun work on a 10-year plan for arms procurement and re-equipment for the entire Russian armed forces starting in 2011 and to be completed by the end of 2020. The new program will be presented for approval and funding to the State Duma, the main chamber of the Russian Parliament, by March 2010, RIA Novosti reported.
The new program grew out of the failure of the current one. Former Russian President and current Prime Minister Vladimir Putin approved a previous, similarly ambitious and costly 10-year plan to achieve these same aims. It was budgeted at nearly 5 trillion rubles (about $154 billion) and it started in 2006 with a completion deadline of 2015. However, as RIA Novosti reported Monday, that plan "proved to be ineffective and expensive" and as a result "the production of new armaments has been delayed."
Reasons for the failure of the plan range from a shortage of skilled workers in Russia's shrinking population, to a more limited industrial base. The Russian armaments industry still has not recovered from the loss of the coal fields and steelworks of the Donbass, or Don Basin, region of eastern Ukraine that were lost when the Soviet Union disintegrated at the end of 1991.
The Russian defense industrial sector also continues to be plagued by excessive drunkenness among workers, widespread corruption and innumerable production bottlenecks caused by failure to supply reliable components within previously agreed deadlines.
Even Russia's highly impressive blitzkrieg victory over the former Soviet republic of Georgia in the Caucasus last August added to the pressures on the defense industrial sector. The Russian army conquered one-third of the remote and inaccessible, mountainous and heavily forested territory of Georgia in only four days. It was a highly creditable performance. However, Russian losses, especially of aircraft, were considerably heavier than anticipated, and Russian military analysts have publicly acknowledged that communications equipment did not work well and was poorly integrated. According to RIA Novosti, the conflict "clearly showed that Russia's military equipment had become obsolete and the armed forces urgently needed modern weaponry."
As a result, the report said, Deputy Defense Minister Col. Gen. Vladimir Popovkin, chief of armaments for the Russian armed forces, has stated that the 2006-2015 10-year plan will be accelerated and compressed to be completed by 2011 and then the second 10-year plan now being announced will be launched.
However, completing the current plan in half the time appears to be a totally unrealistic goal when the whole purpose of the new plan was the recognition that the current one wasn't working anyway.
Ruslan Pukhov, director of the Center for Analysis of Strategies and Technologies, told Nezavisimaya Gazeta that Russia was going to have to slash its current defense budget by 30 percent to 40 percent because of the current global economic crisis. Russia needs a global oil price of at least $90 a barrel to break even. But current global oil prices are well below $40 per barrel and have dropped as low as $34 per barrel this month already.
"Therefore, we can say with certainty that prospects of both the current and future arms procurement programs are quite vague," Pukhov told Nezavisimaya Gazeta.
"It is a rather risky proposition on the part of Russia amid the economic crisis," he said.
But the Kremlin is pushing ahead anyway. On Jan. 15, Putin announced that the Kremlin was still going to commit 4 trillion rubles ($125 billion) to new weapons purchases by 2011, including 1 trillion rubles ($31 billion) this year, RIA Novosti reported.
"The modernization of defense industry enterprises, as well as the development of modern weapons, should continue," Putin stated, according to the report.
Russian Finance Minister Alexei Kudrin announced the same day that the Kremlin had already approved $10 billion to preserve what he described as "core enterprises" and defense-related sectors of industry, the report said.
The message of these decisions seems to be that neither the threat of Russian financial crisis nor the growing popular unrest because of government funding cuts for social programs is going to be allowed to get in the way of the ambitious rearmament program to keep Russia one of the world's leading military powers well into the 21st century.