The rebuilding of Russian military capabilities

Authored by: Jennifer G. Mathers

Routledge Handbook of Russian Security

Print publication date:  February  2019
Online publication date:  January  2019

Print ISBN: 9780815396710
eBook ISBN: 9781351181242
Adobe ISBN:


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Comparing Russia’s current military capabilities to those that Moscow was able to command in 2008, it is clear that a great deal of progress has been made in rebuilding them and, more than that, in transforming Russia’s military into something resembling the efficient, mobile, well-equipped and highly professional force that has been the declared aim of Russia’s most senior military and political leaders since the formation of its armed forces in 1992. The catalyst was the armed forces’ performance in the 2008 war with Georgia, which was fought for control over the separatist regions South Ossetia and Abkhazia. In many respects, this was a successful operation for Russia: it was carefully planned in advance and carried out by troops from a large number of different units and services who had trained together, and included the rapid deployment of nearly 20,000 soldiers to the conflict zone (Vendil Pallin and Westerlund, 2009, 400–401). But, while Russia managed to achieve its military aims in just five days, its victory can largely be attributed to its vastly superior numbers and firepower, and its conduct of the operations revealed many weaknesses. Coordination of forces was hampered by communications equipment that was incompatible between services, limiting the ability of the Air Force to provide effective support for ground units and forcing some military commanders to use their personal mobile phones for relaying orders (Vendil Pallin and Westerlund, 2010, 157, 159). Commanders keenly felt their limited access to equipment that is taken for granted by North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) armed forces, including precision-guided weapons, thermal imaging equipment, night vision goggles and satellite navigation (Klein, 2012, 29). Such gaps in equipment significantly reduced the efficiency of Russia’s military operations, while exposing its troops to greater risk. Faulty intelligence about the location of Georgian forces meant the loss of Russian aircraft to enemy air defences, while the ageing vehicles used by the Ground Forces were prone to breaking down at crucial moments (Vendil Pallin and Westerlund, 2010, 158, 160).

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