Wieslawa Lewandowska talk with Andrzej Wilk, a specialist from the Eastern Studies Centre - about a longing and the reality of the Russian army, digital polygons, Janissary schools and military cooperation of Russia with Germany

WIESLAWA LEWANDOWSKA: - Four Russian strategic bombers Tu-22M3 have recently flown over the Baltic sea, Polish MiG started to escort. Mass media made it widely public. Is it really an unusual and significant event?

ANDRZEJ WILK: - It is unusual because the Russian strategic bombers have been flying for some time more and more frequently, but mainly over the Northern Atlantic and the Northern Pacific, mainly irritating the British, Norwegians, Japanese, Canadians…The Americans grit their teeth and think that there is no danger resulting from it and it is an occasion to practise one’s own air forces which always have to be ready to escort the Russian airplanes.

– What does this growth of the activity of the Russian air forces prove?

– First of all, it proves that the Russian army has simply suitably much money to practise intensely.

– So, can we think that the Russian army, built on historical debris of the Red Army, is becoming more and more real force?

– Yes, the army of Russian Federation has been changing quite methodically for a few years. It joined the second world war in Chechnya (1999 – 2000) in a state of a complete degradation but it somehow managed to. Surely, this war was a turning point for the Russian army although after the first Chechnya war (1994 – 96) there appeared reflections that something needed to be changed in the army radically.

– Wasn’t it thought about earlier?

– Thinking about the reform of the Russian army and the first attitude towards it appeared in the mid of the 80s, still before the collapse of the Soviet Russia, however, the shock of the collapse caused that for some time there was no interest in this problem. Expenditures were falling onto the army in a realistic way and in the worst time it received 25%of the registered means. Moreover, a big amount of money was going from the army to not known where…The bribery has flourished!

– When did the first serious impulse come to renew and rebuild the Russian army?

– There has been no clear motivation to any renewal for a long time. It came not earlier than after spreading of NATO and bombarding Yugoslavia. At that time Russia felt that it lacked muscles which it could have strained. In early summer 1999 the first great exercises ‘Zapad’ were done, in which ….nearly 7 thousand soldiers with the Belarusians were exposed. A group of the army from whole Russia, gathered with difficulty, left for Chechnya…It can be said that till 2003-04 only the prevention of the army degradation had been lasting – financing its more functional elements, but first of all, reduction. The changes were and are still very socially painful.

– What kind of army is emerging from them?

– Since about 2004 the army of the Russian Federation has been amounting to only 1.3 million military posts (about 1 million now) and it starts to train seriously. It gets money for the first real trainings since the turn of the 80s and 90s. It is known that the style of action of this army is undergoing changes, and that it is not going to be so big but very mobile; for example there are trainings of shifting units from the European part of Russia (where main forces are unchangeably located and the most modern units) to the Far East or the other way round. It turned out soon that there was no point in rebuilding the army in the Soviet model, firstly, in regard to the difference of potentials between the Soviet Union and Russia.

– But there are still longings…

– Yes, and this Russian pain is still one of the biggest mental problems in the transformations of the army. Mass armies from military vocation are becoming an antique in the contemporary world, and a model of professional armies in the style of the Middle Aged knights’ armies is coming back, in which more and more specialist and richer armour is obliging, as well as longer trainings. The Russians might have found it difficult to come in terms with it and they still emphasize that they will not resign from military vocation completely.

– Is this elites’ Russian army popularly respected socially like a mass-folk Red Army, and the Russian army is proud of itself?

– The state is doing everything so that it would be like that. Since January this year, the military salaries have been doubled. Moreover, a new heroics Russian ideology connecting pre-revolutionary with post-revolutionary traditions. Military education of the old style was renewed, setting up schools according to the example of the erstwhile cadets’ schools. In Europe the elements of similar traditions in education still exist only in Great Britain, but rather as a homage to the monarchical traditions.

– And in Russia these are quite realistic Janissary schools?

– It looks so. These are very prestigious schools, often nearly on the basic level in which children undergo ‘the brainstorm’, and later have bigger chances for their careers in the army than everybody else, because in the meantime the most of post-Soviet military higher schools were liquidated or demoted. A dozen of cadets’ schools on the gymnasium and secondary level provides a few thousand Janissaries every year. In this way Russia is building the future elites for the need of force structures. It is building a pride of the army.

– The renewed Russian army could be proud of itself for the same time after the war in Georgia. What significance did this war have for the transformations of the Russian army?

– In 2008 a completely functional army was going into Georgia, more trained and very mobile. In order to enter Chechnya, for a few months units from whole Russia were being gathered and complemented with difficulty… They entered Georgia nearly straightaway, after suitable trainings, without complexes, with self-confidence, with sense of skills and strength. That’s true that on the same tanks but repaired and renovated and well-maintained.

– Did the outlay of the army start growing at that time?

– Yes. For a few years the expenditures for the army were constantly growing by a few to a dozen per cents every year. And in the recent budget preliminary (the budget in Russia has been arranged in the three-year system which from the point of view of military expenditures is very justified) the expenditures leap is very visible – by 25% in 2013 – and in a realistic way it can turn out to be much higher. Calculating altogether the expenditures for the army, in the mid of the present century, it will be about 90-100milliard every year which will guarantee a full realisation – as it seems of a quite inflated – programme of conversion in the years 2011-20 in which the expenditure of 650 milliard dollars was planned.

– What is the state of conversion of the Russian army like today?

– Selected units – a dozen of brigades – have already been wholly converted in a modern way. The purchase of the ‘washings’ was completely resigned after the Soviet Union, and the existing remains are being modernized.

– Where does this new weapons come from? Are the Russian weapon factories able to meet the needs of the army in modernization?

– The relations between the army and the ‘weapon factory’ got worse in the 90s when the army stopped absorbing the new equipment for financial reasons. The weapon industry partly collapsed and its big part was converted into export and it has been quite good till today, and the Russian air industry is even in the world top group. In 2005 the army became again an important client of the native ‘weapon factory’, absorbed a dozen of tanks, a few thousand of armoured transporters, military infantry wagons, a dozen of airplanes and helicopters and also the first ships whose construction was started just after the collapse of the Soviet Union…. And the appetites of the Russian army are still growing.

– For foreign products?

– Yes. It has been demanding for two years what the Americans or the Germans have but… from its producers! Because Russia, like every country respecting itself, cares not only about its army but also its weapon industry which is ‘mother’ of all industries and the whole economy.

– However, isn’t Russia sentenced to a permanent defeat in this situation, in the technical-military race with America?

– It has been stubbornly trying to chase America for the whole time but it seems that it is still late by about 10 years. However, in comparison with the European ‘weapon industry’ – which still has something to offer to Russia, of which the latter one is trying to take an advantage eagerly – the Russian one is clearly proceeding ahead.

– A lot has been said recently about the military cooperation of Russia with Germany. Should we be surprised or worried?

– Surely not surprised because history likes to be repeated… A very strong cooperation between these countries appeared in the years 2002-05 when the European system of satellite recognition ‘Helios’ was to be created, in which the main roles were to be played by the French and Germans. When their roads diverged for some reasons – Germany withdrew and built its won group of satellites in the cooperation with….the Russians. The Russians took away the German satellites onto the orbit in the years 2006-08.

– It can be considered as the beginning of a slow de-integration of NATO?

– Somehow yes. Russia thinks that NATO, as a relict of the cold war is unnecessary and, practically, it does not consider it wholly, aiming only at bilateral relations with particular members – mainly with Germany, France, Italy, whereas it considers Great Britain as the American ‘spy’ in Europe, so as a potential enemy.

– It may seem strange that it meets with such a willing cooperation of particular members of the North-Atlantic alliance…

– It may seem strange but somehow obvious. In the century of crisis, each of the western ‘weapon factory’, wanting to survive, offers the Russians its products for the races; it gives the copies of the most modern equipment to them ‘for examination’ – no matter if it is the Italian wheeled tank Centauro or a car Iveco which in the Russian factories was dismantled and their own cars were produced according to its pattern…The Italians do not protest because they rely on the further cooperation. The Germans, despite of the efforts of the Russians, did not give the construction technology for submarines, among the others, a modern propulsion independent from air flow, with which the Russian industry still has problems. It is natural because the Russians would become their competitors in the sale of conventional submarines like the French domineering more and more in this market.

– From the Polish point of view, especially dangerous associations are caused by German-Russian military educational programs. What are they about?

– The Russians in the cooperation with the Germans are building big, super-modern educational centre which can be defined as a digital traverse; actual trainings are conducted on it but soldiers with weapons are carefully ‘equipped with chips’ and observed in the actual time on computer screens. Moreover, a kind of the acceleration of these trainings came; they were planned not earlier than the year 2014 and it turns out that this June and July the whole brigade has trained…

– Can we exactly define a purpose of transformations and rebuilding of the Russian army today?

– Here everything depends on political rightness. Not every country with a really good potential must use it. During the cold war, for a few dozen years, we had gathered weapons and in Europe there was a balance of fear, a kind of fear against mutual destruction that it had not been used.

– Are the speculations justified that in the mid of the present century the Russian military presence will become a serious problem, especially for the Baltic countries and for Poland?

– It can be expected because most main modernisation processes of the Russian army will come to the end. This army, assuming that nothing will fail, will have great possibilities at that time.

– And may something fail?

– Considering the fact that the power of Russia is based on gas and oil, only sudden and long-term decrease in prices of these mines may lead to a kind of collapse. Although the Russians are getting prepared for it, gathering suitable currency-gold reserves (they have the third in size reserves in the world), they will be enough only for surviving the crisis of a moderate length.

– However, if a longer crisis came, a long-term decrease of oil and gas prices, will the Russian army become less dangerous?

– Even in contrary. One can be afraid at that time that this army – which has achieved a suitably high potential today – will be used, engaged outside in order to distract attention from inner problems. Then one can expect for example military conflicts in the field of the Community of Independent Countries. There can be such results of the present investment of the Russian army.

– So, should we be afraid of the Russian tanks today?

– Everything depends on politics. Maybe somebody will have an idea that we will set up a new Warsaw agreement….One can also hope that the Russians are more civilised today than a dozen of years ago… And also that everybody, including the Russians, can fail.

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Andrzej Wilk a specialist for military aspects of international security of the Eastern Studies Centre


"Niedziela" 32/2012

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