Russia destined for a supporting role in a clash between America and China

The arms race isn’t starting; in fact, it’s never stopped. Judging by the fact that the military-industrial complex is once again supplying under-tested and flawed arms to the Russian Armed Forces, there haven’t been any fundamental changes for the better in the defense sector.

An arms race is in full swing, and Moscow has joined in this captivating process wholeheartedly, although it’s only a silent extra this time; the United States and China are playing the leading roles.

The escalating tension in Russian-American relations is going according to plan. Although another meeting of missile defense experts has been scheduled for September, it is certain that Moscow and Washington will not reach agreement: their positions have nothing in common, and their approaches differ. The Americans aren’t making any concessions on key issues; and Russia simply has nothing to offer in this bargaining process, other than dramatic propaganda initiatives. Colonel-General Alexander Zelin, Chief Commander of the Air Force, has just proposed using S-300 and S-400 surface-to-air systems in a European missile defense; but the United States and Europe regard this as unacceptable. American missile defense elements will be deployed in Poland and the Czech Republic, Alaska and California, and Britain (a radar station). Moreover, there are plans to install early warning radars in Japan and Hawaii; talks with Denmark are under way regarding an upgrade for its Greenland station. The United States has announced plans for military aid to the Middle East over the next decade: Egypt ($13 billion), Israel ($10 billion), Saudi Arabia ($20 billion), the United Arab Emirates, and other Persian Gulf countries.

The Kremlin is well aware that Washington isn’t the least bit scared of Russia as such or Russia’s retaliatory measures. Moreover, Washington actually welcomes Moscow’s escapades, since they provide excellent arguments for public justifications of US actions.

So which country is America’s real and primary potential military opponent? It is named, quietly, in the Quadrennial Defense Review Report dated February 6, 2006: China, which is rapidly building up its military arsenals. A year ago, the Pentagon presented Congress with a report on China’s military might. Beijing stormy and furious response to both Pentagon documents made it clear to everyone that the analysts were right on target.

What annoyed Beijing was that American analysts showed how China’s official military spending has tripled since 1994, reaching $35 billion in 2006. So it seems that the two major opposing players on the global strategy theater stage have been identified: America and China. And although we are not the leading players in this configuration, the Kremlin has almost made its choice – deciding to play for China’s team; not as an equal strategic partner, unfortunately.

As for the arms race as such, it would be an exaggeration to say that it’s starting; in fact, it’s never stopped.

Our country has played catch-up at almost all stages of this race, since this is primarily a strategic armaments contest, and the race is always initiated by the country that already holds a lead in this area: it’s very important to make a quality breakthrough that leaves opponents far behind. After the Second World War, the Soviet defense sector plunged into the nuclear arms race readily and fervently, with substantial achievements.

In the first post-war years, when the Kremlin attempted to cut back conventional arms production in favor of civilian products, it encountered fierce resistance from key defense sector leaders.

Judging by the fact that the military-industrial complex is once again supplying under-tested and flawed arms to the Russian Armed Forces, there haven’t been any fundamental changes for the better in the defense sector.

Worse still, the Kremlin has failed to establish effective control over the military-industrial complex. Not even Putin’s signature move – appointing tried and tested people with a KGB background to key posts – has been able to solve the problem. The most glaring example is the Almaz-Antei Air Defense holding company. The Kremlin obviously planned to take control one of the most profitable parts of the defense industry, with potential revenues of $5-7 billion. In February 2003, the Kremlin appointed a new acting general director there: Igor Klimov, a career KGB officer and presidential administration official. The appointment order was issued by Viktor Ivanov, deputy head of the Kremlin administration and chairman of the board at Almaz-Antei. On June 6, 2003, Klimov was shot dead outside his apartment in central Moscow. Another Almaz-Antei executive, Sergei Shchitko (commercial director at RATEP), was murdered in Serpukhov that same day. According to one of the most realistic theories, the murder of Almaz-Antei’s chief executive was a warning to Putin and his team: don’t tread on our turf, and don’t try to take control of our business. And although the next official leader of Almaz-Antei was another career KGB officer, Vladislav Menshchikov, there have been no further attempts to establish direct Kremlin control over this sector.

And now a new stage of the arms race is starting. The difference is that even though our defense industry is privately applauding America’s military initiatives, it has fallen behind in strategic terms. But the defense sector is undeterred: the primary idea of the season focuses on injections of state funding, channeling petrodollars into the military-industrial complex. And even as they hunger for new contracts and funding allocations, defense industry chiefs have no intention of rejecting privatized property: “What’s mine is mine, and whatever isn’t mine is also mine.” As in the past, they intend to churn out uncompetitive and obsolete products designed in the Soviet era; they have no others. If worst comes to worst, apparently, they can always export these products to pariah states and China – becoming China’s rear services base.