Threats to Russian security are rooted in the obsolete mentality of its military, not in NATO or elsewhere.

NATO summit in Bucharest last week and meeting of the Russian and US presidents in Sochi afterwards never brought the international community closer to solution to the problems of NATO’s continued eastward expansion or development of the US national missile defense in East Europe. Experts say, however, that NATO’s expansion threatens Russian national security less than obsolete mentality of the Russian military does.

Vladimir Putin and George W. Bush merely “listed the moot points” at the meeting in Sochi and left it at that. As a matter of fact, all moot points had been listed much earlier, in 2000, when two principal documents formulating the military doctrine (Foreign Policy Concept and National Security Concept) branded NATO’s eastward expansion as the worst existing threat to national security of Russia. Experts actually refuse to treat NATO’s expansion as something to fear, even assuming that NATO is a potential adversary.

“Expansion of the Alliance is pointless from the standpoint of security. Expansion does not make NATO any more or Russia any less secure,” Alexander Konovalov of the Strategic Estimates Institute said. “The Baltic states became members of the Alliance not long ago. With them in its ranks, NATO ended up right on the Russian borders. So what? Norway has been in NATO for years, but nobody makes a fuss over it. Besides, who says that expansion is making the Alliance stronger? Absorption of the countries like Albania and Croatia makes NATO all the less stable.”

Konovalov called tension mounting over the subject of NATO’s expansion actually distracting. “It will be much better for the military to be bothered by its patent inadequacy and unpreparedness for war. I’m not even talking of arms export when sophisticated weapons are sold to foreign customers while the Russian Armed Forces are expected to make do with what they have because precious little is left them in terms of brand-new military hardware. I’m talking of the absence of strategic planning. The military aspires for the role of designers of Russian foreign strategy when this is not what the military is supposed to be about in the first place,” Konovalov said.

“Consider this: should Russia opt for bona fide cooperation with the Alliance, it will automatically solve a lot of problems including, I might add, difficulties in the relations with post-Soviet republics,” Konovalov added.

“This dislike of NATO is just a trick, a ruse expected to mislead TV audience at best. Politicians and the military know better,” Professor Vladimir Kulagin of the Moscow State Institute of International Relations said. “Military budgets are much more revealing that statements, you know… Problems of our relations with NATO are rooted beyond the security sphere. The Russian authorities view any international alliance promoting liberal ideas as a threat. Even discounting this ideological incompatibility, however, a war with NATO is a sheer impossibility. Russia accounts for 3% of the global GDP and NATO countries for 50%. It is clear that Russia is not going to attack NATO countries therefore. As for vice versa, members of the Alliance do not need wars with Russia for political considerations. Everyone knows it, including Putin who has been keeping our military lobby in check so far. Moreover, he has been keeping our arms spendings at under 3% of the GDP. It is budgets of the Interior Ministry, Federal Security Service, and Emergency Ministry that grow each year and that is what we should be aware of and draw conclusions from. The conclusion is simple actually: threats to Russian security originate in Russia itself.”

According to Aleksei Arbatov of the International Security Center, “it is the people who do not want reorganization of the Armed Forces who foment these fears of NATO.” “The Armed Forces face a lot of problems these days – economic, technical, organizational,” Arbatov said. “Our generals in the meantime are only interested in retaining their place under the sun. Tension in the relations with the Alliance appears to them to be the easiest solution: same threat requires same response, no need to change anything… No wonder the military reforms are stuck.”

“The problem is actually rooted in the decision-making procedures,” Arbatov continued. “All decisions are currently made by an extremely narrow circle without any chance to even monitor the process, much less control it. When it is the military leadership itself that is ordered to alter the command structure, it’s no wonder that nothing ever comes out of it.”

Arbatov is convinced nevertheless that NATO is facing more or less similar problems. Indeed, the Alliance itself could try and bring down the wall of distrust between us but never even tried to. “Everybody understands after all that Russia will never apply for membership in NATO because someone like Estonia or Latvia will certainly veto it and where will it leave us? More importantly, how it will make us look? We are a world power after all, we cannot afford humiliation like that. It follows that the Alliance itself could invite Russia to join it and probably should have done so. It will cut the ground from under the feet of whoever inflames anti-Western resentment here in Russia.”

According to Arbatov, NATO’s reluctance to take the initiative is attributed to a certain extent to the lack of constructive proposals from Moscow itself. “We never hesitate to make threats but we do not offer anything in return,” Arbatov said. “Fancy NATO seeing the light and agreeing with Russia in the matters of US national missile defense in East Europe and membership of Georgia and Ukraine. What will Russia offer the Alliance in return? Nobody knows… Whenever support of NATO is Afghanistan is barely mentioned, media outlets hit the roof and launch another they-are-dragging-us-into-another-war hysterical campaign.”

The military reforms experts keep promoting are not restricted to furtherance of state control in the sphere of security. The economic and organizational structure of the Russian Armed Forces is such that thousands die in the Army and Navy every year or find themselves below the subsistence minimum without any help from NATO. According to official estimates for example, non-combat losses of the Russian Armed Forces exceed 1,000 men every year. Mother’s Right activists in the meantime evaluate non-combat casualties at over 3,000 men. Add here over 250 suicides in the Army and Navy every year (by official estimates only).

Economic situation is another killer, even more formidable than NATO missiles will ever be. Approximately every fifth officer (135,000) needs an apartment to live in. Even senior officers are paid under $1,000 (quite a pittance by Western standards). An average lieutenant colonel with 25 years in the Armed Forces behind him is paid 17,000-18,000 rubles, a lieutenant 6,000-7,000 rubles. It is an illusion that the military reforms will be a strain and drain on the budget. The Russian Armed Forces are 1.2 million men strong nowadays (almost 2% of the economically active population). Experts say that the Armed Forces may be easily – and without any adverse effect on national security – reduced by between 50% and 75%. Unfortunately, it will never happen while official propaganda is focused on “NATO tanks on the Russian borders.”