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Mediterranean Quarterly 11.4 (2000) 23-39

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Russia Reenters World Politics

Richard F. Staar


When he announced in November 1999 that additional funds would be provided for the deployment of a naval squadron from the Black Sea into the Mediterranean, then prime minister Vladimir V. Putin gave the squadron's composition as follows: Russia's only aircraft carrier, the Admiral Kutnetsov (from the Northern Fleet), together with one destroyer, one frigate, one tanker, and an unspecified number of nuclear-powered submarines. By November 2000 these warships, hardly a match for the U.S. Sixth Fleet, were to be stationed at the reactivated Tartus naval base in Syria. 1

In preparation for such a move, Moscow has been selling substantial amounts of modern weapons to many of the Arab states that border on or are located close to the Mediterranean. Between 1991 and 1998, Russia transferred almost $7 billion worth of such equipment to the Near East. (See table 1.) Military advisors, technicians to make repairs, and spare parts come with such sales.

These shipments are continuing, with $100 million worth of new arms going to Libya, as reported by Interfax on 31 May 2000. Total worldwide Russian sales during calendar year 1999 had increased by 25 percent over the previous year and came to $3.5 billion. Military-technical ties have been strengthened with Iran, and an expanded $2 billion arms deal including a squadron of Sukhoi-27 fighters has been announced for Syria, which already owes $11 billion to the Kremlin for earlier arms deliveries. Moscow will continue [End Page 23] exporting to Iraq. 2 During the past six years, the Russian government's Promeksport agency has expanded weapons sales abroad by twenty times. 3

In several of these countries, so-called limited military contingents from the former Soviet Union had been involved both with training and active combat operations, as Russia subsequently acknowledged. (See table 2.) The countries in the Near East included Algeria, Egypt, South Yemen, Syria, and Ethiopia. During the recent war between Ethiopia and Eritrea, Russia supplied weapons and military advisors to both sides. 4 Across the world, improvements at the Cam Ranh Bay naval base in Vietnam are underway to accommodate the Fifteenth Operational Squadron, now in Vladivostok. [End Page 24]

Whether Russia can continue maintaining or perhaps even expand these activities will be decided by its ability to produce next-generation weapons systems for its own armed forces and sell current stock even to rogue states --a situation that, of course, contributes to instability in the southern part of the Mediterranean Basin.

A Russian government document projects a breakdown of defense expenditures over more than a decade, through 2010. It depicts a huge increase for research and development as well as the procurement of new weapons systems, both of which will take up to two-thirds of the military budget during the years 2001 through 2005, at which time a surge would take place and then drop to a "normal" allocation of expenditures thereafter. (See table 3.) [End Page 25]

Much will depend upon whether the military-industrial complex is able to apply the latest technologies to its production systems. An authoritative study, which appeared two years ago, concluded that, from among fifteen scientific fields, Russia could claim world leadership on a par with the United States in only two: nuclear and laser technologies. 5

On the other hand, it is not inconceivable that decision makers in Moscow will be able to work on futuristic weapons systems as a long-range proposition and still make incremental improvements on those in the current inventory. The latter, even without such adjustments, might still be acceptable [End Page 26] throughout the Near East, which includes rogue states that had been Soviet and now are Russian customers.

National Security in the Twenty-First Century

All of this ties in with the new national security concept approved by Putin earlier this year. Decree number 24, signed on the tenth day of his acting presidency, 6 has the force of law without being submitted to parliament. (The new document replaces an earlier one...


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