Russian military is rubbish! No hang on, it’s actually pretty good

Neil Clark
Neil Clark is a journalist, writer, broadcaster and blogger. He has written for many newspapers and magazines in the UK and other countries including The Guardian, Morning Star, Daily and Sunday Express, Mail on Sunday, Daily Mail, Daily Telegraph, New Statesman, The Spectator, The Week, and The American Conservative. He is a regular pundit on RT and has also appeared on BBC TV and radio, Sky News, Press TV and the Voice of Russia. He is the co-founder of the Campaign For Public Ownership @PublicOwnership. His award winning blog can be found at www.neilclark66.blogspot.com. He tweets on politics and world affairs @NeilClark66
A Russian Aerospace Force jet during a combat mission in Syria. © Sputnik
Repeat after me: “The Russian military is much weaker than many think, with lots of outdated, dilapidated commie era equipment.” And: “The Russian military is a major threat to us so we need to spend more on our military and renew Trident.”

If these sentences sound contradictory, that’s because they are. My RT OpEdge colleague Bryan Macdonald has coined the phrase ‘Russophrenia’ to describe the condition “where the sufferer believes Russia is both about to collapse, and take over the world.”

He says: “Since 2013, instances of this ailment have reached epidemic-like proportions in certain parts of Washington, London and Brussels.”

Like the flu, Russophrenia is an illness which can strike anyone, but it is particularly prevalent among the West’s political and media elite.

We see a great example of it in President Obama’s comments on Russian military power.

Obama has long been telling us that Russia acts out of weakness.  Almost two years ago, in March 2014, he said Moscow was “threatening some of its immediate neighbors, not out of strength but out of weakness.”

He dismissed Russia as a “regional power” and nothing more.

This ‘Russia is weak’ meme was pushed by US think tanks and in Western elite media, too.

“The military strength demonstrated so pompously on the Red Square [sic] during the May 9 Victory Day parade is in decline,” scoffed Pavel K. Baev in an article entitled ‘Russia is not strong. And Putin is even weaker’, for the Brookings Institute.

“Despite the technical improvements and selective increase in operational capability, the Russian military remains a shadow of its perceived capability,” Andrew Bowen opined in a piece entitled ‘Russia’s deceptively weak military’ in the National Interest.

You could probably have made quite a good living writing pieces trashing the Russian military in 2014 and 2015, as there seems to have been quite a market for them in the West.

However, now the country that was supposedly acting out of weakness and was only a “regional power” seems to be much more than that. Speaking at an ASEAN conference this week, President Obama called Russia “a major military [power].”

About Syria, he said: “Obviously a bunch of rebels are not going to be able to compete with the second-most powerful military in the world.” Is this the ‘paper tiger’ military that we were told relied on outdated, dilapidated commie-era equipment? Or are there two Russian militaries: the rubbish one and the one which is ‘the second-most powerful’ in the world?

The fact is, a military that we were told was “in decline” has, together with the Syrian Arab Army (another force that was dissed), Iranian forces, Hezbollah and the Kurds, managed to inflict major defeats on Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL) and Western/GCC backed terror groups in Syria, and thwarted plans for regime change in the country.

In October, the National Interest magazine was still peddling the line that the Russian military was a ‘paper tiger’.

“While Moscow’s military adventure in Syria shows that its forces have improved markedly since near collapse in the mid-1990s, Russian military forces still have many weaknesses,” wrote Dave Majumdar.

Few though, least of all the American president, are saying that today.

In my OpEdge column, I discussed the phenomenon of ‘Bombing Plagiarism’, whereby the US and Western countries claim credit for Russian anti-IS strikes while of course blaming Russia whenever civilians are killed.

The Russian intervention in Syria has been a game changer and if any criticism can be made, it’s that it didn’t happen earlier. For years, the West has bullied Russia, with vindictive and obsessed Russophobic neocons at the forefront of the campaign.

Now, the best way to defeat bullies in life is not to retreat but to show them your strength. Actions always speak far louder than words.

The Russian military intervention in Syria, which began on September 30, took the Western elites by surprise. They were eagerly rubbing their hands at the prospect of defeat for the secular Syrian government. 

Russian Ambassador to the UK, Alexander Yakovenko, revealed this week: “Last summer we were told by our Western partners that in October Damascus would fall to IS… What they were planning to do next we don’t know.  Probably, they would have ended up painting the extremists white and accepting them as a Sunni state straddling Iraq and Syria.”

The Russian military “with its many weakness,” together with its on-the-ground allies in Syria, changed all that. “I was one of those people surprised about their move in Syria,” admitted US Lt. General Ben Hodges.  “I’ve been watching them in Syria for some time now, but I thought they were so stressed with what they were doing that I didn’t realize they had a capacity also to pick up and move into Syria.”

Russia’s legal intervention in Syria against Western-backed terrorists has led inevitably to fresh condemnation from neocons, who morphed from enthusiastic bombers on September 29, 2015, to concerned humanitarians on September 30, 2015, but it's also brought it a new level of grudging respect in the Western corridors of power and from US military bigwigs. We saw the first signs of that in John Kerry’s visit to Moscow in December. We saw it again at Munich this month, when it was Sergei Lavrov and not his US counterpart, who was calling all the shots. We also see it in the diminishing number of ‘Assad must go!’ comments issued robotically by leaders in the West.

While neocons fume and whinge on Twitter that the West‘s antiwar movement isn’t organizing demos outside Russian Embassies, realists have accepted that the Russian military has derailed the plans for regime change.

Obama’s statement that “a bunch of rebels are not going to be able to compete with the second most powerful military in the world” is his way of letting the neocon faction know that its more or less game over for those wanting said ‘rebels‘ to take over Syria.

However, we shouldn’t expect ‘Russophrenia’ to disappear. Russia will continue to be vilified as part of the propaganda war against Putin, while its military strength, proven in Syria, will also be used to argue that we need greater ‘defense’ spending in the West, to the benefit of the military-industrial complex. The neocon government in the UK is probably the most Russophobic one in the West now - and guess what? Trident is up for renewal, and to make it even more worrying for the hawks we‘ve now got an opposition leader (Jeremy Corbyn) who opposes it.

At the same time, the fact that Russia has intervened so effectively in Syria has greatly increased Russia’s own security. Just imagine if Damascus had fallen to IS head-choppers in October. The toppling of the secular government of Syria, a long-time ally of Russia, would only have emboldened the neocons further. They would have taken Russian inaction as a sign of weakness and felt confident that they could then move against Iran, when the time was right, and then Russia itself.

Today, 81 percent of Russians believe their country’s military can protect them against any military threat from any other nations.

The figure is up from 60 percent in 2014, and the intervention in Syria has obviously been an important factor in increasing public confidence.

The Russian military most certainly is not rubbish. It’s also clearly not in decline. Nor is it a ‘paper tiger’. But the only way Russia could prove this was by showing what it was capable of. We’ve now reached the stage where the US is having to ask Russia, the country that was only supposed to be a “regional power,” not to bomb areas in northern Syria where its ‘special operation forces’ are active.

What a turnaround!

The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.