Russia so determined to invade Europe it's slashing defense spending by 30 percent

Bryan MacDonald
Bryan MacDonald is an Irish journalist, who is based in Russia
© Anton Denisov
Reports in Russian media suggest that the Kremlin is about to reduce military spending by a whopping 30 percent. Won't somebody please think of NATO, and all the "Senior Fellows" who rely on it, at this difficult time?

Did you ever hear the story about a country so determined to take over Europe that the establishment media warned about it almost daily for years, sustaining countless careers?

Led by the “new Hitler” (quoting Prince Charles) who was engaged in a “sinister resurrection of Stalin” (Anne Applebaum), it was “tempted to destroy NATO, via the Baltics” (Edward Lucas). This country was so terrifying that the head of Mi5 announced it was a “growing threat to the UK” when he was looking for more money. Not to be outdone, the US Defense Secretary begged for a $587 billion budget to help “take (a) strong and balanced approach to deter [redacted] aggression.”

Then one day, this frightening and monstrous government did something which really upset the western elite. It wasn’t by invading a weaker neighbour or firing off a few nuclear missiles or resurrecting concentration camps. No, from their point-of-view it was far worse. This horrible regime suddenly cut its military spending by 30 percent!

The Pain Of It

Yes, you’ve heard it right, these guys were so menacing and abhorrent that they decided to hit the ruling class where it hurts them the most, in their pockets. Showing absolutely no regard for weapons contractors and the “Senior Fellows” they sponsor, the critters upended their carefully hewn narrative in the most callous way possible. If it wasn’t already obvious, the country in question is Russia. And unless you have been living on Neptune for the past few years, you’ll be aware that the Kremlin is constantly on the verge of the following: invading the Baltics; sending tanks to Poland, “overnight”; “creeping into” Georgia; creating something called ‘Novorossiya’ in Ukraine; destroying Britain; seizing Finland and preparing for nuclear war with America. 

All this scaremongering not only serves to blacken Russia’s name in the West, it also sustains military spending in Europe during a time of economic hardship. Furthermore, it has created an entire industry dedicated to adding a faux-academic sheen to all this nonsense. That is the think-tank racket, which is usually funded by (primarily American) arms contractors, who incidentally are the biggest winners from all this hysteria.

Cold Reality

Now, the Kremlin has brilliantly trolled all the “Senior Fellows” and their argument will soon lie in ruins, assuming the draft budget is passed. If it were true that Vladimir Putin’s government was planning to annex half of Europe, it’d be a strange time to slash defence spending by such a huge amount. However, the administration is not doing it by choice. From a Russian perspective, amidst a protracted economic crisis, it boils down to the simple choice of “guns or butter.” And it appears Moscow has wisely chosen the latter. 

In an ideal world, Russia would continue with its planned modernization of the army and boost its ability to project power. But this isn’t an ideal world and its finances are far less healthy than even a few years ago. Thus, military funding will be cut by 1,000 billion rubles ($15.7 billion), or by approximately 30 percent, according to the Kommersant newspaper, which is relying on data from the draft federal budget the government submitted to the State Duma at the end of October. 

In the revised calculations, overall spending on national defense in the federal budget for 2017 is envisaged at 2,840 billion rubles ($44.69 billion), or 3.3 percent of (nominal) GDP. Nevertheless, Moscow hopes to implement further reductions over the coming years and force it down to 2.8 percent of GDP by 2019. 

Why now?

So, why is Russia suddenly doing this? Well, there are three reasons. First, a Presidential election cycle is just about to kick off here, and Putin’s advisors may fear how maintaining the military largesse in the face of across-the-board cutbacks could become unpopular.

The fact that social spending will be be the only area to see an increase in 2017, and a sharp rise as it happens, backs up this argument. 

Then there’s the lesson of the Leonid Brezhnev years. The last time Moscow found itself in a situation where resource prices collapsed was during the 1970s. Back then, the former Soviet Premier made the fatal mistake of becoming embroiled in an arms race with NATO, just when he could least afford it. And we all know how that ended: Defense spending reached 15-20 percent of GDP by the early 1980s and the USSR imploded a few years later.

While the Russian elite might enjoy the odd bit of sabre rattling, they are also not suicidal. Most of them grew up during the Brezhnev era and are fully aware of his mistakes. As a result, it’s clear how they are unlikely to repeat them. And this bring us to the third likely reason.

Perhaps the Kremlin has simply had enough of all the tensions of recent years and wants to dial them down. What better way to destroy NATO’s over-bearing anti-Russia messaging campaign than by completely undermining it? 

The Washington-controlled alliance, and all those who depend it on for their livelihoods, needs a credible enemy to justify its continued existence and expansion. By depriving them of such an adversary, the Kremlin effectively cripples NATO. At the present time, western powers are increasing their deployments in eastern Europe - and have bolstered NATO spending there by a factor of four - while Russia has taken a cudgel to its own budget.

Who looks like the aggressor now?

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