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Russia - Introduction - A New Cold War

Civil War1918-22940,000
Sino-Soviet 1929148
Spanish Civil War1936-39145
Belarus 1939 996
Poland1939-40 632
Finland1939-40 127,000
Great Patriotic War * 1941-45 8,700,000
Ukraine1941-49? 50,000
Lithuania1944-53? 100,000
Vietnam1965-7416 - 3,000?
Czechoslovakia 196811
Chechnya, 1st1994-963,826
Chechnya, 2nd1999-064,572
Syria201512 +?
Soviet troops killed in action, died of wounds, missing in action, failed to return from captivity, does not included died of other causes [disease, accident, etc]

* By another estimate, 6.8 million Soviet soldiers were killed, and 4.4 million died in captivity.

SOURCE: Colonel-General G.F. Krivosheev (ed.) Soviet Casualties and Combat Losses in the Twentieth Century. Collective authors, Translated by Christine Bernard, Foreword by John Erickson. London: Greenhill Books; Mechanicsburg, PA: Stackpole Books, 1997. Pp.290, tables, 25, $ 39.95 ISBN 185372807. [this does not include Lithuania]

It seems increasingly apparent to the leadership in Moscow that Russia lacks the resources to restore a near peer-competitor relationship with America, but there are ample opportunities to dominate the game as an assymetric competitor with the West. Many Russians accept Putin's "imperial leadership style with totalitarian aspects" because they see it as a guarantee of stability. Today's Russia is reminiscent of the Soviet Union in the 1970s. In the end the economy will collapse and a new life will begin.

At the end of the Cold War, the Soviet Union had a total population of nearly 290 million, and a Gross National Product estimated at about $2.5 trillion. At that time, the United States had a total population of nearly 250 million, with a Gross Domestic Product of about $5.2 trillion. That is, the population of the United States was smaller than that of the Soviet Union, with an economy that was more than twice that of the Soviet Union. A quarter of a century later, Russia's population is about 140 million, with a GDP of about $1.3 trillion, while the population of the United States is over 300 million, with a GDP of $13 trillion. Today, the population of the United States is twice that of Russia, and the US economy is ten times as large.

The major urban centers in the United States dont just have the largest GDP which is the total value of goods produced and services provided in a country during one fiscal year they also have stronger economies than entire countries. The greater New York areas economy of $1.5 trillion surpasses that of a dozen countries, including Australia, South Korea, Canada and Russia.

That is to say, with considerably more advantageous population and economic resources, the Soviet Union was destroyed by the effort to remain a peer competitor with the United States during the Cold War. Presently, with relatively more modest resources, it is beyond the capacity of the Russian Federation to mount any sustained challenge to dtermined American resistance beyond the immediate area of the former Soviet Union, if even that.

In August 2008 Russia sent tanks and troops to South Ossetia and Abkhazia after Georgia launched a major military offensive to reclaim the breakaway republics. This was the culmination of months of escalation by both sides. Russia saw the events in South Ossetia in the larger context of a widening confrontation with the West, and in particular the United States. Russia sought this confrontation for a variety of reasons, including providing an appropriate context for a resumption of spending on military hardware, which ended with the breakup of the Soviet Union. Asked whether the fighting will influence the pace of Russia's army modernization, Col. Gen. Anatoly Nogovitsyn, deputy head of the General Staff said on Thursday 14 August 2008 that the country would "draw serious conclusions" from the events.

The confrontation in Georgia was part of a larger pattern of events in which Russia sought confrontation with the West. On a whole range of issues, from Kosovo independence to missile defense facilities in central Europe to Ukraine, Russia has taken an extremely confrontational stance towards the United States in particular. The common theme is that Russia faces a clear and present danger from its traditional foe, and that after a time of prostration, the bear is back.

This renewed emphasis on external security threats and the need for a strong military is one component of the emerging image of the Russian state held by Russian policy circles. Gazing across the centuries in search of role models to replace the discredited liberal model of the 1990s, a powerful state headed by a powerful leader in command of a powerful army would seem to be the consistent precedent offered by both Czars and Commisars. The power of the leader has been restored, and too the state, but not the military.

Russia's efforts to transform its Soviet-legacy military into a smaller, lighter and more mobile force continue to be hampered by an ossified military leadership, discipline problems, limited funding and demographics. Some steps by the Government of Russia suggested a desire to reform. There has been an increased emphasis on practical training, such as the Mobility 2004 Exercises, and the government is introducing bills to improve the organization of the military.

Despite increases in the budget, however, defense spending remains entirely inadequate to sustain Russia's oversized military. Current troop strength, estimated at one million, is large in comparison to Russia's GDP and military budget, which continues to make the process of transformation to a professional army difficult. This was in part the result of the Soviet legacy and military thinking that has changed little since the Cold War. Senior Russian leaders continue to emphasize a reliance on a large strategic nuclear force capable of deterring a massive nuclear attack.

In 2002, a conscript's salary was only 100 rubles a month, or roughly $3.50. Theoretically, the army provides all necessities, however, housing and food shortages continue to plague the armed forces. Problems with both discipline and brutal hazing are common as well. HIV infection rates in the Russian army are estimated to be between two to five times higher than in the general population, and tuberculosis is a persistent problem.

Such conditions and the poor combat performance of the Russian Armed Forces in the Chechen conflict encouraged draft evasion and efforts to delay their military service. Although the available manpower (males 15-49) for the Russian Armed Forces was projected at 39.1 million in 2004, only a tenth of eligible males did military service. Moreover, military officials complained that new recruit cohorts are plagued by increasingly incidences of poor education, communicable diseases and criminality. That is to say, when only a tenth of the draft eligible cohort reports for duty, this is the bottom tenth of the cohort that lacked the mental acuity to evade military service.

The Russian government has stated a desire to convert to a professional army. However, implementation has been delayed repeatedly. Current plans envision a transition to a mixed force, in which professional soldiers fill the ranks of select units and conscription is gradually phased out. Some officials have talked of developing a non-commissioned officer corps to lead the professional army, but the military has yet to make any concrete investments in training or facilities that would begin this process.

Besides interfering in Ukrainian political affairs, Russia exerted pressure on pro-Western Georgia, supporting separatists in Abkhazia and South Ossetia. By refusing to withdraw Russian troop, Russia also encouraged separatism in Moldova's Transdniester region. And Russia has directed threatening rhetoric at the new-NATO Baltic states (Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia.)

The relationships between NATO and Russia have slid down toward a new Cold War, Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev said 12 February 2016 at a panel discussion during the Munich Security Conference, describing NATO's policy as "unfriendly and not transparent." "Almost every day we are referred to as the most terrible threat to NATO as a whole or to Europe, America and other countries specifically," Medvedev said. "Although actual threats that exist in our small world - and I hope, you understand that - are absolutely different."

The strongest point made by Peter Hultqvist, defense minister of Sweden, was made via a rhetorical question: Why does Russia continue to bring up its nuclear capabilities? Hultqvist added that Russia is the biggest challenge to Europe's security and that we cannot accept what Russia has done.

The challenge is trying to understand the sources of Russian conduct [as Kennan might have termed the matter].

If recent Russian behavior is just symptomatic of tit-for-tat escalation, what Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates called the Russians " throwing their food on the floor", then the Americans can avoid provocations, continue business as usual, reconsider BMD in central Europe, and "getting Russia right" as some Europeans have suggested.

If recent Russian behavior is symptomatic of Russian imperial nostalgia, and a belief on their part that they need a much stronger military establishment in order to assert their natural sphere of influence within the boundaries of the empire circa 1914, then their hostility is almost entirely self-generated, and is beyond the capacity of external actors to placate.

While the weakness of the 1990s is gone and forgotten, Russia cannot regain the status of great power.

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