Anonymous expert opinion below. Well worth reading!
Russia is in a very unhealthy internal position, as a result of cumulative blowback from the series of strategically inept choices the regime made, repeatedly, since late 2013 when they kicked off in earnest their effort to subdue Ukraine.
We could speculate at great lengths on motives and agendas, but much of what we have seen can be easily explained by a simple precedent – Hitler’s grandstanding to maintain national cohesion and public support in Germany, while the money to fund and repay loans on the bogus “economic miracle” slowly ran out. When the BS excuses ran out, staring down the barrel of his political scam collapsing, he invaded Poland and the rest is history.
Now Putin is not Hitler, and 2018 is not 1938, even if we can point to a plethora of circumstances in common, especially a generation of mostly witless politicians and senior bureaucrats across much of Europe, and many could well argue, the West as a whole.
If we start with the premise, and it is well supported, that all of the mayhem Putin produced was about maintaining national cohesion and regime support, then the problem he is now confronting is that his two core agendas are unraveling, and could well unravel altogether over the coming two years. If that happens, public unrest as seen in Iran, abrupt and unexpected, sans any centrally organized movement, could ensue.
Putin’s multifaceted campaign to bamboozle the Russian population, and suppress dissent, has produced numerous internal impacts:
- The biggest foreign currency reserve fund has been drained, Russia now plans to drain its main welfare fund, intended to cover the cost of pensions;
- Oligarchs and elites are moving their assets offshore as fast as they can, and many have moved their families out of Russia as well;
- The re-armament campaign is in difficulty, partly due to cash flow, partly due to rampant corruption, partly due to sanctions denying access to Western tech, and partly due to Ukraine no longer supplying single source components for 30-50% of Russian systems, depending on whom you believe;
- The brain drain of talent running away from Russia is claimed to now rival the early 1990s, especially problematic is the loss of science, engineering and IT talent, this will produce major impacts on the industrial base, especially long-term;
- Russia has a major demographic problem, due to collapsing birth rates in “ethnic Russians”, unprecedented birth defect rates, and increasing migration of non-Russian ethnicities from Muslim Central Asian and Caucasus former Soviet Republics;
- The healthcare system is collapsing due to the regime diverting funds to defense and internal security budgets, resulting in worsening problems with HIV and other infectious pathogens;
- Problems with alcoholism and drug abuse appear to be unprecedented, with related health and healthcare impacts;
- The toxic domestic propaganda campaign has alienated ethnic minorities across Russia, starting with Ukrainians (the largest non-Russian minority) and ending with Buryats, Tuvans, and Siberian indigenous nations;
- The toxic foreign propaganda campaign has alienated much of the West, but especially the numerous diasporas from former Russian Empire and Soviet colonies – this will produce long-term impacts across Western politics (Canada is an excellent example), making reconciliation with the West slow and painful;
Shevtsova got it in one last week identifying Russia’s future as one of “rot”.
As Russia’s economy slowly tanks, its ability to sustain the rearmament campaign, sustain large standing forces, maintain readiness, and indeed conduct large-scale military campaigns, will slowly diminish. The witless Western mass media have presented both Ukraine and Syria as outstanding large-scale military victories for Russia. The evidence does not support that claim – Ukraine was an unmitigated disaster, opposed in 2014 – 2015 by an under-manned, under-trained and under-equipped Ukrainian military, operating patched up derelict Soviet-era equipment. Syria has notable by the small scale, by Western standards, employment of modern tech like PGMs, SLCMs, ALCMs, EW, A2/AD etc to tip the balance in a three-sided civil war, where Russia’s ragtag band of opponents were fought concurrently by Assad’s Alawite regime, Iran, and its Lebanese Shia proxies.
The Putin regime now confronts a declining economy and unraveling society in which a majority is increasingly finding that it has no social contract left. At some point, Putin will need real and substantial distractions to maintain any semblance of cohesion in Russia, with divisions along faultlines of wealth disparity, ethnicity and language, religion, and local history.
As the economy unravels, Russia will ramp up exports of hi-tech military equipment, simply to sustain the sharp end of its industrial base. The last few months have seen unprecedented offers to export the top end of their capabilities, especially A2/AD systems.
With export revenue sustaining its top end weapons manufacturers, Russia will continue to have the means of deploying and sustaining a smaller force equipped with competitive modern aircraft, missiles, armor etc. It will not have the means to recapitalize what is left of its vast inherited Soviet arsenal with new equipment, and probably not even with deep overhauls and upgrades. A smaller, higher tech, the professional military would provide Russia with a deterrent against foreign incursions and coercion, but it is not the kind of vast manpower-intensive force needed for Putin’s oft-stated agenda for a “Reconquista” of the Russian and Soviet Empires.
Putin is now entering the strategic space of “use it or lose it”, in terms of sustaining the very large land force centric military required to conduct his desired “Reconquista” of the Russian and Soviet Empires. The longer he delays, the harder it will be to maintain the required force size.
That Putin has remained embedded in Crimea and Donbass shows that the agenda of the “Reconquista” of the Russian and Soviet Empires remains in place. Both are expensive and otherwise worthless strategic liabilities unless you are convinced you can eventually subdue Ukraine. The same is true of occupied Georgian and Moldovan territories.
That Russia is continuing to form and equip the 1st Guards Tank Army, a single purpose Blitzkrieg formation, speaks for itself.
Until Russia’s contracting economy forces a significant downsizing of Russia’s military, especially its offensive ground force formations, Russia will have the option of invading one or more smaller neighbors. And the regime will continue to cling to its delusional agenda of the “Reconquista” of the Russian and Soviet Empires.
So the risk of an attempted full-scale invasion of Ukraine, the Baltic States, Finland, Belarus, Georgia or Kazakhstan will remain.
This will be the biggest single strategic risk Russia will present in coming years.