24th Mar 2018

Russia's EU neighbours boost arms spending

  • The US and Nato are storing tanks and armoured vehicles in easterly EU states in order to deter Russian aggression (Photo: 1st BCT, 1st CD)

Eastern EU states posted some of the sharpest increases in arms spending in the world last year, driven by a fear of Russia, according to Swedish think tank Sipri.

Polish spending rose by 33 percent to $10.5 billion (€9.2 billion). Romanian spending climbed by 22 percent and is budgeted to climb by 53 percent this year.

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  • Russia's 9 May military parade last year witnessed its biggest display of strength since the fall of the Soviet Union (Photo: Dmitriy Fomin)

Slovak spending grew by 17 percent. Baltic states Lithuania (33 percent) and Latvia (14 percent) also registered significant increases in 2015.

Put into context, the increases are much steeper than, for instance, Saudi Arabia’s (5.7 percent). Saudi spending is vastly higher overall ($87.2bn), but its relatively modest increase comes despite the fact it is locked in an arms race with Iran, fighting a proxy war in Syria and an open conflict in Yemen.

The Sipri report attributed the trend in central Europe to “escalating fear of a threat from Russia" following its invasion of Ukraine and its show of strength in Syria.

It noted that overall spending by Nato’s European members, including Turkey, went down by 0.3 percent to $250 billion.

But the Russian threat, coupled with the war on Islamic State in Syria and Iraq, prompted Nato’s main European powers - the UK, France, and Germany - to raise spending.

Russian expenditure also continued to climb in 2015, rising by 7.5 percent to $66.4 billion.

The figure was 3 percent lower than Russia had planned to spend as a result of “falling oil and gas prices, coupled with [EU and US] economic sanctions”, Sipri said. The same factors would contribute to a real-terms cut of 9 percent in its 2016 military budget.

But Russia’s 2015 budget was a whopping 91 percent higher than the figure for 2006, highlighting the scale of Russian leader Vladimir Putin’s decade-long rearmament programme.

Looking further afield, Sipri noted that US spending continues to dwarf that of any other country on the planet.

The main Nato power, which recently announced new deployments in Nato states that border Russia, spent $596 billion last year - more than China, Saudi Arabia, Russia, the UK, India, France and Japan added together.

Global spending itself also climbed by 1 percent to $1.7 trillion.

Commenting on the big picture, Sam Perlo-Freedom, a Sipri analyst, said: “On the one hand, spending trends reflect the escalating conflict and tension in many parts of the world; on the other hand, they show a clear break from the oil-fuelled surge in military spending of the past decade.

“This volatile economic and political situation creates an uncertain picture for the years to come.”

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