Friday

5th Mar 2021

Nato: Russian hard men not packing much punch

  • Putin posing with biker gang. The PM is cultivating a macho image ahead of next year's changeover of power (Photo: premier.gov.ru)

Russia could fight one small war in the west but not one in the east or two at the same time, a secret Nato analysis of the Kremlin's military capacity says.

"Nato ... concluded that Russian armed forces were: able to respond to a small to mid-sized local and regional conflict in its western region; not able to respond to two small conflicts in different geographical areas simultaneously; not able to conduct large scale conventional operations," the dispatch from the US mission to Nato explains.

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It adds that Russia has "aging and obsolete equipment" and "a manpower shortage."

On a warning note, it says: "[Russia is] still relying on the use of tactical nuclear weapons, even in local or regional conflicts."

The November 2009 memo, published by Norwegian daily Aftenposten and WikiLeaks on Monday (14 February), was written shortly after mass-scale Russian war games in the Baltic region had spooked post-Soviet Nato members.

At the time, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland and Romania complained in an internal paper that Nato should have spoken out against the "disturbing" Russian exercises. Italy said they should not "over-dramatise" things however, and Germany made a legal analysis saying the Russian operations did not break any treaty. The US sat on the fence.

The leak comes in the run-up to Russian presidential elections next year and harms Prime Minister Vladimir Putin's image of Russia as a resurgent superpower.

More gravely, it comes in the context of a renewed conflict with Islamists in Russia's war-torn Chechnya province.

In strategic terms, it points to the vulnerability of Russia's vast Asian lands to China. According to the Stockholm International Peace Institute, Russia in 2009 spent €45 billion on its military, while China spent €73 billion.

Meanwhile, the US spent €489 billion and at least another €80 billion on intelligence.

Two leading US scholars in 2006 published a report in Foreign Affairs magazine saying that Russia's strategic nuclear arsenal is so old that the US could destroy it in a first strike.

Former Soviet republics, such as Lithuania, are more worried about Russia's tactical nuclear arsenal, however.

Items such as "nuclear landmines" - devices the size of a large backpack - can be carried by paratroopers behind enemy lines and can devastate infrastructure or render whole valleys impassable.

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