Thursday, February 26, 2009

Third One's a Charm

Could a civil war be brewing within the Russian military?

The Russian army gave Putin a battlefield victory over Georgia. But the logic of Russia's poverty and vast territory means that while having enough of an army to pick on weak neighbors is nice to have, Russia can never support an army capable of defending their entire border from a serious ground invasion. Russia needs nuclear weapons to defend themselves and that costs money:

Modernization of Russia's strategic nuclear forces is a top priority for the government, a senior Cabinet official said Wednesday.

Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Ivanov said that upgrading ground, sea and air components of the nation's strategic forces is costly but necessary.

"It's expensive, it's very expensive, but there is no other way," Ivanov told lawmakers in the lower house of parliament. "We will develop and modernize our strategic deterrent forces."

Remember that the Russian army that pounded Georgia (without tactical skill, sure, but they got the job done) was only about a division strong. Yet Russia has manpower and organization made for a mass mobilization that will never happen. So Putin wants to pare that army down as an unnecessary expense. And the army is unhappy:

Revelations of significant unrest in a constituency as symbolically important as the armed forces could give additional impetus to growing popular discontent in Russia.

Military disquiet could become significant in a behind-the-scenes power struggle at the Kremlin, where factional infighting has grown and there is a widening rift between Mr Putin and his one-time protégé, President Dmitry Medvedev.

Resentment within the armed forces is brewing among the oversized commissioned ranks, after the government unveiled plans to trim their numbers by sacking 200,000 officers, including more than 200 generals and 15,000 colonels.

Worryingly for Mr Putin, the officer ranks have powerful supporters in a Kremlin faction dominated by ex-military and intelligence officials.

Nor is the navy happy, which is suffering the usual fate of a land power's navy when times get tough:

Alexander Golts, a leading military analyst, said: "Morale in the navy is very low, particularly in the Pacific fleet. The hazing and acts of cruelty are so unbelievable that a year as a conscript is effectively a year in Hell."

With poverty in the provinces, a military feeling abandoned, and faltering oil prices and economic problems battering the once prosperous center in Moscow, is Russia done shedding provinces? They lost Eastern Europe in the first collapse of the Soviet empire in 1989. They lost the near abroad in the second collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.

Is a third collapse of the Russian empire possible? Could Russia's insane focus on grabbing scraps of the Soviet Union blind them to a looming third collapse among the Russian portions of the empire?

Russia is the sick, angry man of Europe and they have no idea of their peril from within as they search for non-existent NATO plots against them.