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The relevant rankings should deal not with weapons but rather with the instruments of war available to the Russian government.


The Internet is awash with speculations on "what kind of Russian weapons NATO should be afraid of". It would be safe to assume that at least some of these speculations were launched by the Russian media. Meanwhile, here we see an obvious manipulation with information. It is clear that the Yars nuclear warhead armed missile can cause enormous havoc - if it is able to overcome the missile defense obstacles and reach its target. But what are the chances? The Su-34 is indeed a good aircraft, but carrying last century’s FAB-250/270 weapons under its wings, it can hardly do the combat missions that are supposed to be done by a 4+ generation aircraft, which the Su-34 is claimed to be. Since rankings of all kinds invariably arouse interest, let us take a deeper insight into the question, "What precisely should be afraid of?"

Here one should recall what the Russian propaganda, just like did the Soviet propaganda, opts not to speak about – that the majority of both Soviet and Russian technological achievements were developed based on Western technologies. Most of the technology products produced in the USSR - from the GAZ-AA truck to a nuclear bomb – were actually follow-on developments based on Western technology. Indeed, there were lots of technologies developed domestically by the USSR (usually to the detriment of the mass consumer), but basically the post-Soviet technological base currently used for the production of Russian weapons systems has been at least two generations behind and is being superseded by Western technologies.

The relevant ranking should therefore deal not with weapons but rather with the instruments of war available to the Russian government (with the reservation that it is not just NATO alone but the whole world that should be afraid of them). Here, we note that the placement of the instruments of war on the ranking list below is rather arbitrary and can be repositioned up and down depending on the foreign policy situation and the mood of the Kremlin.


1. Means of a nuclear attack, first and foremost their tactical component rather than strategic component. We don’t think the world should be afraid of Russia using the strategic component, because all such means are accurately accounted for and controlled at all times. So any intercontinental ballistic missile or strategic bomber will be detected immediately after launch and destroyed even before it reaches its target. But things are far worse with tactical nuclear weapons (TNWs), which are barely ever seriously accounted for, even as they, despite their name, have a strategic nature, especially in the current environment. In 1999, the Russian government opted to place a premium on the modernization and growth of its tactical nuclear capabilities, considering a significant advantage in conventional forces that NATO had won and still retains. In 2009, Russia was considering the possibility of the first use of tactical nuclear weapons to tackle regional war and conflicts on its borders (just like those in Syria and Ukraine). However, in the latest editions of Russia’s National Security Strategy, released in 2010 and 2014, this option is narrowed to a critical situation where the very existence of the Russian Federation would be at risk. The question arises whether or not the Russian leadership is going to stick to the spirit of its own military doctrine, especially as it itself poses a threat "to the very existence of the Russian Federation."

Фото: topwar.ruФото: topwar.ru

The Russian Federation, by varying estimates up and down, currently possesses between 1,000 and 6,000 tactical nuclear warheads. Precise data is not available, but the balance is clearly in favor of Russia’s side. According to generally accepted estimates of the Russian tactical nuclear arsenal, the country has 170 warheads deployed on land platforms, 430 warheads on SAM systems, 730 warheads on fighter bomber platforms, and 700 warheads mounted on platforms based at sea. Other estimates give the numbers at 1,000 warheads, including up to 210 warheads mounted on ground platforms, up to 166 warheads on SAM systems, 334 warheads on fighter-bomber platforms, and 330 warheads on sea-launched missiles.

 Here it should also be noted that the Russian military has recently complemented its arsenal of “conventional” nuclear weapons with "unconventional" types that were developed and added in violation of Russia’s obligations under international treaties, such as the Missile Technology Control Regime. We are talking about the cruise missile R-500. This is intended to be launched from the Iskander-K short-range ballistic missile system to engage targets out to 2,000 km. Some reports have it that these systems may have already been deployed to the [Russian annexed] Crimean Peninsula and Kaliningrad Region, and potentially can be used effectively against US missile defenses in Europe. There is no data available on the precise numbers, nor there are verified accounts of the Kremlin having such weapons in its nuclear arsenal, but this factor has long been present in the strategic dialogue between the United States and Russia.


This statistics doesn’t include data on the Russian inventory of tactical nuclear bombs, which can well show up alongside “polite people” in the Middle East, for example, or any other location seen by Russia as belonging to its “sphere of influence."

Фото: setwalls.ruPhoto: setwalls.ru

2. Special Operations Forces (SOF), and especially their capabilities for stealthy delivery of tactical nuclear weapons to remote locations worldwide, will be the next most dangerous threat. There are serious preconditions and, more importantly, the capabilities for their use in the former USSR and Warsaw Pact countries that are now members of the EU and NATO, as well as countries with sufficiently strong right-wing movements funded by Russia, and, finally, in countries traditionally oriented to the USSR/Russia, such as Syria, for example. Rough estimates give the number of SOF personnel as up to 60,000, and this is not inclusive of special operations forces attached to other federal agencies such as the Ministry of Interior, the Federal Security Service, the Federal Penitentiary Service, the Foreign Intelligence Service, and the Federal Drug Control Service. Here it should be noted that up to 90% of the SOF personnel have gained combat experience in East Ukraine, Syria and other theaters. The arsenal of the means available to the SOF is wide, ranging from the organization of bloodless revolutions in foreign countries with support from a minority group (as in the case with Crimea), staging civil unrest and instigating armed conflict (as was the case in East Ukraine), and up to the use of tactical nuclear weapons as it may be the case somewhere else.


 Here it must be emphasized that the Kremlin considers the SOF as the chief instrument for achieving its foreign policy objectives by "hybrid" methods and for implementing Putin's strategy.

3. The means of media strategic-level influence are one of the most powerful, effective and expensive tools available to the Kremlin.

At the time when offensive nuclear weapons are collecting dust in positions and stockpiles, tens of thousands of “all-out bombardments” with large and small "information weapons and missiles” take place every minute against Russia’s potential adversaries, affecting their victims in various parts of the globe.

Фото: politklubok.ru/blogФото: politklubok.ru/blog

Among the means of media strategic-level influence there is an expansive network of media outlets, both state-owned and non-state (but funded, directly or indirectly, from the pocket of the Russian taxpayers). Experts estimate that the Kremlin might spend some USD 2.6 billion per year on its mass media-assisted propaganda campaigns.

Another important instrument of influence are all kinds of institutions tasked to wield indirect media influence on people in foreign countries. These comprise a ramified network of international offices of the Federal Agency for Commonwealth of Independent States, Compatriots Living Abroad and International Humanitarian Cooperation (Rossotrudnichestvo). The Kremlin exploits Rossotrudnichestvo and its expansive international network of so-called “Russian centers of science and culture” for dealing not just with “cultural and scientific” programs, but also with its "fifth column" -- a potential area of focus for SOF operations. Rossotrudnichestvo has an annual budget of about RUR 10 billion.

Alongside this, a great effort is being done to shape a favorable public, political and business climates in foreign countries – using the institutions of civil society funded through government foundations acting under the guise of non-governmental organizations. The chief of these are:

- Russian World Foundation, a public organization with an annual budget of RUR 750 million plus some RUR 10 million (USD 15.2 million) in funding for the Russian World’s online TV and radio stations;

- Gorchakov Foundation for Public Diplomacy, a non-governmental organization with an annual budget of RUR 55 million (USD 1.1 million). The mission of the organization is to improve Russia’s image in the international arena;

- Russian Council on Foreign Affairs, a non-profit organization with an annual budget of approximately USD 5 million;

- Historical Perspective Foundation, a non-governmental organization created for funding the Institute of Democracy and Cooperation, a think-tank with offices in Moscow, Paris and New York. The organization has an annual budget of approximately USD 3 million.


Moscow annually spends about USD 400 million on these and similar organizations.

Фото: newobserveronline.comФото: newobserveronline.com

Among the instruments of media strategic-level influence, the Kremlin is placing a special emphasis on the means of influence on foreign audiences through nationalist and extreme radical parties. Front National in France, UKIP and BNP  in the United Kingdom, AfD in Germany, Jobbik in Hungary, Latvijas Krievu savieniba in Latvia, Ataka in Bulgaria and Forza Italia in Italy are just few of the long list of those parties the Kremlin is using in pursuit of its interests. Many of the aforementioned political parties have their elected representatives in the national and European parliaments. The Kremlin provides funding not just for the parties’ everyday activities and election campaigns, but also for their affiliated media outlets (newspapers, TV).

This kind of support is roughly estimated to cost the Kremlin at least USD 200 million every year.

To expand its influence, Moscow has widely exploited computer software and web-based instruments. Russian social networks "Odnoklassniki” (“Classmates), "VKontakte" and "My World", Mail.Ru services, the organization of online trolling campaigns and subject-specific posts in social networks, support for projects such as "CyberBerkut" and "Kaspersky Lab" are not an exhaustive list of instruments of this kind, which altogether cost the Russian budget about USD 130 million per year.


Beyond that, the Kremlin makes extensive use of public opinion instruments. These include the Russian Public Opinion Research Center (VTsIOM), the research agency "Eurasian Monitor", the Public Opinion Foundation, the "Levada-Centre" think-tank and similar organizations. Experts estimate that the Kremlin may spend up to USD 100 million per year on contracted opinion polls and maintenance of its controlled polling agencies. 

Фото: yaplakal.comФото: yaplakal.com

4. Russian Airborne Forces (VDV) have not yet been found on any of such rankings ever released. And how wrong it is, because this branch of service is offensive in nature. On March 31, 2015, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said that the Russian Ministry of Defense is developing a concept that deals with the VDV as a rapid reaction force. Airborne troops will be used to form the backbone of new Russian rapid reaction forces in the coming years, VDV Commander Colonel General Vladimir Shamanov said in a TASS interview on May 30, 2015. "There is a plan to create Russian rapid reaction forces based on the VDV. The new forces are supposed to be able to maintain operations both as a self-sufficient unit and as a part of the land force on a separate attack axis”, he said.


It should be noted in this context that the Airborne Forces are supposed to come into the game from two to four weeks after the SOF begins a clandestine operation to create a proper environment by acting under the guise of members of opposition movements, refugees, expatriates etc (this list can be extended to infinity).

5. Finally, the so-called Peacekeeping Forces of the Russian Federation should be another reason for concern of the global community.

The 589th Independent Guards Motor Rifle Regiment, notoriously renowned for its part in “peacemaking operations” in Georgia’s Abkhazia and Moldova’s Transnistria, was reorganized into the 15th Independent Guards Motor Rifle Brigade (IGMRBr) of the Russian Peacekeeping Forces in 2005, with a home base in Roshchinskoye, 35 km of Samara.

Фото: mil.ruФото: mil.ru

The Brigade is composed of three motor rifle battalions and an ISR battalion, in addition to combat support, service support and logistics units with a total personnel strength of over 2,000. 

The Brigade is manned mostly by professional soldiers and equipped with high-tech armaments and military vehicles.

In 2014, personnel of the 15th IGMRBr were found present in Crimea and in Russian regions bordering on Ukraine.

A 2,000-strong peacekeeping force was found insufficient by Moscow. As Russian aggression was gaining momentum in Eastern Ukraine, the Russian government decided to increase the strength of its “peacekeeping" force by integrating regular units of the Air Forces. Five peacekeeping battalions (one in each of the 76th and 7th Air Assault Divisions, the 98th and 106th Airborne Divisions, and the 56th Independent Air Assault Division) had been organized by mid-August 2014 alongside the 31st Independent Air Assault Brigade, thus bringing the total to 7,000 peacekeeping personnel.

These "peacekeeping forces" were used to cover up and divert attention away from regular Russian military units assisting in operations to besiege Ukrainian government forces in pockets outside the towns of Izvaryne, Ilovaisk and Debaltseve, and they are used now to wield more pressure on Kiev. With this in mind, the strategists in NATO and other countries, especially those neighboring Russia, would be well advised to think about, “What types of tasks are supposed to be done by an advanced, state-of-the-art 7,000-strong peacekeeping force manned mostly by soldiers with previous combat deployments to Chechnya, Donbas and Syria?”


Valerii RIABYKH, Defense Express

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