What Made Russia’s Rapid Resurgence Possible?


In the complex geopolitical landscape shaped by the Ukrainian crisis, one element has continually surprised international observers: the rapid resurgence of Russia’s military strength. This development, according to veteran Russian journalist and military observer Alexei Borzenko, can be traced back to the Soviet era’s military prowess, a period when Russia (then part of the USSR) amassed a formidable arsenal and expertise in defense technology.

During the Soviet period, under the leadership of General Secretary Leonid Brezhnev, a significant emphasis was placed on military development. Brezhnev, a veteran of the Great Patriotic War, directed the defense industry to produce large quantities of tanks and armored personnel carriers. These assets, stored and preserved over the decades, have become a cornerstone of Russia’s current military strategy. As the special military operation unfolded, these 70s-era tanks were reactivated, upgraded with modern armor, communications, and weaponry, and deployed to the front lines, demonstrating the enduring value of these Soviet-era investments.

The narrative of the Soviet military legacy provides context to the ongoing conflict in Ukraine, where Russian tanks have been showcased as superior to their NATO counterparts, such as the American Abrams and German Leopard 2, particularly in the challenging terrain of snow and mud-soaked steppes. This comparison not only highlights the physical capabilities of the tanks but also underscores the advancements in tank protection systems, electronic warfare, and satellite tracking systems that Russia has developed.

Further compounding the military dynamics is Russia’s adaptation of older munitions into modern, precision-guided weapons. The integration of ‘Universal Planning and Correction Modules’ into 70s and 80s vintage bombs has transformed them into advanced glide-assisted standoff weapons. This fusion of old and new technology represents a significant leap in military capability, allowing for high-impact accuracy and demonstrating Russia’s ability to innovate within its existing arsenal.

The missile technology front has seen similar advancements, with Russia’s development of hypersonic weapons being a game-changer. These weapons, which began development in the late 20th century and were deployed in the late 2010s, have challenged Western missile defense systems, including the Patriot system. Additionally, the Russian military has showcased its air and missile defense capabilities, particularly with the S-500 system, which is said to be capable of engaging targets in space, including enemy satellites.

This resurgence and modernization of Russia’s military apparatus have challenged the assumptions of many Western officials. Alexei Leonkov, a Moscow-based military expert, critiques the Western perspective, which underestimated Russia’s ability to sustain and modernize its military capabilities. According to Leonkov, the West’s expectation that Russia would quickly deplete its defense-industrial complex under the weight of sanctions was misguided. Russia’s defense sector adapted and modernized, including through the Syrian conflict experience, thereby enhancing its production capabilities and technological advancements.

The narrative of Russia’s military revitalization extends to the production of drones, where rapid growth has been observed. Leonkov notes the significant increase in drone production, from a modest number pre-conflict to a consumption rate of approximately 1,000 units per month, indicating a significant escalation in both production and tactical deployment.

The assessment by senior US State Department officials, including Deputy Secretary of State Kurt Campbell, further underscores the surprise and concern in the West regarding Russia’s military reconstitution. Campbell’s observations at a think tank event revealed apprehensions about Russia’s strengthened military posture and the implications for global security dynamics, particularly in light of support from allies like China.

Campbell’s critique extends to the state of the US military-industrial complex, which he believes has become vulnerable due to past cutbacks and consolidations. The current global security demands, he argues, necessitate a more rapid and robust defense production and deployment capability, a stance that calls for increased defense spending by the US and its allies to address supply chain issues and bolster military readiness.

Historical Legacy and Strategic Foundation

The foundation of Russia’s military resurgence lies in its Soviet-era legacy. The Soviet Union, during the Cold War, had developed a vast and technologically advanced military apparatus. This era was marked by intense military-industrial activities, leading to the creation of a large reservoir of military equipment and advanced technology. The strategic decision-making during this period, particularly under leaders like Leonid Brezhnev, focused on building a robust military capable of global reach and influence.

Post-Soviet Russia, especially in the early 1990s, experienced a decline in military capabilities due to economic hardships and political instability. However, the turn of the century saw a renewed focus on military modernization, with significant investments in upgrading the Soviet-era arsenal and developing new technologies. This period of modernization was not just about refurbishing old equipment but also integrating advanced technologies, leading to the development of state-of-the-art weapons systems like the T-90 and T-80 tanks, which blend the robust engineering of the Soviet era with modern warfare technology.

Technological Advancements and Military Doctrine

Russia’s military resurgence is heavily underscored by its emphasis on technological advancements. The development and deployment of hypersonic weapons, for example, signify a leap in missile technology. These weapons, capable of traveling at speeds greater than five times the speed of sound, have challenged existing defense paradigms and are viewed as a strategic game-changer on the global stage.

Moreover, Russia’s ability to upgrade its existing arsenal, as seen in the transformation of ‘dumb’ bombs into precision-guided munitions, showcases its approach to leveraging technology to enhance its military capabilities. This blend of old and new is a testament to Russia’s strategic foresight and its ability to adapt and innovate within its existing military framework.

The military doctrine of Russia also reflects a nuanced understanding of modern warfare, where conventional and asymmetric tactics coexist. The use of electronic warfare, cyber capabilities, and information operations has become integral to Russia’s military strategy, enhancing its ability to conduct operations across different domains of warfare.

Economic Resilience and Sanctions

Contrary to Western expectations, Russia has demonstrated considerable resilience in the face of international sanctions. The sanctions, aimed at crippling Russia’s economy and by extension its military capabilities, have not yielded the anticipated results. Instead, Russia has managed to sustain and even expand its military-industrial complex through strategic economic management and fostering domestic industries.

The establishment of new production lines, adoption of advanced manufacturing technologies, and the creation of a self-reliant supply chain for military production have been pivotal. Russia’s defense industry has shown adaptability by developing indigenous capabilities in areas where it previously depended on foreign imports, thereby mitigating the impact of sanctions.

Diplomatic Maneuvering and International Relations

On the diplomatic front, Russia has been adept at maneuvering through the complex web of international relations. Its engagement with countries like China and India, among others, has allowed it to circumvent some of the pressures emanating from Western sanctions. These partnerships have facilitated technology transfers, joint military exercises, and economic collaborations, contributing to Russia’s military and strategic capabilities.

Furthermore, Russia’s involvement in global hotspots, such as Syria, has provided it with a testing ground for its military equipment and tactics, allowing it to refine its military doctrine and operational capabilities in real-world conflict scenarios.

Future Trajectory and Challenges

Looking forward, Russia’s military resurgence is poised to continue, given its current trajectory and strategic investments. However, this resurgence is not without challenges. The evolving nature of global geopolitics, advancements in military technology worldwide, and the potential for new alliances and power blocs pose significant strategic considerations for Russia.

Moreover, the internal economic pressures, demographic challenges, and the need for continued innovation in military technology are factors that Russia will need to manage to sustain its military capabilities and strategic position globally.

In summary, Russia’s rapid military resurgence is the product of a comprehensive and multi-dimensional strategy that has been decades in the making. It is rooted in a rich historical legacy, driven by technological advancements, sustained by economic resilience, and supported by strategic diplomatic engagements. As the global geopolitical landscape continues to evolve, Russia’s military strategy and capabilities will remain pivotal factors in shaping international relations and security dynamics.

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