Putin’s nuclear brinkmanship betrays his military’s backwardness, Felgenhauer says

The state-of-the art Russian T-14 Armata tank stalled in the middle of the Red Square during a preparation for general rehearsal for the Victory Day military parade, would not restart, and had to be towed. Moscow, Russia, Thursday, May 7, 2015. (AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko)

The state-of-the art Russian T-14 Armata tank stalled in the middle of the Red Square during a preparation for general rehearsal for the Victory Day military parade, would not restart, and had to be towed. Moscow, Russia, Thursday, May 7, 2015. (AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko) 

Analysis & Opinion, Military analysis, Russia

Vladimir Putin has revived nuclear brinkmanship as a method of statecraft because the Russian military is so far behind the level of NATO forces, according to Pavel Felgenhauer. In fact, in any clash between the two, the Russian military would suffer a fate like the Zulus did when they were confronted with the British army.

Pavel Felgenhauer

Pavel Felgenhauer, Russian military analyst

In an interview with Ekho Rossiyi, the independent Russian military analyst provides a devastating portrait of the gap between Putin’s pretensions and Russian military capabilities, a gap that he suggests is so wide that Moscow has no hopes of narrowing it anytime soon. Indeed, it may even grow with time.

No one knows for certain the state of Russia’s nuclear arsenal and there is no safe way to find out, he continues. But with regard to Russia’s conventional arms, the verdict is clear.

“Moscow simply does not have the technological base needed for the creation of a contemporary army and under conditions of sanctions, the situation has become practically hopeless.”

Clear evidence for that, Felgenhauer says, is to be found in the Donbas where Russian forces are “fighting in the same way they did 50 years ago.”

“Typically, when a clash occurs between a contemporary army and a backward one, this looks like the confrontation of the Spanish with the Indians or the Zulus with their spears against the English with their guns.” Numbers don’t matter as much, Felgenhauer points out, and says that “the gigantic army of Saddam Hussein” suffered a rapid defeat because of its backwardness.

Many talk about Putin’s hybrid wars as if it were an innovation, but in fact, Soviet and Russian forces have used it before. Where there is no resistance as in Crimea, it works; but where there is resistance, it quickly bogs down. Even in Crimea, the Russian forces were armed like something from the past.

A few special forces operatives in Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB) have contemporary arms, all of it purchased from abroad in small quantities; but the Russian military as a whole doesn’t have such arms at any level. Its tanks aren’t modern, its air force is not all-weather capable, and it lacks both radar system and GPS locators, on which modern combat depends, Felgenhauer says.

Even Russian drones, produced on the basis of an Israeli license, are not the most advanced. “Many countries around the world have them, including Georgia during the 2008 war.” And it doesn’t have the three-dimensional printers that all advanced militaries now use to plot the battlefield. Nor does it have the reconnaissance satellites the US uses.

Until the Western sanctions regime was introduced, Moscow had been purchasing 1.5 to 2.0 billion US dollars of military equipment from the United States in an effort to modernize its military, Felgenhauer points out; but since then, Moscow has not been able to purchase these things from the US or find alternative sources.

As far as current conflicts are concerned, the independent analyst says, the “proxy” war in Ukraine will be dragged out with an escalation likely at the end of this spring or the beginning of summer. Russia will do whatever it can to ensure that Ukraine remains trapped in a conflict whatever the Kremlin says.

Long term, there is likely to be a conflict with China in Central Asia in the Fergana Valley. “The catalyst” for such a conflict, Felgenhauer says, “could be the death of [Uzbekistan President] Islam Karimov who does not have [obvious] heirs.” Opposing any successor will be the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan “which is today a branch of ISIS and an extremely serious and underrated threat.”

Edited by: A. N.

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  • danram

    This makes the timidity of Obama, Merkel et al in forcefully confronting Putin’s aggression even more baffling and unforgivable. Putin knows full well that in a real fight with NATO he would lose and lose badly. So do his generals. So why are we acting like we’re so afraid of Russia? It should be Russia who’s afraid of us!

    • Quartermaster

      The Euro and US leftist is basically a coward. Germany is more interested in selling stuff, and has even violated sanction regimes in the past to do so (materials needed by Saddam Hussein’s nuclear program were often intercepted and most of it was made in, or channeled through Germany). Ukraine is willing to fight for itself, but she needs to modern weapons required to do so. The west has a chance to see its weaponry tried under combat conditions, and it is stupid not to arm Ukraine so she can defend herself. Even without them, Ukraine has managed to delay, or even stop, the Russian Army in the Donbas.
      I’m hoping the US gets a President next January that has the courage to help Ukraine, and that it won’t be too late.

      • Dagwood Bumstead

        Putin will be forced to take action sooner rather than later. Money is running out- Finance Minister Siluanov stated in the Duma in December that Dwarfstan’s Reserve Funds will be empty by the end of 2016. He can afford neither continuation in Syria nor stalemate in the Donbas, nor can he afford to generously subsidize Transnistria, South Ossetia, Abkhazia and the Crimea for very much longer. There’s no cash to speak of for the Donbas, but he has to support the costs of the so-called LNR and DNR, pay pensions there etc etc.

        Since it’s not in the dwarf’s nature to back down, even if it would be the most sensible thing to do, and the stalemate is draining the Dwarfstan Treasury, he can only advance, i.e. attack- Belarus is the most likely target for several reasons.

        • Quartermaster

          Attacking Belarus would simply magnify his problems and accelerate the drain on the Russian treasury. Still, I don’t put it past him.

          • Mikronos

            An attack on Belarus is supposed to do what? Warn the west? Feint the Estonians? Show the world he’s nuts/ not kidding/supermacho?

            Attacking the loonies in Kyiv would accomplish the same purpose if he could goad them into another ‘tooth breaking offensive’ with a ‘massacre’ in the Donbass.

            Putin could exercise his UN-inspired ‘duty to protect’, just as Obama is doing in Iraq, Syria and Libya.

          • Quartermaster

            Hogwash! You need to talk to little Putin. He’s given Lukashenko cause to be concerned. Putin has acted stupidly time and again. He’s doing his country no good, and has set them on the same path Stalin set the Soviet union on.

            Russia is already making noises about fighting again in the Donbas.

          • Mikronos

            Which path did Stalin set the Soviet Union on? Industrialization? Electrification? Mass medicine and education? Modernization? Improved transportation?

            If you’re thinking war, conquest and ’empire’ – those were the neighbours’ ideas and Russia was in their gunsights. The gunsights are back on Russia.

          • Quartermaster

            You seem to have forgotten how the Soviet Union ended. Stalin set that up. Putin is setting up a similar end for himself and his country. The only “gunsights” on Russia is Putin’s and those of his mafia friends.

    • Czech Mate

      I would even go as far as thinking Obama possibly Merkel did have solid evidence of Russian soldiers in Ukraine but were intimidated into scrapping them or simply too afraid to call his lies as to not stir the “confrontation”.

      And we know Putin’s house of cards definately collapsed last November in Turkey after downing Rus jet. After all his bluster and nuke blackmail he responded… by “embargo”.

      • Dagwood Bumstead

        Merkel, as ex-DDR auxiliary secret agent for the Stasi (code name IM Erika), could well be vulnerable to blackmail by the dwarf. It’s not unlikely that the KGB received copies of the Stasi’s files. Both Merkel’s Stasi file and her father’s have been placed under embargo in Germany- why, if she has nothing to hide? If the dwarf has a copy, what’s in it that he could use against her?
        She has been batting for the dwarf since Day 1, preventing sanctions after Georgia was invaded in 2008, doing her best to prevent, delay and/or minimize sanctions after the dwarf’s aggression in the Ukraine started, betraying the Ukraine at Minsk. And her insane migrant policy, opening Germany’s doors to all, is destabilizing both EU and Germany itself- all to the dwarf’s advantage.

      • Mikronos

        You missed the recent visit of Erdogan to Moscow? That gas pipeline through Turkey to the Balkans could be back on the stove.

    • Mikronos

      When the nukes start flying all that fear won’t matter any more. To anybody.

      Which begs the question, why even try to save an idiot who doesn’t want to be saved? Especially if it would degenerate into an ICBM launching competition.

      And it would – all the war studies say so. .

  • Mikronos

    The Americans, who should know about these things, are complaining that the forces deployed to the Baltics and Poland wouldn’t be able to hold back a serious Russian attack. Hence the discussion about France, Germany and some of the others not ‘pulling their NATO weight’.

    And then there’s another discussion, about risking a nuclear conflagration in Europe and/or North America over Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania or, even, Poland.

    Recalling that the current situation is the result of some level of stupidity in Kyiv, the western world wonders just what is worth it?

  • Mikronos

    Eric Margolis is far more sensible, and realistic.