Russia To Upgrade Military Forces
RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
The United States says it wants to press the reset on its badly strained relations with Russia, and President Obama hopes to do just that when he meets Russian President Dmitry Medvedev in two weeks. That goal got a little harder yesterday. Medvedev said Russia's military will undergo a large-scale rearming. He says that's because NATO is threatening his country's borders. NPR's Moscow correspondent Gregory Feifer joins us to discuss the announcement.
GREGORY FEIFER: Hi, Renee.
MONTAGNE: What exactly does rearming involve?
FEIFER: Well, Medvedev said that Russia would increase its military readiness, which means new tanks and guns. But he also said Russia would boost its strategic nuclear forces. That means more intercontinental ballistic missiles, both land and submarine based. As you said, Medvedev said the military is forced to act because of the threat of NATO expansion toward Russia's borders. He also said that there was a threat of regional crises and international terrorism.
But it's important to remember that Russia has been planning to reform its military for years now. That's something that military analysts say is an almost impossible task. The military is very poorly equipped and very poorly disciplined, and its officers are also very resistant to reform.
I should say last month that a report said that a third of all Russia's 650 fighter jets are unable even to take off and should be written off.
MONTAGNE: Yeah. And beyond that, Russia has been hit hard by this global financial crisis. How can it even afford to rearm its military?
FEIFER: Well, that's right. Last year, Russia was riding high on record high oil prices. And that's when its military staged the first parade on Red Square with tanks and missiles since the fall of communism. Then last summer, of course, Russia invaded its neighbor Georgia. That was seen as a big victory here. But the government says it also exposed huge problems with discipline and equipment. And it showed that the army desperately needs reform.
Of course, since then, the stock market has lost more than 75 percent of its value and plunging oil prices are just crippling the economy. Now Medvedev yesterday said that orders to the military industrial complex will stimulate the economy. But in any case, the rearming isn't meant to start until the 2011. And that's two years from now, presumably after the crisis. So many are taking this announcement as more saber rattling from the Kremlin.
MONTAGNE: Yeah, Greg, back to that meeting the two presidents will have in London, and that'll be during the April gathering of the G20. How will all of this - or this announcement affect that?
FEIFER: Well, I mean, this is an old pattern. Washington has been looking for conciliatory signals from Russia since Mr. Obama took office. Now Medvedev and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, who most Russians believe still runs Russia, have said they want better relations with the U.S., but that the onus is on Washington to change its policies.
At the same time, Moscow has recently taken a series of confrontational actions. Last month, it pressured the central Asian country of Kyrgyzstan to close a U.S. airbase supplying troops in Afghanistan. So many believe that the latest military plans are part of Moscow's bluster.
The biggest hope for the Obama administration now is for a new nuclear arms deal this year with Russia. Moscow says it wants a deal, too, but it keeps raising its demands, and as we saw yesterday, issuing new promises to build new missiles.
MONTAGNE: Speaking from Moscow, NPR's Gregory Feifer. Thanks very much.
FEIFER: Thank you.
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