By Paul Goble
Even though the GDP of the post-Soviet states – the members of the Commonwealth of Independent States plus Georgia – fell an average of seven percent in 2009, their respective military spending increased five percent in comparison with 2009 and “almost15 percent” in comparison with 2008, “Nezavisimaya gazeta” reports today.
And those figures may in fact understate the arms race in the post-Soviet region, the paper’s military observer Vladimir Mukhin points out, because they “do not take into account the military assistance given to a number of countries from abroad” or support from allies such as that provided by Karabakh to Armenia (www.ng.ru/cis/2010-03-17/1_military.html).
Such military spending means both that the governments in the region have fewer funds to support social programs and that they may enter into a vicious cycle in which increases by one country will lead to increases by others, creating instability and the threat of outbreaks of serious violence.
Given the timing of these increases, it appears that at least some of the governments involved have decided that they must have more serious military forces now that Moscow has violated the taboo on unilaterally using armed force across recognized international borders by its intervention in Georgia in August 2008.
Mukhin surveys the situation across the region. In the southern Caucasus, both Azerbaijan and Armenia have increased military spending significantly, a reflection, the “Nezavisimaya gazeta” writer suggests, of the failure of the Karabakh peace process to make progress.
Georgia, the object of Russia’s attack, saw its GDP fall by “more than a billion dollars” between 2008 and 2009, but nonetheless President Mikhail Saakashvili increased military spending to the point that the Georgian defense budget eats up the largest share of GDP in any post-Soviet state (4.56 percent).
Because of that and because of the military assistance Georgia has received from NATO countries, Mukhin observes, “it is not accidental that the military-political leadership of Russia not long ago concluded that there was the possibility that Georgia would unleash a new military conflict.”
To counter that, Moscow has increased military spending on objects in the breakaway republics of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, even though Russia’s military budget over all actually declined between 2009 and 2010 – the only one of the 12 countries surveyed — when expressed in dollar terms as a result of changing exchange rates.
In Central Asia, Mukhin notes, Uzbekistan continued to have the largest military budget, although Kazakhstan spent nearly as much. Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan spent relatively little, being “the poorest countries in the post-Soviet space,” but their military budgets were boosted by assistance from Russia, China and NATO. Turkmenistan’s spending remained almost flat.
The military budgets of both Moldova and Ukraine are slated to increase, although economic and political turmoil in both places may block that from happening. Ukraine plans to boost its military spending by 5.2 billion US dollars, but Mukhin was skeptical that it would be able to. Belarus meanwhile kept its military spending high even though its GDP fell.
Mukhin appends to his article a table on military expenditures in US dollar amounts of the CIS states and Georgia for the period 2008 to 2010, which shows the percentage of GDP being spent for military purposes and the size and direction of any change year to year in those figures.