By James Brooke
After weeks of verbal attacks on the United States, Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin has unveiled a massive new military spending plan.
Putin’s ambitious military shopping list this week includes: 28 new submarines, 50 surface ships, 100 military satellites, 400 new intercontinental ballistic missiles, 600 helicopters, 600 new war planes and 2,300 tanks.
Turning to the subject of Washington’s plan for a missile defense network to protect Europe from a rocket attack by Iran, Putin ominously promised Russia’s response will be “effective and asymmetrical.”
Then, in a meeting with Russian military commanders, he praised the so-called Soviet “atom spies” who stole American nuclear bomb blueprints at the start of the Cold War.
Finally, on Thursday, Defenders of the Fatherland Day, he shouted at a mass meeting of tens of thousands in Moscow: “We will not allow anyone to impose his will on us because we have our own will, which has helped us win at all times!”
Is Russia embarking on a new Cold War? No, Russia holds presidential elections on March 4.
Putin, the leading candidate, wants to lock down the votes of one-quarter-million Russians who work in military defense industries.
One skeptic is Fyodor Lukyanov, editor of Russia in Global Affairs magazine.
“My personal view is that all fantastic figures discussed today, they are absolutely impossible to implement,” Lukyanov said. “Finally, it will seriously cut appetites both for defense industry and social expenditures.”
The new spending plans would double the slice of Russia’s economy devoted to defense – from three percent today to six percent 10 years from now.
Putin seems to be riding to an election victory boosted by Russian oil priced at $125 a barrel – near historic highs, and three times the lows of three years ago.
But many economists warn against excessive military investments by Russia, a country with an aging population similar to that of Western Europe. They say that, if forced to choose between buying tanks and paying pensions, the Kremlin will choose social spending.
Last Fall, excessive military spending provoked Alexei Kudrin to quit after serving for 11 years as Russia’s Finance Minister. He called the military spending plans “completely impossible.”
Many political analysts believe that if Putin is elected president, as expected next month, he may ask Kudrin to return as Prime Minister.
Lukyanov again on the ups and downs of Russia’s oil export dependent economy. “Any economic upheaval, which sooner or later comes, will be used by the government to cut all expenditures. And they will say, sorry we wanted to give it all to you, but unfortunately we can’t anymore. That will happen, definitely,” said Lukyanov,” said Lukyanov.
Conveniently for Russia’s leaders, polls indicate that Americans show no interest in joining an arms race with Russia. Two weeks ago Gallup pollsters asked 1,000 Americans: who is America’s greatest enemy?
Only 2 percent responded: “Russia.”