What to Make of Russian Rearmament?

The new round of NATO expansion has placed Russia on the defensive again. The EU’s flirtations with Belarus are certainly annoying the hardliners in Moscow as well.  From Reuters:

“Attempts to expand the military infrastructure of Nato near the borders of our country are continuing,” Medvedev told an annual meeting with the Defence Ministry’s staff.

Russia has described plans by the previous US administration to grant Nato membership to ex-Soviet Ukraine and Georgia, and to deploy elements of a US missile shield in Eastern Europe, as a direct threat to its national security.

Moscow has said it appreciates US President Barack Obama’s intention to give their ties a fresh start, though Medvedev, who will meet Obama in London on 1 April, has said he expects Washington to match declarations with deeds.

From Al-Jazeera:

Russia has described proposals by Nato to allow Ukraine and Georgia membership to the bloc, and plans by the US to deploy a missile shield in Eastern Europe, as direct threats to its national security.

On the other hand, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov avoided divisive questions that would put a wedge between US and Russian cooperation in Afghanistan in his remarks yesterday.  It seems everyone has jumped on the stick-waving train— Russia, Israel, Iran, North Korea, China, and Madagascar— which increases the incentives for foreign policy acknowledging a multipolar threat scenario.

Russian rearmament needn’t be perceived solely with the Cold War interpretive lens. In fact, there are many possible reasons for Russian rearmament which should be entertained in the current multipolar world, as Russia’s perception of security threats has expanded to include more than “capitalist encirclement”.  A few considerations which might also have played into the decision to rearm:

  • Rearmament has been traditionally used to deal with economic slumps by governments who subscribe to supply-side theories of economics. The US under Reagan and Bush is a classic example.
  • Russia is working on establishing a career military which will make national service appealing and honorable to its citizens. Increasing military spending could be associated with such an endeavor, especially given the Russian forthrightness about modernizing its military.
  • The Russian government seems to be attempting to forge a more cohesive, powerful national history narrative which minimizes the negative effects of historically powerful leaders like Stalin. Such an attempt is consistent with an effort to increase national identity and solidarity in a multipolar world.
  • The EU’s recent actions undermine a Russian bid for great power status, so the Russian government feels the need to continuously reassert its relevance vis-a-vis European states and its neighbors.
  • The Russian government is aware of American desire to build a stronger relationship, so it can afford to rearm without immediate economic or military consequences. The fear of a “slide into hostility” animates the Obama administration’s Russia policy.
  • A generalized declaration of rearmament provides Russia with leverage vis-a-vis the United States and other allies on smaller matters, like the question of Viktor Bout’s extradition and the issue of the Nabucco oil plans which challenge Russia’s own South Steam plans.

The next few weeks will provide a richer context in which to understand the Russian decisions to rearm. In the meantime, everyone should sit back, take a few deep breaths, and maybe read some comics. Like Red Star, for example.

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