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Advantage: Russia
Russia’s Military Prowess Surprises Western Analysts

Russian air and missile strikes in Syria over the past two weeks have surprised military analysts, who did not appreciate Russia’s sophisticated capabilities, according to the New York Times:

Taken together, the operations reflect what officials and analysts described as a little-noticed — and still incomplete — modernization that has been underway in Russia for several years, despite strains on the country’s budget. And that, as with Russia’s intervention in neighboring Ukraine, has raised alarms in the West.

In a report this month for the European Council on Foreign Relations, Gustav Gressel argued that Mr. Putin had overseen the most rapid transformation of the country’s armed forces since the 1930s. “Russia is now a military power that could overwhelm any of its neighbors, if they were isolated from Western support,” wrote Mr. Gressel, a former officer of the Austrian military.

The capabilities on display in Syria are surely sending shudders up Eastern European spines, but Washington should worry too. Although the United States remains a far more powerful military power than Russia, the speed with which Russia has managed to significantly upgrade its military equipment indicates the perils of resting on one’s laurels in an age full of rapidly-developing high technology. Armchair analysts who pooh-poohed the Pentagon budget cuts created by sequestration ought to revisit their arguments.

A greater worry: if Russia is startling us with its military might, how much might we be underestimating China?

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  • Andrew Allison

    Given the obvious failure of the Pentagon to anticipate, among other many things, the Russian modernisation, why should we give them more money? What’s needed is a major house-cleaning of a moribund military establishment..

    • Jim__L

      Or at least clean out the social engineering sycophants the Obama administration put in to shove his policies down the military’s throat.

      • ukko

        Wow, someone who actually sees the problem! Obama!

    • WalterHorsting

      you need to get rid of Obama and hire back many of the generals he dismissed.

  • Anthony

    “…if Russia is startling us with its military might, how might we be underestimating China?” The glare of power bothers people. Power is neither created nor destroyed; it is only transformed or transferred – if you’re in the power business, grab more from those with more as you grab less from those with less. But, certainly counter-grab from those who grab from you. Russia and China understand certainly.

  • f1b0nacc1

    Let me see if I get this straight….
    1) The Russians have deployed some new weapons.
    The SU-34 has been around for almost 15 years (in limited numbers), and there are a total of 4 of them in Syria. This is hardly a huge leap forward, and it would have been far more significant if they had NOT deployed any of them. As for the missiles, these are hardly anything new (while these particular systems haven’t been deployed very long, they are simply an evolution of what has been in the Russian arsenal for decades), and their rather poor performance (at least 4 crashed on the way, and the accuracy of those that didn’t crash is questionable) isn’t a reason for optimism. The anti-aircraft systems are all at least 10 years old, some older, and have been deployed in military hotspots all over the world. In point of fact most of what was deployed in Syria isn’t even new for Syria, much less for Russian forces. One important point that seems to have eluded the NY Times (big surprise) is that the overwhelming majority of the aircraft in Syria right now are either Su-24s and Su-25s, both of which date back to the early 1980s. These are hardly ‘new, improved’ Russian forces, just modestly refurbished ones.
    2) Russian troops seemed to be competent.
    I should hope so. We are talking about a very small fighting force (a largish company at best), along with a mixed group of support troops and the usual camp followers. Even being generous, we are talking about a TOTAL force size of about a battalion or so, which represents very little. Any military on Earth can field a group of good soldiers that size, and it is almost inconceivable that if the Russians were going to send troops out on such a PR-centric operation, they would send good ones. Spetsnaz troops are typically well-trained, well-equipped, and well-motivated…we should expect no less. If they were anything else, THAT would be news worth noting.
    3) Russian could overwhelm their neighbors, IF they were isolated from Western support.
    This comment is so obvious that it is difficult to imagine why anyone would consider it to be worth mentioning.
    The Russians are using helicopters (mostly Mi-24s), and Cold-war vintage aircraft dropping unguided bombs on poorly organized troops with very little in the way of anti-aircraft weapons. They are likely to lose more troops to accidents and the clap then they are to combat…though I suspect the Iranians (who will be doing more in the way of real fighting) are likely to have a different story to tell.
    The Russian military is if anything in worse shape than it was 5-10 years ago, and that is saying something.

    • Jim__L

      Weakness in isolation from Western support is worth mentioning not because it’s not obvious to people who care about such things, but because it’s not obvious to people who *don’t* care about such things.

      (Hm. Too many negatives there. I think you can see what I’m getting at though.)

      Isolationism on the part of the US is a real danger, under this administration. I’m happy that VM is raising the alarm here, while the problem is still minor enough to correct.

  • Jacksonian_Libertarian

    Logistics is still the King of Strategies for military success. The fighting in Syria is of unopposed aircraft and missiles targeting insurgents who generally have no defenses against such attacks. Also, this is a very small action using a handful of aircraft and missiles so as not to severely deplete Russia’s stockpile. A war with a western power, not to mention the US, would see Russian supplies as inadequate, and their equipment mostly ineffective. The question of China is also that of Logistics, as China is extremely vulnerable to a blockade, which would shut down their economy and cut off supplies of materials like oil 60% of which is imported. At this time Russian military equipment is inferior to western arms, and China’s is all derivative of Russian equipment which they have stolen (not developed on their own). It needs to also be mentioned that Russian and Chinese militaries are inflexible with their servicemen expected to not think but just follow orders. Unlike Western militaries, that encourage their servicemen to overcome and adapt, to take advantage of targets of opportunity, to accomplish the mission however they can, and not to blindly follow orders that cannot anticipate the swiftly changing situations of combat.

    • Wulver

      These western militaries you speak of seem to have missed countless opportunities to destroy the Daesh terrorists they have been bombing for well over a year in Syria and Iraq. They did do a thorough job of bombing the hospital in Afghanistan however.

      • Albert8184

        But…. our failure isn’t from lack of capability. It’s from a lack of resolve and perhaps outright treachery on the part of the commander in chief. The US pilots themselves complain that they are bombing pointless targets and are only pretending to be waging an air war. I believe Putin is seriously pursuing Syrian enemies. And I believe his resolve will make up for any lack of hardware. He may not win though, because that inflexibility of action the OP mentioned is a real handicap for Russian forces. Especially in a guerilla war against fanatics

        • Wulver

          Your problems are far more dangerous than the Russians. You’ve allowed agents of a foreign state to buy off your entire political system.

          “The enemy is within the gates; it is with our own luxury, our own folly, our own criminality that we have to contend”

          Marcus Tullius Cicero

          • Albert8184

            Well, if you want to expand the conversation that’s okay. I think the Cicero quote is highly applicable to your point. But I disagree in that, it isn’t the fact we’ve been co-opted by foreign states. It’s the fact that our political system has been corrupted by internal traitors over the past 100 years, and WE are now the foreigners who corrupt the rest of the world, or destroy those who won’t go along. The Internationalist Bankers didn’t “buy off” the political system. Congress offered itself for sale through the federal reserve system – whereby extravagant spending by self-interested politicians was made possible and became the norm for 50 years now. The reserve launders the inflated currency into the global economy and manages the treasuries ponzi scheme on behalf of Congress, in exchange for a profit of 6 percent interest APR on the national debt, with 10 percent of that annual amount paid in gold, silver or other… to the international side.

            Cicero’s words are perfect for America. The criminality is unprecedented in all of human history. Americans have no idea at all the amount of hatred coming at them in the future. All it will take is one guy like Hitler who decides to use America as the new “Jewish Menace” needing a “Final Solution”. And of course, it will all be painted as “The Capitalist System Exposed”.

    • Z’ing Sui

      Agree on the point about the logistics, but consider any of the recent large Russian exercises – they’re all about that. They take a force in the tens of thousands, with hundreds of pieces of armor and dozens of air units, and they move and deploy them 3000km away in a matter of a day or two, and after two-three days of war games, they’re back to their home bases.

      Of course the Russians can’t haul a hundred thousand fully equipped fighting men and women across the Atlantic like the US, but they can quickly concentrate, deploy and supply a formidable force. A war with an isolated western power? It’s of course all hypothetical, since Russia’s got nukes and all, but show me a NATO member that can deploy 30000 ready to fight troops with full air support in a week, much less in two days, without exhausting its supply lines? Probably Britain can, but I have doubts about pretty much anybody else bar the US.

      As to the age-old claims of Chinese/Russian inflexibility, that might be true for the Chinese, little is known about applied Chinese tactics, since they’ve not really fought a more or less modern campaign, but Soviet/Russian tactics are known to evolve and adapt to different conditions. Something like this is a good read on the topic

      This books shows that Soviets didn’t use ww2 textbooks when faced with fighting jihadis in Afghanistan, they wrote new textbooks, and those textbooks involved among other things smaller units acting more independently.

      • Jim__L

        Are there any Chinese observers in Syria (or Ukraine) right now?

        • Z’ing Sui

          You mean military? Not in Ukraine, that’s for sure and probably not in Syria.

          • Jim__L

            That’s a bit of a relief, actually. If China were going to go this direction (as VM suggests here that they might), one of the obvious indications would be their taking an interest in learning from the Russians’ experience.

  • Jim__L

    Are there any operations currently ongoing where the Chinese are demonstrating their arms?

  • Donna

    Powerful power…in one sentence/? Really? Vocabulary alert!

  • ukko

    I always find it interesting that the media (here, the New York Times) tends to talk about the failings of the U.S. in a way that absolves President Obama of any role in this horrific debacle. Anyone paying attention to the world lately? Under Obama, terrorists hold far more land and Christians are being slaughtered in a genocide.
    But these authors make sure not to connect the fact that President Obama is the one in charge. It can’t be his fault!
    But I clearly remember in a debate with Mitt Romney, when Mitt said (obviously correctly to anyone who knows the first thing about world militaries) that Russia remained the most significant threat to the U.S., Obama mocked Mitt by saying: “The 80’s called and they want their foreign policy back.” Obama’s stunning lack of knowledge is matched only by his narcissism.
    Contrast this with the Bush Lied, Thousands Died mantra that was happily parroted by the left-biased media. BTW, Bush never lied about anything in Iraq, and we had it won. Obama and Biden bragged in 2009 that Iraq was a great success.
    Then Obama pulled all troops out over the objections of his generals as well as the Iraqis themselves.
    The new Mantra: Obama Fumbled, Heads Tumbled.

    • Albert8184

      You people keep saying Obama “lacks knowledge”. That’s what’s killing us. This stubborn refusal to charcterize what is evil and treasonous as mere “stupidity” or ignorance.

      • Vacunas Autismo

        Obama is nobody, it’s the men behind the visible talking head.

  • Mastro63

    Anyone who read about/went to airshows would know that Russian planes are pretty sophisticated – and the electronics needed for guided bombs/missiles are basically ’70’s technology. Cruise missiles were deployed by the US in Reagan’s first term.

    No- “surprise” is the surprise that parents have when they find out that their kid does drugs and hangs out with bikers. Its been ignored by the Powers That Be- Gay Marriage and Obamacare are the Most Important Things now-

    • mesocyclone

      Guided bombs were first used in Burma in WW-II by the US Army Air Corps! They were also used against North Vietnam, although not before too many US planes using dumb bombs had been shot down.

  • Bruntdog

    I have zero doubt that a lot of this new found “military prowess” is a direct result of technology transfers from this corrupt administration. Never forget that this is the President that told Russian President Dmitry Medvedev “After my election, I have more flexibility.” I think that we are witnessing the results of that “flexibility”

    • ukko

      Yes. This.

  • Dan


  • teapartydoc

    They are actually gunning for a war with Turkey. Syria is the feint that they hope will draw an attempted retaliation that will open up an opportunity.

    • Jim__L

      Trying for a rematch of the battle of Manzikert, maybe?

      I hear Russia’s birthrate has turned around. Is that true?

  • Deserttrek

    I doubt most people in the know are surprised. the civilian appointees of stompyfoot are because they belive the dear leaders charisma overwhelms all

  • Albert8184

    I wouldn’t believe this nonsense claim. Europeans might be surprised but American analysts are NOT surprised by anything they see Russia doing in Syria They aren’t stupid. They realize as much as anyone with a shred of IQ that the USSR had ballistic nukes and the ability to put things in space 50 years ago. What hogwash.

  • Pait

    I can’t resist poking fun at this NYT article.

    “Russia is now a military power that could overwhelm any of its neighbors, if they were isolated from Western support,” Yes, Russia is stronger than Moldavia, and even Finland or Denmark, unless the Swedes help. Am I scared or not?

    “What continues to impress me is their ability to move a lot of stuff real far, real fast,” Russia set up its main operations… in northwestern Syria in a matter of three weeks… it has also deployed large field kitchens and even dancers and singers to entertain the troops… They set up a nightclub in the Mediterranean – what can’t Russia do using the internet?

    …despite the loss of four cruise missiles that crashed in Iran in one salvo…Russia’s state television network boasted on Monday that from the Caspian, they could reach the Persian Gulf, the Arabian Peninsula and the “entire Mediterranean Sea.” They just wouldn’t know in which of the places the missiles landed until they read Haaretz next morning.

    the head of Iran’s paramilitary Quds Force, went to Moscow in late July…. did he have a nice trip?!

    The missile gap – it’s back. Watch your wallets.

  • Z’ing Sui

    Some statements published in the NYT are highly debatable, most of all, of course the part about Russia being ” a military power that could overwhelm any of its neighbors”. China’s their neighbor, you know. So is Iran or Finland, or Turkey, or Poland. It’s hard to take seriously a “military analyst” who doesn’t know his geography.

  • Vacunas Autismo

    “…Although the United States remains a far more powerful military power than Russia…” Oh well, the due Pentagon ar.e-licking is a must before anything remotely “pro russian” is published.

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