How can Russia sustain its spending on defence?

Transcript of video with Professor Stefan Hedlund

Russia is the third biggest spender on military. Why has it doubled its budget in ten years?

Professor Stefan Hedlund:

While you may view it is as payback time in the sense that in the early days when Putin first became president, from 2000 onwards, he was fairly open to cooperation with the West. He even at some point spoke of some form of joining Nato.

But as time moved on he got more and more disappointed that he didn't get what he wanted and that he was not being given the respect that Russia should be given, according to the Kremlin, and in 2010 they decided to allocate what was then worth 600 billion dollars to realign its military.

And a few years down the road now we are seeing the effect of that. There is a lot of hardware being poured in and the Russian military is taking a very aggressive stance not only in Ukraine but air patrols against neighbouring countries and lots of manouevres both on land and in the sea. So, Russia is pushing a very aggressive military posture and we will have to react to that somehow.

With Russia's pending economic crisis, how can it sustain this spending?

Professor Stefan Hedlund:

Well, about a week ago I would have said its no problem because its priority is spending, with the turmoil on the Russian market and the forecasts for doom and gloom for the Russian economy is somewhat different but it is still the case that although Russia spends more than twice what the EU does at 4.2% of GDP next year, it will be possible for the Kremlin to protect those someplace. It is controversial, the economics ministry and the finance ministry both want to see cut backs on military spending but that is something in complete Putin control and given the anti western hysteria which is building up in Russia now they will protect security outlays and they will make cuts in education and health care instead which is very, very worrying for the Russian population.

What do Russia's neighbours think about its increasing militarisation?

Professor Stefan Hedlund:

Well, the neighbours used to form part of Moscow's sphere of interest, part of the Soviet Union or what was known then as satellite states in Eastern Europe are clearly very very worried about this and they take the risk of an armed invasion very seriously. Nato apparently does not believe that Russia is going to have the guts to take on Nato in full scale military confrontation but little countries like Estonia and Latvia and also Poland do worry, especially that there is a grey zone of other types of military aggression that will fall short of full-scale military aggression. So the temperature is rising on the Western edge.

Whether the Chinese are worried about this or not is of course very difficult to say. You can never really tell what happens inside of Beijing, but it is probably the case that the Chinese feel that they are very superior to Russia in both economic and also increasingly in military terms. So I think the Chinese attitude is they would simply love all these problems to simply go away so they can go back to doing business.

The problem, obviously, then is with little neighbours on the Russian western front and the Scandinavian countries like Finland and Sweden. There is a lot of worry now that this is going to be with us for quite a few years to come unfortunately.

(Photo credit: dpa)