What Russia’s military is good for

Map shows range of Russia’s new anti-access and area denial missile systems
Area denial “bubbles” created by new surface-to-air and anti-ship missile systems may allow Russian forces to keep NATO at arm’s length (source: macpixxel for GIS)
  • Russia has developed technologies to thwart Western naval and air superiority
  • The Kremlin’s biggest advantage is operational initiative and ruthlessness
  • This limited war doctrine puts the onus on NATO to escalate any future conflict

How potent is Russia’s war machine? As political tensions between Russia and NATO keep rising, this question looms larger. Is it still vastly inferior, which would force the Kremlin to steer clear of a real shooting war? Or has the recent wave of radical force restructuring and hardware modernization transformed the Russian military into an adversary that NATO should be wary of confronting?

For such a serious issue, experts produce a disturbingly wide range of assessments. One camp highlights Russian strength, pointing to the recent series of large “snap inspections” involving tens of thousands of troops, the lightning grab of Crimea, the speedy and orderly deployment of some 40,000 troops to the Ukrainian border, and the smooth handling of logistics in the Syrian air campaign. The other side counters that Russia’s armed forces remain second-rate.

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