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Modernization in the era of the "rental" economy.

Recently one of my friends in a different forum made what I consider a pretty sweeping statement:

"The bulk of (Russian economic) growth comes from retail, construction and manufacturing (around 75%) Natural resources are crucial to replenishing government coffers, allowing the Kremlin to spend lavishly on things such as military modernization , infrastructure expansion and prospective sunrise industries such as nanotechnology as Russia moves towards an innovation economy. "

Whoa nellie. That may be the official, stated intent, but here's the rub: they really haven't.

As far as military modernization goes, they are very much behind the curve, with the high profile projects lagging far behind their western counterparts - even the Chinese are further along in the development of the 5th generation fighter, and the Sukhoi T-50 PAK didn't exactly have an auspicious debut at teh recent MAKS Air Show, with one of the two on display having to abort a takeoff due to engine failure, suggesting that there are yet more bugs that need to be worked out. The T-90 MBT is really just yet another revision of the T-72 (the 17th, according to Mikhail Barabanov, lead editor at Moscow Defense Brief,) and has been unfavorably compared to both the German Leopard and the Chinese Type 99 by none other than current CINC Ground Forces Col. Gen. Aleksandr Postnikov http://en.rian.ru/mlitary_news/20110315/163016351.html. And no, the criticism is not limited to just cost - quoting Uralvagonzavod's chief armor designer: http://www.izvestia.ru/news/372423

“The main complaints against the T-90 today are connected with its insufficient survivability.  Its deficiency is the placement of people, weapons, and fuel in one compartment.  In any case of armor penetration, the igniting of fuel is unavoidable.  Even with a fire suppression system, such a possibility isn’t excluded.  Therefore, the development of modern armored equipment is going the way of separating people from the fuel and munitions.  Moreover, the employment of remotely-controlled armaments is essential.  These principles were implemented in our future product – “item 195.”  For example, on it, the tank turret no longer had the crew.  But it turns out no one needed such a project.”

Furthermore, what money that is getting pumped into the Army is bleeding out at the seams due to the stubborn refusal to ditch the 1 year conscription service model in favor of a professional army. Virtually all defense experts agree that the outdated conscript model sucks money into an insatiable vacuum, while at the same time ill-preparing Russia's army to fight in modern era conflicts.

Don't even get me started on the Navy. The most exciting news for the Russian Navy in the last couple of years, was the kerfuffle that ensued when France agreed to sell a couple of Mistral class helicopter carriers to the Navy - a deal which first set off NATO and then ended up being a bit of a disappointment to the potential buyers when the French informed them they would be stripping the ships of the advanced avionics and electronic warfare gear that they wanted to get their hands on.

So much for naval modernization. It is with no small amount of irony that the Chinese recently ended up putting out for sea trials their first carrier, the hulk of the old Varyag, which Ukraine sold to some shadowy Chinese business concern "under the promise it would never be fitted for combat" ostensibly to be turned into a floating casino somewhere...thus, at a fraction of the cost, the Chinese have matched the Russian navy's carrier fleet count (currently just the Kuznetsov) with a modern aircraft carrier that no doubt is much more technologically advanced than its former sister ship.

Infrastructure expansion - sure, much needed, but outside of a few major cities it is sadly neglected, and I wonder how many projects now in play would not be if for the sake of having to host an Olympics and a World Cup in the very near future. Medvedev's technological pipe dream, Skolkovo, is exactly just that at the moment - a nice concept full of hope and dreams, but nothing much beyond that.

The vast natural resources do indeed allow for the Kremlin's coffers to be refilled virtually on demand, in Putin's "rental" economic model. However, the presumption that this cash bonanza is being used exclusively to ramp up military modernization, provide needed infrastructure, and to develop this Skolkovo super-technology center/region is flawed and just doesn't stand up to serious scrutiny.

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