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Russia’s military is leaner, but meaner

Vladimir Putin’s military may be less well funded than Donald Trump’s, but it’s better suited to modern conflicts

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(Bloomberg) – During Russian President Vladimir Putin’s annual press conference on Thursday, a friendly journalist asked Putin whether the escalating tension in relations with the U.S. and the crumbling of arms control treaties would draw Russia into an unsustainable arms race. “We will ensure our security without engaging in an arms race,” the president replied, citing widely diverging dollar numbers for the U.S. and Russian defense budgets.

That’s a simplistic answer from a politician starting an election campaign (of sorts: Putin is headed for re-election in March without giving anyone else a chance). The more pointed question that should be asked is this: How, with a relatively small and decreasing military budget — 2.77 trillion rubles ($42.3 billion) for 2018, down from some 3.05 trillion rubles this year — is Russia is still a formidable military rival to the U.S., with its enormous and increasing budget of almost $692.1 billion in 2018, up from $583 billion this year?

The equalizing value of the two countries’ well-balanced nuclear deterrents is enough of a reason to avoid direct confrontation. But leaving that aside, Putin may well understand the nature of modern military challenges better than U.S. President Donald Trump and U.S. legislators — and Russia’s authoritarian system may be more efficient when it comes to military allocations. Note that Russia is now almost an equal to the U.S. as a power broker in the Middle East, where the Russian military has just helped Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad effectively win a civil war — in which the U.S. was helping the other side. At the same time, Russian defense spending numbers are deceptive. The country is far more militarized than its defense spending suggests. That level of security spending is only sustainable at the expense of Russia’s future.

Trump’s military spending hike, which makes it necessary to remove the existing cap on defense expenditure, is a dubious and likely outdated response to decreased global security.

Quite aside from the cost of maintaining the world’s most powerful military, the U.S., according to the Washington think tank Center for Strategic and International Studies, has spent at least $2 trillion on its wars since 2001. But, considering the less transparent costs, such as those of caring for veterans, war-related increases to the Department of Defense base budget and interest on the debt taken on to cover defense spending, it’s closer to $4 trillion at the very least. The Afghan conflict has cost the U.S. at least $840 billion — more than four times Afghanistan’s cumulative GDP since 2001. Since the 2018 U.S. defense budget contains additional funds for sending 3,500 more troops to Afghanistan, the results of the massive outlay over the years are clearly suboptimal.

Today’s wars aren’t fought with fat wads of money. The adversaries are mostly small, agile forces that aren’t as well-resourced as nation states. Fighting them requires a combination of local knowledge, brute force applied only at important points in a conflict and ability to shift risks onto the shoulders of irregular fighters. Russia kept cutting its defense budget all through its participation in the Syrian war. Yabloko, an opposition party, earlier this year put the cost of the Syrian operation for Russia at about 140.4 billion rubles ($2.4 billion at the current exchange rate) since September, 2015; that’s some 4 percent of what the U.S. allocated to overseas contingency operations in 2017 alone — and the outcome is as good as Russia could have expected.

The U.S. is pumping money into comparatively inefficient warfighting — and into preparing for the kind of large-scale war that’s not likely to take place because of existing nuclear arsenals and unauthorized nuclear proliferation. Even North Korea, with its unknown but probably small nuclear capability, is dangerous enough to deter the U.S. from attacking. At his press conference, Putin made the point that the U.S. couldn’t know for sure where to strike in North Korea — and if the Kim regime managed to get a single long-range, nuclear-armed missile in the air, the results could be catastrophic.

U.S. defense budgets, of course, feed a large, powerful domestic industry; even the indirect U.S. involvement in a conflict lifts the stock prices of major defense contractors, research has shown. In Russia, the biggest contractors are state-controlled; they have far less lobbying clout, and the technocratic Russian government has kept them on a short leash, though some of the military’s purchasing decisions have served regional development rather than defense purposes. Such an arrangement, which would have been inefficient in most other industries, probably reduces wasteful spending in the budget-dependent military-industrial complex.

That said, in relative terms, Russia is spending more on force-related functions than the U.S. does. Trump’s budget proposal allocated $71.8 billion to the Department of Homeland Security and the Justice Department. Add that up with the defense spending, and the total security budget will stand at $764 billion, less than 19 percent of total federal spending. Russia will spend a combined 29 percent of its federal budget — some 4.8 trillion rubles — on defense and domestic security. That’s probably not all of the security-related outlay either, as Mark Galeotti pointed out earlier this year: Even some of the education and development spending in Russia goes toward military goals.

In the U.S., federal law enforcement outlay is a fraction of defense spending. In Russia, the two areas of government expenditure are almost equal. That’s the difference between a country with a relatively liberal domestic order and a near-dictatorship, which relies heavily on the suppression of dissent and must keep large law enforcement agencies under centralized control.

Russia could show the world how to spend efficiently on more than adequate defense — but instead it is engaged in an arms race against its own development. For years, it has been underfunding areas such as education and health, undermining what Putin told the press conference was his vision of the country’s future — flexible, technology-driven, highly productive. Judging by Putin’s answers to reporters on Thursday, he still prefers not to notice that.

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Russia Lures International Arms Buyers With Half-Priced, More Effective Missile System

The Russian S-400 mobile long-range surface-to-air missile system costs around $500 million, vs. the $1 billion price tag for a US-made Raytheon Patriot Pac-2 battery.

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Via Zerohedge


Russia has been pitching a rival missile platform that costs half of those made by US companies, reports CNBC, which has resulted in several countries dealing with the Kremlin “despite the potential for blowback.”

Sefa Karacan | Anadolu Agency | Getty Images

The Russian S-400 mobile long-range surface-to-air missile system costs around $500 million, vs. the $1 billion price tag for a US-made Raytheon Patriot Pac-2 battery, while a THAAD battery made by Lockheed Martin costs just about $3 billion, according to people with first-hand knowledge of a US intelligence assessment.

Nearly 13 countries have expressed interest in buying Russia’s S-400, a move that could trigger potential U.S. sanctions under the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act, which President Donald Trump signed in August 2017. In September, the U.S. slapped sanctions on China  for buying fighter jets and missiles from Russia. However, the U.S. could grant sanction waivers. –CNBC

Turkey, meanwhile, may be hit with US sanctions over their decision to purchase the S-400 defense system, which the United States says poses a risk to its F-35 fifth generation stealth fighter platform.

Meanwhile, India called the United States’ bluff over sanctions in late Ocotber, standing its ground in its decision to buy the S-400.

One of the reasons Russian systems are generally considered less expensive than their American counterparts is because they don’t include pricey ongoing maintenance.

“When foreign militaries buy American, above and beyond the purchase, they are buying a partnership with the U.S. military,” Andrew Hunter, director of the Defense-Industrial Initiatives Group at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, told CNBC. “And that plus the maintenance and technical assistance is a big part of the cost difference.

The S-400 system made its debut in 2007, succeeding the S-200 and S-300 missile systems. According to CNBC, “the Russian-made S-400 is capable of engaging a wider array of targets, at longer ranges and against multiple threats simultaneously,” vs. US-made systems.

In terms of capability, one source noted that while there is no perfect weapon, the S-400 eclipses even THAAD, America’s missile defense crown jewel.

When asked why nations seek to buy the S-400 instead of America’s Patriot or THAAD systems, one of the people with knowledge of the intelligence report explained that foreign militaries aren’t willing to stick with the cumbersome process of buying weapons from the U.S. government. –CNBC

“Many of these countries do not want to wait for U.S. regulatory hurdles,” said a CNBC source with first hand knowledge of the assessment. “The S-400 has less export restrictions and the Kremlin is willing to expedite sales by skipping over any regulatory hurdles.

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Britain’s Enemy Is Not Russia But It’s Own Ruling Class, UN Report Confirms

In austerity Britain, who the enemy is has never been more clear.

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Authored by John Wright. op-ed via RT.com:


As the UK political establishment rips itself to pieces over Brexit, a far greater crisis continues to afflict millions of victims of Tory austerity…

A devastating UN report into poverty in the UK provides incontrovertible evidence that the enemy of the British people is the very ruling class that has gone out of its way these past few years to convince them it is Russia.

Professor Philip Alston, in his capacity as the United Nations Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, spent two weeks touring the United Kingdom. He did so investigating the impact of eight years of one of the most extreme austerity programs among advanced G20 economies in response to the 2008 financial crash and subsequent global recession.

What he found was evidence of a systematic, wilful, concerted and brutal economic war unleashed by the country’s right-wing Tory establishment against the poorest and most vulnerable section of British society– upending the lives of millions of people who were not responsible for the aforementioned financial crash and recession but who have been forced to pay the price.

From the report’s introduction:

“It…seems patently unjust and contrary to British values that so many people are living in poverty. This is obvious to anyone who opens their eyes to see the immense growth in foodbanks and the queues waiting outside them, the people sleeping rough in the streets, the growth of homelessness, the sense of deep despair that leads even the Government to appoint a Minister for Suicide Prevention and civil society to report in depth on unheard of levels of loneliness and isolation.”

Though as a citizen of the UK I respectfully beg to differ with the professor’s claim that such social and economic carnage seems “contrary to British values,” (on the contrary it is entirely in keeping with the values of the country’s Tory establishment, an establishment for whom the dehumanization of the poor and working class is central to its ideology), the point he makes about it being “obvious to anyone who opens their eyes,” is well made.

For it is now the case that in every town and city centre in Britain, it is impossible to walk in any direction for more than a minute before coming across homeless people begging in the street. And the fact that some 13,000 of them are former soldiers, casualties of the country’s various military adventures in recent years, undertaken in service to Washington, exposes the pious platitudes peddled by politicians and the government as reverence for the troops and their ‘sacrifice,’ as insincere garbage.

Overall, 14 million people in the UK are now living in poverty, a figure which translates into an entire fifth of the population. Four million of them are children, while, according to Professor Alston, 1.5 million people are destitute – that is, unable to afford the basic necessities of life.

And this is what the ruling class of the fifth largest economy in the world, a country that parades itself on the world stage as a pillar of democracy and human rights, considers progress.

The values responsible for creating such a grim social landscape are compatible with the 18th not 21st century. They are proof positive that the network of elite private schools – Eton, Harrow, Fettes College et al. – where those responsible for this human carnage are inculcated with the sense of entitlement and born to rule ethos that defines them, are Britain’s hotbeds of extremism.

Professor Alston:

“British compassion for those who are suffering has been replaced by a punitive, mean-spirited, and often callous approach apparently designed to instill discipline where it is least useful, to impose a rigid order on the lives of those least capable of coping with today’s world, and elevating the goal of enforcing blind compliance over a genuine concern to improve the well-being of those at the lowest levels of British society.”

Here, set out above in bold relief, is the barbarism that walks hand in hand with free market capitalism. It is the same barbarism that was responsible for pushing post-Soviet Russia into a decade-long economic and social abyss in the 1990s, and the values that have pushed 14 million people in the UK into the same economic and social abyss in our time.

Austerity, it bears emphasizing, is not and never has been a viable economic response to recession in a given economy.

Instead, it is an ideological club, wielded on behalf of the rich and big business to ensure that the price paid for said economic recession is borne exclusively by those least able to bear it – namely, the poor and working people. It is class war by any other name, packaged and presented as legitimate government policy.

However, in Britain’s case in 2018, this is a war like no other because, as Professor Philip Alston’s report lays bare, only one side in this war has been throwing all the punches and only one side has been taking them.

With Christmas season upon us, the scale of human suffering across the UK ensures that the elaborate ad campaigns inviting us to shop and indulge to our heart’s content – ads depicting the middle class dream of affluence and material comfort – take on the character of a provocation. In fact, they call to mind the truism that wars take place when the government tells you who the enemy is, while revolutions take place when you work it out for yourself.

In austerity Britain, who the enemy is has never been more clear.

 

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‘Iron’ Mike Pence Stares-Down Putin In APEC Showdown

Vice President Mike Pence and National Security Advisor John Bolton were seen shaking hands and chatting with Russian President Vladimir Putin on the sidelines of the ASEAN Summit in Singapore.

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Via Zerohedge


Forget the All-Blacks ‘Haka’, ignore Foreman-Frasier, Drago-Balboa, and Ortiz-Liddell, the honor of the greatest (or perhaps most awkward) staredown in history now goes to US Vice President Mike Pence…

Having been blamed for everything from Trump’s election victory to USA soccer team’s loss to England last week, Russia faced accusations all weekend and was reportedly confronted by the US contingent over “meddling.”

As The Sun reports, Pence and Putin “discussed the upcoming G20 Summit and touched on the issues that will be discussed when President Trump and President Putin are both in Argentina for the summit,” according to the vice president’s press secretary, Alyssa Farah.

An NBC reporter tweeted: “New per the @VP’s Office—> The VP’s office says Vice President Pence directly addressed Russian meddling in the 2016 election in a conversation with Vladimir Putin on Thursday in Singapore.

“The conversation took place following the plenary session this afternoon at ASEAN.”

But, it was the following clash of the titans that caught most people’s attention.

As the Russian president joined the that Pence shook Putin’s ‘deadly’ hand, met his ‘steely KGB-trained’ gaze, and desperately tried not to smile or blink for 20 seconds as Putin appeared to chat amicably with the US VP…

While Putin has (if his accusers are to be believed) grappled his opponents to death with his bare hands (remember he is a sinister KGB agent and jiu-jitsu expert); we suspect the only thing VP Pence has gripped tightly in his hands is his bible.

Sadly, John Bolton then blew the tough guy act (or is he Mike Pence’s ‘good cop’) as he does his best impression of a teenage girl meeting their popstar idol for the first time…

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