Putin’s expansionist policy in Russia’s neighborhood is backed up by a poised and professional military thanks to Russia’s most significant military reforms since the 1930s.
ECFR Visiting Fellow Gustav Gressel, asserts that reforms initiated in response to the blundering invasion of Georgia in 2008, have left Russia with a military that would make short work of any of its neighbors, were they left isolated by their Western allies, though he calls into question Russia’s capacity in Syria.
Gressel argues that many Western policy makers, have been lulled into a false sense of security by focusing primarily on the military hardware component of Russian military modernization.
Russia’s fighter jets are, for now at least, conducting nearly as many strikes in a typical day against rebel troops opposing the government of President Bashar al-Assad as the American-led coalition targeting the Islamic State has been carrying out each month this year.
The operation in Syria — still relatively limited — has become, in effect, a testing ground for an increasingly confrontational and defiant Russia under Mr. Putin. In fact, as Mr. Putin himself suggested on Sunday, the operation could be intended to send a message to the United States and the West about the restoration of the country’s military prowess and global reach after decades of post-Soviet decay.
The Russian campaign in Syria is giving officials and analysts far greater insight into the new Russian military.
“We’re learning more than we have in the last 10 years,” said Micah Zenko, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, noting the use of the new strike fighters and the new cruise missile, known as the Kalibr. “As it was described to me, we are going to school on what the Russian military is capable of today.”
The Russian advancements go beyond new weaponry, reflecting an increase in professionalism and readiness. Russia set up its main operations at an air base near Latakia in northwestern Syria in a matter of three weeks, dispatching more than four dozen combat planes and helicopters, scores of tanks and armored vehicles, rocket and artillery systems, air defenses and portable housing for as many as 2,000 troops. It was Moscow’s largest deployment to the Middle East since the Soviet Union deployed in Egypt in the 1970s.
“What continues to impress me is their ability to move a lot of stuff real far, real fast,” Lt. Gen. Ben Hodges, the commander of United States Army forces in Europe, said in an interview
Since its air campaign started on Sept. 30, Russia has quickly ramped up its airstrikes from a handful each day to nearly 90 on some days, using more than a half-dozen types of guided and unguided munitions, including fragmentary bombs and bunker busters for hardened targets
SOURCES – ECFR, New York Times