3 December 2019

Expect Russia to continue throwing its military weight around, not least in Europe

Compared to a decade ago, Russia has clearly made substantial progress in transforming its military into an efficient fighting force. A new report from FOI forecasts a consolidation of Russian military capability towards 2029, with several implications for international security.

Russias President Vladimir Putin chairs a meeting of the Security Council of Russia

Russias President Vladimir Putin chairs a meeting of the Security Council of Russia, in the Kremlin. Photo: Alexei Druzhinin/Russian Presidential Press and Information Office/TASS/Sipa USA.

“Over the past ten years, Russia has bridged the gap between its policy ambitions and its military capability,” says Fredrik Westerlund, deputy research director and co-editor of the report, Russian Military Capability in a Ten-Year Perspective – 2019. Other countries, not least in Europe, should note that Russia’s military instrument will probably remain well adapted to its security policy ambitions during the coming decade.

Analysing Russia’s Armed Forces and their fighting power, and the political and economic factors affecting the development of military capability, the report finds that the impressive pace of improvement of Russia’s Armed Forces in the past decade is probably not sustainable. Instead, the next ten years will consolidate these achievements, notably the ability to launch a regional war. Strategic deterrence, primarily with nuclear forces, will remain the foremost priority.

“The current trend in Russian security policy indicates that the authoritarian policy at home and the anti-Western foreign policy will continue. We’re in for the long-haul of confrontation with the West,” says Dr Gudrun Persson, project manager and co-author. “We can also expect a recurrent use of armed force and other means to sustain its great power ambitions and protect Russian interests abroad.”

“Recognition as a great power and establishing a sphere of interest in its neighbourhood will remain Russia’s main objectives. Change can come quickly in a ten-year perspective. However, we cannot expect any precise signs in advance. It will also be difficult to obtain clear indications of an imminent conflict ahead of time,” Gudrun Persson underlines.

A key finding in the report is that security policy will be decisive for the development of Russian military capability in the coming decade. A significant increase in Russia’s military capability towards 2029 would require that Russia’s political leadership once more gives priority and sustained support to an increase in defence spending, arms procurement, the Armed Forces’ organisation, and conducting exercises.

This is the ninth in a series of FOI reports on Russian military capability. The first one was published in 1999.