25 June

Studying Russia needs new methods

Studying Russia’s military capability has always been complex. Following Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine in 2022, it has become even more complicated. Therefore, FOI’s researchers have modified their methods and reviewed their sources.

A group of soldiers.

One of the report’s conclusions is that studying Russia’s military capabilities has become more resource-intensive. Photo: Getty Images.

For over twenty years, FOI’s Russia and Eurasia Studies programme (RUFS) has attempted to assess what military capabilities Russia could muster over a ten-year period. The researchers use open sources. As censorship and repressive measures have significantly increased in Russia, RUFS researchers have had to reassess their methodology and how they handle sources.

“The war has also shortened the Russian planning horizon compared to before, which limits the useable lifespan of the sources. Since tracking Russia’s political, financial, societal, cultural, and military development trends is important, we need to make adjustments,” says analyst Maria Engqvist, editor of the report, Russian Military Capabilities at War: Reflections on Methodology and Sources Post-2022.

One of the report’s conclusions is that studying Russia’s military capabilities has become more resource-intensive.

“Therefore, it is necessary to explore the use of more methods in the future, deepen interdisciplinary collaboration, and expand international cooperation between researchers and institutions with a genuine interest in Russia’s military capabilities,” says Maria Engqvist.

Technological developments provide new possibilities

When open databases are shut down and it becomes difficult to talk to independent researchers based in Russia, using AI and satellite data are among the new possibilities available.

“Satellite data from the battlefield combined with reviews of annual reports, subcontractors, job advertisements, and customs data can be used to acquire a picture of the Russian defence industry. At RUFS, we can also rely on many years’ experience in research on Russia, which allows us to obtain information from obscure places that not everyone knows about,” says Maria Engqvist.

The full-scale invasion has increased the demand for quick analyses.

“This adds to the risk that even reliable websites might publish incorrect data or reach hastily formulated conclusions. So, it’s crucial to avoid slacking off in the work to review sources and other inputs. An example is comparing Russia’s and other countries’ defence expenditures without understanding what the figures from different countries really mean,” says Maria Engqvist.