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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Nationalist Statists at Helm

The parliamentary elections -- marred by accusations of fraud and by large numbers of disgruntled citizens voting "against all" -- have decisively changed the face of Russian politics. The new Duma will be dominated by pro-fascist nationalist factions and by United Russia, a party of "statists" and bureaucrats who use nationalistic slogans.

Nationalism in Russia is always linked with a desire to build (or rebuild) a "Great Russia" with a powerful military that resembles the force that terrified the West for decades. Nationalistic, "statist" rhetoric has clearly helped win this election and will certainly be extensively used to re-elect Vladimir Putin as president in March.

But all this pro-militaristic electioneering will not seriously change the miserable state of our military. The basic problem of having too many men and armaments, and too little money to keep them happy and functioning, will not go away.

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Russia has more personnel on the payroll of the Defense Ministry and other parallel armies than the United States. Russia inherited some 80 percent of Soviet military might and today is still a nuclear superpower with thousands of warheads, hundreds of intercontinental ballistic missiles, nuclear submarines, battle ships, tens of thousands of tanks and so on.

On paper, Russia is the military equal of the United States, but its defense budget is a fraction of the size. Perennial and serious underfinancing, coupled with no less perennial corruption and misappropriation by top brass, is destroying our military, and the pro-nationalist forces that now rule Russia will not do anything to change that.

To begin building a modern, capable, disciplined military, Russia should either increase defense spending at least fourfold in real terms if numbers are not cut or we must cut our standing forces fourfold, if the present level of budget financing stays the same.

Putin and Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov recently stated that "painful" military personnel cuts were over. The fascists and statists in the Duma will never oppose that and initiate a contraction of our military machine to, say, the size of France's (France has a comparable budget). Any public call to massively downsize our military is contrary to the nationalistic ideals that dominate Russian politics today.

But a massive increase in defense spending also seems impossible. The top brass in Russia do not dominate the Kremlin or decision-making: The intelligence services and Interior Ministry have been more successful in getting budget money in recent years. In its spending, Russia today is more a (secret) police state, than a militarized nation.

Ivanov, a close friend and cohort of Putin, will surely end his term as defense minister soon, to be promoted to a higher job. It's believed that Ivanov is being groomed to become Putin's successor as president and will eventually be appointed prime minister to ensure a smooth succession. When Ivanov leaves, the Defense Ministry will almost certainly have diminished influence within the bureaucratic system, irrespective of who succeeds him.

In many respects, today's Russia is like rump Yugoslavia under the rule of Slobodan Milosevic: a failed, totally corrupt nationalistic police state that was unsuccessfully fighting endless wars to build a "Greater Serbia." Milosevic, an outspoken nationalist, was spending money to prop up special police and other paramilitaries he believed to be loyal, while the Yugoslav armed forces were collapsing.

With fascists and nationalistic statists dominating the Duma and the Kremlin, it is virtually inevitable that Russia will attempt to dominate the post-Soviet landmass -- installing pro-Moscow governments, destabilizing those that refuse to integrate and annexing neighboring territories.

This "Great Russia" project will fulfill the popular nationalist dream of reuniting all Russian-speaking populations in one realm -- a reconstructed rump Soviet Union. The same process will also create a new entity, of which Putin can become head after his constitutional term as president ends in 2008.

In the new political situation, there is zero possibility of any meaningful political settlement in Chechnya. The decaying Russian military will continue an endless fray in the Caucasus and also may be involved in other hopeless adventures. The inevitable casualties will be covered up by the relentless propaganda that has become our media's trademark.

Pavel Felgenhauer is an independent defense analyst.