Observations of an Expat: Russia’s power credibility

March 18, 2016 OPINION/NEWS


Tom Arms

Power Credibility. That’s what Putin has. He has clearly established it in Syria.

That is not to say the Russian president is trustworthy. He clearly isn’t. He has lied over Russian forces in Ukraine. He has lied over human rights and corruption in Russia. He has lied over the state-sponsored murder of Russian émigrés. He has lied… well,  let’s just say he is a liar.

Power credibility is something different. It is the ability to project influence through the barrel of a gun.

It used to be that Russia could also project influence with its massive oil and gas reserves—the sixth largest in the world. Or in the 1990s,  and the first eight years of this century, its booming economy. An energy glut, endemic corruption and an economy which is now shrinking at 4.1 percent has destroyed those tools.

The only thing Putin has left from the days of Soviet greatness is the world’s second largest military establishment. 7,500 nuclear warheads and 766,055 active personnel. The defence budget is $84.5 billion and it has grown by a third since 2008 and—despite Russia’s economic problems—Putin has plans to increase it by another 50 percent over the next three years.

Military analysts are quick to point out that Putin’s war machine is puny compared to the American behemoth: 7,200 warheads, 1,400,000 active personnel and a $601 billion a year budget to produce top level smart weaponry.

Then you really should add in the rest of NATO if you want a proper comparison. That is another estimated $300 billion a year on defence spending.

Yes, the West certainly has the weapons, the money and the people. But what it doesn’t have is the political readiness, willingness or ability to use its military muscle as a political tool. Its politicians and the people who elect them do not want their armed forces to be in influence-expanding military adventures. They regard it as immoral and the West’s political structures have been equipped with brakes to insure that the subject of military interventions will be talked to death long before the first death on the battlefield.

That is as it should be. Taking a human life; placing your citizens in harm’s way; destroying cities, towns and farms. These are decisions that should not be taken by one person or a small group of persons.

Putin disagrees. His mindset is stuck in the 19th century when national leaders were guided by Clausewitz’s diktat about war as “merely the continuation of politics by other means.”

Russia has never had anything approaching a democratic government with the possible exception of four months in 1917 before the Bolsheviks seized power from Alexander Kerensky, and then again under Boris Yeltsin from 1992 to 1999.

For 470 years it was under the ruthlessly autocratic rule of the Tsars which was in turn followed by 75 years of an ideologically-inspired communist dictatorship. Neither of these systems could be remotely described as moral. For them the ends always justified the means. This is the tradition—wrapped in a love of Mother Russia—from which Putin has sprung. He is every bit as autocatic as the a 19th century Russian Tsar.

However, he is also a clever Tsar. He knows that the Russian military could not win in a straight face-off with the West. But what he can do is use his militarily superior political will to nip quickly in and out of battles and wars before the West has a chance to respond. He is like the hyena constantly nipping at the heels of the elephant until the giant eventually bleeds to death.






Tom Arms broadcasts on world affairs for a number of US radio stations including WTKF at http://www.wtkf107.com/. His Weekly Viewpoints discussion programme can be heard at 1830 EST on Wednesdays and his LookAhead at the next week’s main events on Fridays at 1800.




LookAhead Radio World Report for week commencing 21st March:






Tom Arms

I am a journalist, entrepreneur and historian with extensive experience in print, web and broadcast journalism. I started as a diplomatic correspondent, wrote several books (The Falklands Crisis, World Elections On File and the Encyclopedia of the Cold War), and then in 1987 started my own business (Future Events News Service, www.fensinformation.com) which over 25 years established itself as the world and UK media’s diary. Our strapline was: “We set the world’s news agenda.” I sold FENS in December 2012 but retained the exclusive broadcast rights to all of FENS data. To exploit these rights I set up LookAhead TV which produces unique programmes which “Broadcasts Tomorrow Today” so that viewers can “Plan to Participate.” LookAhead has appeared regularly on Vox Africa, Radio Tatras International, The Conversation and Voice of Africa Radio.

1 Comment

  1. Leticia March 28, at 07:42

    Mr. Tom Arms: Your paper’s argument of “Russia’s power credibility” is quite clear. By contrast, it would appear that the West has none. The West has the means but as you state, “it doesn’t have the political readiness, willingness or ability…” Joseph S. Nye, Jr. states that “Power is the ability to attain the outcomes one wants, and the resources that produce it vary in different contexts.” By Nye’s definition, Putin attained what he wanted. Noting your comparison of Russia and the West, Nye’s analogy seems fitting, “David slew Goliath because Goliath's superior power resources led him to pursue an inferior strategy…A smart-power narrative for the twenty-first century is… about finding ways to combine resources.” Mr. Arms, by your description of Putin as a “clever Tsar,” I am reminded of Sun Tzu and “What the ancients called a clever fighter is one who not only wins, but excels in winning with ease.” As to your animal analogy, I find it more apropos to compare Russia’s recent tactical decision to what Sun Tzu notes as “The quality of decision is like the well-time swoop of a falcon which enables it to strike and destroy its victim.” Only the victims do not yet know they are destroyed.


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