How Russia Has The World's 2nd Strongest Militaries?
How Russia Has The World's 2nd Strongest Militaries?

With Russian military build up around Ukraine and increasingly aggressive posturing from the Kremlin, the chances of at least one of the world's most powerful militaries applying its strength in a major new conflict appear to be at their highest for some time. Diplomatic efforts have so far failed, and it now remains to be seen how Russia will act.

Tensions between Russia and Ukraine have served to bring Nato “back to life”, according to the Financial Times. The alliance has led the “response to the Russian threat” by sending troops to eastern Europe.

Mission and Objectives of the Russian Armed Forces

Specifics of the ongoing global military and political shifts allow for transmutations of the aforementioned objectives. Understandably, the existing hot-button national security issues appear to be comprehensive and multidimensional by character.

Given the foreign policy shifts of recent years and new national security priorities, the Russian Armed Forces now have a totally new set of objectives that could be broken down into the following four major dimensions:

  1. Deterring the military and political threats to the security or interests of the Russian Federation
  2. Supporting economic and political interests of the Russian Federation
  3. Mounting other-than-war enforcement operations
  4. Using military force

The Armed Forces of the Russian Federation, commonly known as the Russian Armed Forces, are the military forces of the Russian Federation.

They are divided into the Ground Forces, Navy, and Aerospace Forces. There are also two independent arms of service: Strategic Rocket Forces and the Airborne Troops. Under the federal law of Russia, the Russian Armed Forces, along with the Federal Security Service (FSB)'s Border Troops, the National Guard, the Ministry of Internal Affairs (MVD), the Federal Protective Service (FSO), the Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR), the Main Directorate of the General Staff (GRU) and the Ministry of Emergency Situations (EMERCOM)'s civil defense form Russia's military services; and are under direct control of the Security Council of Russia.

The Russian Armed Forces are one of the world's largest military forces, with around a million active-duty personnel, which is the world's fifth-largest, and at least 2 million reserve personnel. It is mandatory for all male citizens aged 18–27 to be drafted for a year of service in the Armed Forces.

How Russia Has The World's 2nd Strongest Militaries?
The World's Most Powerful Militaries

Here are the history, power and reasons why Russian has the world’s 2nd strongest militaries.

Military History of Russia

Photo: FInancial Times
Photo: FInancial Times

Russian and Soviet military history extends from the time of the Mongol invasions to the present. It presents a rich and varied tapestry of military experience that is well worth studying but is often neglected in most general works of military history. Aside from World War II, which has produced a bounty of military histories in the past few decades, most areas are badly understudied. Some themes include geographic context (immense, diverse, and multiethnic); the challenges of central control; efforts to modernize and Westernize; and conflict with neighbors including Sweden, Poland, the German states, Austria, the Ottomans, and the British. When the Bolsheviks came to power in the early 20th century, they dealt with many of these old issues plus the challenge of creating a new sort of army appropriate to a Communist state.

The Bolshevik regime was born in civil war, and the Soviet Union was at least partly destroyed by the burdens of war—from the terrible economic and human costs of the Great Patriotic War to the long-term drain of the arms races of the Cold War. Both Russia and the Soviet Union can claim unique aspects of military experience, including the inclusion of women and large ethnic minorities. This entry focuses on wars, military institutions, and human experience in war and the military.

Stone 2006 is the essential resource for anyone looking for a starting point or a textbook or who has time to read only a single book about Russian and Soviet military history. Other works focus on large spans of time, such as Keep 1985, the best source for understanding the origins and development of military forces and institutions in Russia over a 400-year period. A natural companion to Keep’s work is Reese 2000, also a social history and the single-best source on Soviet military history, although Higham and Kagan 2002 should be used in conjunction with Reese’s book to provide greater depth. Kagan and Higham 2002 is an outstanding survey of key aspects of the pre-Soviet period. Schimmelpenninck van der Oye and Menning 2004 addresses a range of military topics over a two-century span.

Service Branches of Russian Armed Forces

Photo: BBC
Photo: BBC

Armed forces under the Ministry of Defence are divided into:

-the three "branches of Armed Forces" (вида вооружённых сил): the Ground Forces, Aerospace Forces, and Navy

-the two "separate troop branches" (Отдельные рода войск): the Strategic Rocket Forces and Airborne Forces

-the "special forces of Armed Forces" (Спецназ вооружённых сил): the Special Operations Forces

-the Logistical Support, which has a separate status of its own

There are additionally two further "separate troop branches", the National Guard and the Border Service. These retain the legal status of "Armed Forces", while falling outside of the jurisdiction of the General Staff of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation. The National Guard is formed on the basis of the former Internal Troops of Russia. The new structure has been detached from the Ministry of Internal Affairs into a separate agency, directly subordinated to the President of Russia. The Border Service is a paramilitary organization of the Federal Security Service - the country's main internal intelligence agency. Both organizations have significant wartime tasks in addition to their main peacetime activities and operate their own land, air and maritime units.

The number of personnel is specified by decree of the President of Russia. On 1 January 2008, a number of 2,019,629 units, including military of 1,134,800 units, was set. In 2010 the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) estimated that the Russian Armed Forces numbered about 1,027,000 active troops and in the region of 2,035,000 reserves (largely ex-conscripts). As opposed to personnel specified by decree, actual personnel numbers on the payroll was reported by the Audit Chamber of Russia as 766,000 in October 2013. As of December 2016, the armed forces are at 93 percent of the required manpower, up from 82 percent reported in December 2013.

Photo: CNA
Photo: CNA

According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, between 2005-2009 and 2010–2014, Russian exports of major weapons increased by 37 percent; Russia spent $66.4 billion on arms in 2015, then $69.2 billion in 2016, having taken 3rd place (after the U.S. and China). According to the Russian Defence Ministry, the share of modern weaponry in service with Russia’s army and fleet amounts to 71.2% with serviceability of weapons at 99% as of 2021.

Capabilities of Russian Military Today

Photo courtesy of the Ukrainian Ministry of Internal Affairs.
Photo courtesy of the Ukrainian Ministry of Internal Affairs.

For 2022, Russia is ranked 2 of 140 out of the countries considered for the annual GFP review. It holds a PwrIndx* score of 0.0501 (a score of 0.0000 is considered 'perfect').

Russia still fields far more numerous forces than European militaries with equivalent defense spending Russian military spending has ranged between the equivalent of $50 and $60 billion per year.

Its inventory includes “336 intercontinental ballistic missiles, 2,840 battle tanks, 5,220 armored infantry fighting vehicles, over 6,100 armored personnel carriers and more than 4,684 pieces of artillery”, According to the Washington-based Heritage Foundation,

People in Military

The number of personnel is specified by decree of the President of Russia. On 1 January 2008, a number of 2,019,629 units, including military of 1,134,800 units, was set.

In 2022, Russia has a total of 3.5 million people in its military, about 1 million of which are in active service. Russia has access to an incredible 13,000 tanks and a defense budget of $42 billion.

In Russia, military service is still mandatory for all male citizens aged between 18 and 27. Despite Putin’s best efforts, Russian military expenditure lags behind the US, China and India, coming fourth globally.

In 2010 the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) estimated that the Russian Armed Forces numbered about 1,027,000 active troops and in the region of 2,035,000 reserves (largely ex-conscripts). As opposed to personnel specified by decree, actual personnel numbers on the payroll was reported by the Audit Chamber of Russia as 766,000 in October 2013. As of December 2016, the armed forces are at 93 percent of the required manpower, up from 82 percent reported in December 2013.

According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, between 2005-2009 and 2010–2014, Russian exports of major weapons increased by 37 percent; Russia spent $66.4 billion on arms in 2015, then $69.2 billion in 2016, having taken 3rd place (after the U.S. and China). According to the Russian Defence Ministry, the share of modern weaponry in service with Russia’s army and fleet amounts to 71.2% with serviceability of weapons at 99% as of 2021.

How Russia Has The World's 2nd Strongest Militaries?
Russian navy ships launch cruise missiles at targets in Syria from the Caspian Sea on Nov. 20, 2015. The attack was more a show of force than eliminating enemies in Syria. (Russian Defense Ministry Press Service / AP Archive)

In the 21st century, Moscow must make do with a smaller, more professional military, and one that's better at keeping highly trained personnel alive.

Russian Nuclear weapons, Air Force, Navy

Even in its worst years after the fall of the Soviets in the early 1990s, Russie continued to possess a large nuclear military arsenal. Right now, the country has the largest stockpile of nuclear weapons compared to any other global power.

The Russian Air Force is often referred to as the second most powerful in the world after the US. In the last ten years, Russia was able to add more than 1,000 aircraft including its SU-35s to its air force, according to the Russian defence ministry.

SU-35s, the country’s most technologically advanced warplanes, are now deployed to Belarus, a Russian ally, which neighbours Ukraine. The country’s air force also possesses strategic bombers alongside only two other powers, the US and China.

Like its air force, the Russian Navy is also one of the most powerful sea forces after the US. Moscow is able to operate the world’s second largest fleet of submarines deployed with ballistic missiles.

The country’s land force is also formidable with more than three million personnel, including reservists, making it one of the largest forces across the world.

Russia has arguably the world’s largest tank repertoire, but its T-72B3 tanks are also strengthened by a new thermal optics technology for fighting in the dark, having guided missiles, with a longer range than any other tanks, according to American military experts.

The country’s Iskander-M rockets, whose production was completed under Putin’s watch, are the country’s new generation ballistic missiles. They were recently deployed by Moscow along the Russian-Ukrainian border, showing capability of hitting any targets in Ukraine.

Beyond the huge size of the Russian armed forces, Moscow has also managed to cultivate a disciplined force. While Russia is still largely dependent on conscripts, which covers about 30 percent of its total force, its main force is now well-paid and well-trained soldiers, which number around 400,000.

Russian leadership allows lower-level officers to operate with significant autonomy, something seldom seen in its civilian leadership. It has also increased morale and mobility across military ranks.

Russian hybrid warfare - non-contact warfare

Russia seems to be developing sophisticated hybrid warfare against its enemies using diplomacy, cyberattacks, social media and other means alongside military power. That capability, which is more difficult than producing weapons, is a clear sign of Russia’s adaptation to modern warfare.

Russia is essentially in a constant state of a hybrid warfare against NATO, which means employing not just kinetic military force but psychological, multimedia, social media, economic and all sorts of operations, trying to weaken its enemies,” said Matthew Bryza, a former US diplomat to Azerbaijan, a former Soviet republic, with TRT World.

Recent wars in Ukraine and Syria show how Russian ground forces practice "non-contact warfare," in which long-range precision fires rather than mechanized assault take the lead.

The new Russian playbook keeps tanks and infantry outside direct-fire range until the big guns and rockets have done most of the killing. This is possible due to the new capabilities of surveillance drones and electronic warfare units to ferret out enemy positions without having to push as many human scouts into harm's way.

Old Soviet Weapons

The breakdown of the Soviet Union left Moscow not only weaker in terms of territory and the number of troops, but also when it comes to military suppliers, according to the experts. The legacy of the Soviet Union is still very much present in the modern Russian army, as many of its cutting edge systems.

Su-25 attack plane: designed to support ground troops. Russia recently announced that the latest version of the aircraft has entered production. Its designers insist it only looks like the old Su-25, that all the avionics are absolutely modern and it has shown how good it was during the Syrian war."

Seven decades of Kalashnikov: The 30-round AK 47 is arguably the most recognizable firearm in the world. The Soviet engineer Mikhail Kalashnikov (pictured above in 2002) created the automatic rifle after World War II. It quickly earned a reputation for being cheap and reliable, with various armies, guerilla groups and street gangs all using the weapon to this day.

MiG-29 still flying high: The Mikoyan MiG-29 first entered production in the early 1980s and was praised as a highly maneuverable and agile dogfighter. The original model has since been upstaged by both NATO fighters and its more expensive brother Sukhoi, but its variants are still deployed in combat. The Russian air force uses MiG-29s to target the so-called "Islamic State" forces in Syria.

S-300 and its descendants: In 2016, Russia sold its advanced aerial defense system to Iran, but kept quiet on the details. The Cold War-era version of the S-300 had a range of 150 kilometers (93 miles), and could hit targets at altitudes above 27 kilometers, with the more modern Antey 2500 system reportedly expanding the range to 400 kilometers. India and China are seeking to buy the even-more-advanced S-400 missiles.

T-34, a symbol of an era: The Red Army owes much of its victory over Germany to the iconic T-34, which first appeared on the battlefield in 1941. The battle-tested T-34 eventually became the most widely produced tank of the war and influenced armored vehicles for decades. The Russian military still honors it by having it lead the Victory Day parade.

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