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Opinion: Russian arms build-up - the new normal

Ingo Mannteufel / jsJune 18, 2015

Russia's military postering, a supposed reaction to NATO's defense build-up, has been planned for quite some time. Ingo Mannteufel says that we will once again have to get used to confrontational rhetoric from Moscow.

Russland Putin bei der Militärmesse in Kubinka
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/A. Vilf

Vladimir Putin has announced the acquisition of more than 40 new intercontinental missiles for Russia's nuclear forces. Moscow cited the USA's plans to station heavy military hardware in East European NATO countries as justification for the build-up. The Kremlin naturally glosses over the fact that the build-up of defensive forces on NATO's eastern border is taking place in the context of Russia's aggressive policy in Ukraine.

Russia and the West find themselves - once again - in a game theoretical security dilemma. Both sides mistrust each other and are therefore building-up their own military capabilities. Each side feels threatened for exactly that reason, and is intensifying their own acquisitions. The result: a classic arms race.

Putin needs the confrontation

This development comes as no surprise, and above all the Germans should learn to view Moscow's new confrontational rhetoric as the 'new normal.' Many erroneously suppose that the confrontation in Ukraine is the reason for the deterioration of relations between the West and Russia.

Ingo Mannteufel, Leiter der Europa-Redaktion der DW
DW Europe editor Ingo MannteufelImage: DW

However, the conflict in and around Ukraine is a result, or an expression, of a deeper development within Russia. The beginning of Putin's third term as president in 2011/2012 was accompanied by violent protests among the country's small, urban middle-class. The Kremlin answered with a pivot toward Russian nationalist and orthodox values in reaction to the crisis of legitimacy surrounding the president. With heavily anti-Western rhetoric, which in the course of the Ukraine crisis has taken on a pathological bent, Putin has been able to catapult his approval ratings, which were very low in 2012, to unheard of heights. They are currently around 80 percent.

This focus on an own 'special path' is also accompanied by a new economic strategy. In an era of global financial crisis and sinking international energy costs, the Kremlin decided - long before the Ukraine crisis - to break with the West's offers of partnership and modernization. Instead, since 2012, Moscow has been putting its chips on Soviet style re-industrialization: It intends to use technological research institutes connected to the military-industrial complex to rebuild the production sector of its economy.

Long planned build-up

Back in February 2012, Vladimir Putin - then prime minister and presidential candidate - announced massive investments in the Russian arms industry, which he pledged would total some 23 trillion rubels by the year 2022. And more than three years ago he spoke of equipping ten further armed forces regiments with Topol-M and Yars nuclear missiles. Putin has effectively repeated that same statement - swapping cause and effect - in the context of NATO's defensive plans for Eastern Europe.

The bitter truth of the matter is that it isn't the Ukraine conflict, or even the West's reaction to it that has brought about this new confrontation between the West and Russia, but rather the fact that President Putin's political course has been heading toward this new Cold War for years. Even if the West doesn't want to believe it: This is the new normal.

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