Opinion: Russia′s love for its army | Opinion | DW | 29.07.2015
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Opinion: Russia's love for its army

Russia's new naval doctrine is designed to showcase the country's military might. That may impress militarily enthused Russians, but DW's Juri Rescheto wonders whether the ambitious plans can ever be implemented.

At the age of five, I asked my mother this, "When the soldiers come, you'll hide me under the table won't you?"

It was the 1970s, I lived in the Soviet Union and the Cold War was still very much alive. The fear of one day being taken away by "the soldiers" of the Soviet army to defend my Russian homeland against the "rotten West," was actually more horrifying than the fear of being attacked by the "rotten West" itself. Maybe it had to do with my pacifist upbringing, but I wasn't alone with that fear. I knew no one who wanted join the army, and I knew no one who was proud of the army.

And that was despite the military cheerleading program "I Serve the Soviet Union," which ran every Sunday on Russian television and the obligatory class "Introduction to military education" at school. And the yearly school military parades. The propaganda of the 1970s couldn't create what today's propaganda has brought about: Russian society's love for the army.

Prestigious institution

According to a new poll conducted by the Russian opinion research center VZIOM, 86 percent of Russians are convinced that the army would be capable of defending the nation in the case of an emergency. Of those polled, 40 percent said they respected the army, and 59 percent were proud of it and thought that it symbolized hope. An overwhelming majority of Russians considered the army to be a prestigious institution that offers young citizens a chance for personal development.

More than likely, that 86 percent will have been very happy when President Vladimir Putin unveiled Russia's new naval doctrine during the impressive Navy Day celebration spectacle in Kaliningrad on Sunday. Russia is a peaceful nation, so the message went. Of course, it would never threaten or attack anyone.

Portrait of Juri Rescheto

DW correspondent Juri Rescheto

But it is always vigilant, and will show no mercy to anyone who has thoughts of attacking the largest country on earth. If that were to happen, then agile ships with precision navigation systems and lightning-fast rockets would enter into the equation. Now, in light of NATO's eastern expansion, the Mediterranean and the Arctic Ocean have become Russia's new priority zones.

So far, so good, everything seems logical enough and generally fits into the new overall military doctrine Russia presented to the world last autumn. At that time, Chief of General Staff Valery Gerasimov announced that by 2020, Russian forces would be receiving 11,000 new armored fighting vehicles, 30 new ships and submarines and 14,000 new military vehicles - not to mention countless numbers of new missiles. Impressive, even comparable to the pace of the military build-up that took place during the Cold War. However, there are no guarantees that it will actually happen.

Funding questions

Western sanctions and a growing Russian financial crisis may well wipe out Moscow's ambitious plans for a new military orientation by 2020. In Moscow's worst case scenario, money would disappear and important components for complicated precision weaponry stationed on agile ships pointed at the West could then no longer be purchased from that very same West. And one can certainly be skeptical as to whether "impotozameshenie," import substitutes, a currently lauded cure-all, will actually take hold and be as quick and effective for the military as they are supposed to be.

Additionally, the weapons manufacturers' rampant plundering of state coffers for when it comes to national arms deals needs to be ended once and for all. Vladimir Putin recently threatened to put this plague on par with financing terrorism and complained that the price of weapons had increased by 11 times between when the weapons systems were ordered and delivered.

Only when these problems have been solved, and Russia's new plans can be securely financed, will the proud Russian citizen be able to be truly proud of his army - and not have to worry that a missile fired from a navy ship will explode upon launch and fall into the sea just two meters (6 feet) from the deck, as was the case at celebrations this past weekend in Sevastopol on the Crimean peninsula. Fortunately, the president wasn't there, he was just finishing up ceremonies in Kaliningrad. Where another missile got stuck in its launcher.

What do you think of Russia's military policy? Share your views in the comments below.

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