While the world raved about Russian President Vladimir Putin’s State of the Nation Address to the Federal Assembly today in which he outlined Russia’s new nuclear weapons capabilities, most of the global press missed the main revelation of the sensational oratory. Yes, Russia makes really good weapons, especially the nuclear kind, and yes, they are very powerful. However, Putin is keen to prevent repeating the scenario that befell the Soviet Union, losing the technological race over missile defense and bankrupting the nation. His speech today exposed these concerns, and worries about the new U.S. nuclear defense doctrine recently announced by the Trump administration, designed to blunt perceived Russian aggression militarily and in cyberspace.
“Some of the provisions of the updated US nuclear strategy review, which reduces the threshold for using nuclear weapons, trigger tremendous concern. One can try to calm down anyone behind the scenes as one chooses, but we read what has been written. It is written in such a way that it can be used in response to a conventional weapon strike or even in response to a cyberthreat,” Putin declared.
“In this regard, I am pleased to inform you that tests conducted during military exercises have produced positive results, confirming that in the near future Russia’s Strategic Missile Forces will receive the newest technical complexes capable of achieving hypersonic speed and hitting targets at intercontinental distances with high accuracy, at the same time being able to fully manoeuvre, changing altitude and course,” Putin said, adding that “no other country currently has such weapons.”
“Despite all the economic, financial and defense issues that we faced, Russia has been and still is the biggest nuclear power. Back then, no one wanted to have substantive talks with us, no one was listening. So listen now.”
In a response to the Trump administration’s pressure on the North Korean regime, “I believe it as my duty to say this: any use of nuclear weapons of any yield – small, medium or whatever – against Russia or its allies will be regarded as a nuclear attack against our country. Retaliation will be instant with all the ensuing consequences,” reported Russian state news agency TASS.
The boasting of new weapons and ‘indefensible’ capabilities was meant for show to the domestic audience, as well as for the American defense establishment. Putin is up for re-election to a fourth six-year presidential term on March 18th. There is no doubt as to the outcome of this poll. Putin will remain in power.
However there is a different kind of poll which Russian leaders have to worry about-the specter of societal unrest. This scenario has also worried the Kremlin for some time as the economy continues to limp along with relatively low oil prices and Western sanctions.
The other part of the speech which did not receive as much attention in the Western media was the focus on the obvious economic and demographic problems facing the Russian Federation going forward. The oligarchic system does not allow for innovation and creative destruction, as this destruction would harm the economic interests of those in power. This lack of natural technological development leads to societal decay. Putin realizes this and said as much, calling for reforms that could jumpstart the Russian future.
“Falling behind in technology is the main threat and enemy to our country. If we do not change the situation, it will inevitably intensify…We must address one of the key goals for the coming decade — ensuring long-term growth in the real incomes of citizens and halving the level of poverty in six years…Russia must not only gain a firm foothold as one of the world’s five largest economies by the middle of the next decade, but increase our GDP per capita by one and a half times….This trend will continue in the coming years and will become a serious obstacle to economic growth…Over the next six years, we will allocate at least 59.9 million dollars for demographic development…Life expectancy needs to exceed 80 years by the end of the next decade,” reported The Moscow Times.
The above goals are laudatory but could be impossible, as are the promises given to the American population by any presidential candidate, or state of the union speech.
The point is Russia is facing extreme economic weakness if it does not reform its system; but, reform is impossible as long as Putin is in power. This is the classic paradox of the Russian existence.
No amount of new, scary nuclear weapons will change that fact.