Posted on Jan 11, 2021
In July 2020 the Russian Ministry of Finance proposed a 5% reduction in financing for the state armament programme over the next three years.
Under the new plans, the 20 trillion rouble (€221 billion) 10-year military appropriations programme (known as GPV 2027) covering defence procurement, repairs, research and development, and infrastructure investment until 2027 will be reduced by a total of 225 billion roubles between 2021 and 2023. Wider defence funding could be reduced by as much 323 billion roubles.
These cuts reflect the economic effects of the COVID19 pandemic, and the associated cut in demand for oil.
Despite this, however, one arm of the Russian military continues to grow in size and capabilities: Rosgvardiya,the National Guard of the Russian Federation an internal military force of the Russian government, founded in 2016 on the orders of President Vladimir Putin, and reporting directly to him.
This move, widely questioned and criticised in Russia itself, is considered to be a manifestation of Putin's fear of a "colour-revolution" or a coup. He is known to be nervous about current events in Minsk where "Europe's last dictator" Alexander Lukashenko is facing constant protests despite vicious repressive tactics by OMAN, the country's "special police."
The overthrow of his ally Viktor Yanukovych in Kyiv in 2014 shook Putin. Another colour-revolution, the fall of a another post-Soviet dictator would send out a message to the long suffering Russian people, and this is what Putin fears most of all.
Envisaged initially as comprising up to 400,000 personnel Rosgvardiya has wide ranging powers that encompass duties that would normally be performed by police, the army, customs officers, and the Federal Security Service (FSB).
Putin saw the need to create the force in the context of the run-up to the 2016 parliamentary elections and harsh economic conditions such as those being experienced today.
The force has been given the power to fire live ammunition into crowds (however, they are specifically banned from shooting women showing obvious signs of pregnancy unless they are committing an offence).
At the time, Prof. Mark Galeotti, principal director of the consultancy Mayak Intelligence, as well as an Honorary Professor at UCL, Senior Associate Fellow of RUSI and a Senior Nonresident Fellow at the Institute of International Relations Prague and Middle East Institute, wrote that the National Guard "...have little real role fighting crime or terrorism; they are public security forces, riot and insurrection control and deterrence assets."
On September of 2019 Putin’s United Russia party suffered an unexpected and humiliating bloody nose in Moscow's city elections despite all the usual dirty tricks which included barring and jailing opposition candidates, and the brutal suppression of protests by the National Guard.
In a farcical outcome a "spoiler" candidate named Alexander Soloviev, put up as a candidate to confuse voters and to take votes away from a genuine oppositionist of the same name, who on polling day was languishing in the cells, was the winner, although Putin's party retained a narrow majority.
This year, on September 19th Russians will return to the polls to vote in elections that are widely expected to be rigged.
The tradition of setting up the "spoiler parties" has already begun, and having failed to murder oppositionist Alexei Navalny in August of last year Moscow is trying to lure him from his current exile to face criminal charges, undoubtedly in a carefully choreographed show-trial.
Putin himself is rarely seen in public now, having reportedly weathered the COVID pandemic since April 2020 from the safety of a bunker at his recently renovated residence in Novo-Ogaryovo, outside Moscow, built for Georgi Malenkov, successor to Josef Stalin.
Malenkov however never got to enjoy the property as he was ousted from power in 1955 largely due to his relationship with Lavrentiy Beria, Putin's predecessor as head of the NKVD, subsequently renamed KGB, and then FSB.
Putin himself is reportedly in failing health, having been seen suffered from coughing fits during online meetings, and is rumoured to be showing signs of the highly debilitating Parkinson's disease.
On September 19th, Putin's bunker may well become his Alamo.
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