By Fred Weir
With the tensions between Russia and the West so high – often being described as “a new cold war” – one might understandably assume that there is a corresponding arms race going on. But in fact, Russia’s military spending is on the decline. In the first strategic program of his new and possibly final presidential term, Vladimir Putin announced plans for a relentless focus on domestic development, to be partially paid for by sharp cuts in defense spending.
Cuts to defense spending will go toward underwriting that agenda. But in fact, Russian defense spending has already started to decline. According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), Russian military spending fell by 20 percent last year, the first major decrease in two decades. While critics dispute the amount and suggest there may be budgetary machinations at work, most analysts agree that the share of military spending as a percentage of GDP is set to fall, from 6.6 percent in 2016, to 5 percent this year and to 3 percent by the end of Putin’s current term in 2024.Φ
Fred Weir has been the Monitor’s Moscow correspondent, covering Russia and the former Soviet Union, since 1998. He’s traveled over much of that vast territory, reporting on stories ranging from Russia’s financial crash to the war in Chechnya, creeping Islamization in central Asia, Russia’s demographic crisis, the rise of Vladimir Putin and his repeated returns to the Kremlin, and the ups and downs of US-Russia relations.