Wednesday, August 5, 2009

A Resurgent Russia?

The New York Times has recently reported Russian Akula-class submarines coming dangerously close to US territorial waters, supposedly operating 200 miles off the coast. The Akula-class is a tactical, attack submarine that does not carry ICBMs, but this is very provocative behavior to say the least.

It's been well known that Russia wants to portray itself as a major player in the international scene, but I've always thought that the extent of the Russian threat really only extended to its old stomping grounds in the former Soviet Union. Whether you are talking about the on again off again gas wars with Ukraine, cyberwarfare with Estonia, or an armed conflict with Georgia, Russia seemed to be the dominant actor in their region. But these latest actions represent a change in policy. With all the talk of pushing the "reset button" and what appeared to be a productive visit between Obama and Medvedev last month, these actions seem very strange. Of course, it could be much ado about nothing, but it's still worth keeping an eye on.

These actions, combined with the failed test of the Bulava SLBM, prove that the Russian military is drastically searching for relevance in an ever-changing 21st Century battlefield. With their economy crippled due to the low price of oil, Russia will have no choice but to scale back their military, much against Medvedev and Putin's wishes. Russia learned this lesson the hard way back in the 80's, and they will not willingly repeat the same mistakes. In the next few years, Russia will have to look for ways to achieve military advantages in the face of regressing defense budgets. How they balance that equilibrium will help to determine the security environment of the former Soviet Union as well as give us insight as to how well US-Russian relations will be in the Obama administration.