War becoming the top budget priority

Agency WPS
What the Papers Say. Part B (Russia)
February 8, 2005, Tuesday


SOURCE: Nezavisimaya Gazeta – Dipkurier, No. 2, February 2005, p. 11

by Vladimir Mukhin

The economies of practically all CIS countries are on the rise at
this point. GDP growth is being recorded almost everywhere – not only
in the oil and gas exporter nations (Russia, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan,
Turkmenistan), but also in countries less rich in natural resources
(Ukraine, Armenia, and Belarus).

Defense spending in the post-Soviet states is growing at an even more
impressive rate. Average GDP growth in 2004 amounted to 7-9%, while
defense spending increased by at least 30%. A similar trend will
continue in 2005 as well.

It is common knowledge that the defense and security situation
remains unstable, and military threats to practically all CIS
countries are intensifying. The sources of these threats can be found
both at home and abroad. They are attributed to terrorist
organizations and the presence of potential conflict zones (including
“separatist regions”).

On the other hand, defense spending in the majority of CIS nations is
out of proportion to the capacities of their economies, and this
state of affairs inevitably has a direct impact on ordinary citizens.
One-third of Russia’s federal budget spending goes to the Defense
Ministry and other security or law enforcement structures. In Armenia
and Azerbaijan, defense and security spending amounts to almost 50%
of total budget spending. Unfortunately, even this increased defense
spending cannot hope to provide a radical solution to the problem of
modernizing and restructuring national armed forces. They still
retain Soviet-era weapons and military hardware. Even aid from the
United States, NATO, and China to certain countries is only a partial
solution to the task of modernizing their armed forces and secret
services. Georgia and Uzbekistan each recieved $10 million of
American aid in 2004; this covered only 15% of defense spending for
Georgia, and 1% for Uzbekistan.

Why would CIS countries want to upgrade their armed forces? Firstly,
they are bracing themselves for potential hostilities. Secondly, they
need to boost their level of domestic security.

The first group of countries includes practically all of the Caucasus
– Armenia, Georgia, and Azerbaijan – where there are regions with
separatist regimes. These countries have been increasing their
defense and security spending for years already. Georgia’s military
budget this year is 44% greater than it was in 2004. Counting the $65
million provided by the United States to equip and train four
battalions of the Georgian Army between 2001 and 2004, the rise is
indeed unprecedented. The situation in Azerbaijan is similar. Baku
will spend $245 million on its Armed Forces in 2005 (a rise of 36%
compared to 2004, and 50% compared to 2003). Armenia is spending a
great deal as well; its defense budget for 2005 will amount to $127
million, or 3.6% of the GDP (a 35% rise compared to 2004). And this
figure does not take into account spending on the Karabakh defense
army, funded by Armenia.

The countries of the Caucasus are making preparations – apparently
for hostilities on the territory of Nagorno-Karabakh, Abkhazia, and
South Ossetia.

The second group of countries includes almost all Central Asian
states. Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Tajikistan, and Kazakhstan are
focusing their attention on internal stability. All these countries
have radical opposition movements, and their armed forces also
perform a domestic security function. This trend is particularly
marked in the authoritarian Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan, where there
have been assassination attempts directed at national leaders,
terrorist attacks, and street protests.

These countries spend 5-6% of their GDP on their security and law
enforcement structures – a record figure for the CIS and worldwide.
Practically all their resources are spent on maintaining mechanisms
of suppression that would stop at nothing to crush the radical

The level of defense spendings in Tajikistan is relatively high as
well (about $30 million). This is attributed to the difficult foreign
affairs situation, abundance of troops, and Dushanbe’s determination
to take sole responsibility for security along the
Tajikistan-Afghanistan border as of 2006. Kazakhstan is building up
its military structure in the Caspian region, and this also requires
a great deal of resources: Astana will spend $448 million (1.2% of
GDP) on national defense in 2005.

Russia’s motives in raising defense spending are quite clear. This
concerns continuing the war against Chechen guerrillas and other
radical Islamists in the Caucasus. It also concerns Moscow’s
determination to maintain nuclear parity with the United States and
play the role of a world power.

Ukraine is raising its military budget by 22% this year. Experts
attribute this to the radical cuts in troop strength of the Army and
Navy and the military reforms under way in Ukraine. Kiev will spend
$1.127 billion on national defense in 2005. This is the
second-largest sum spent on defense in the CIS. Russia is first on
the list of heavy spenders, and Uzbekistan is third.

Some CIS countries, however, are not considering any dramatic
increases in defense spending. These countries spend less than 1% of
GDP on national defense: Moldova ($30 million) and Kyrgyzstan ($20
million). Belarus will spend 1% of GDP, or $268.5 million, on defense
this year; although official Minsk intends to double the sum within a
decade. Moldova is still at odds with Trans-Dniester separatists and
is counting on military aid from NATO and the European Union.
Kyrgyzstan benefits from the NATO and Russian military bases on its
territory; the rent it collects from those bases exceeds all its arms
spendings. In the meantime, experts name Moldova and Kyrgyzstan as
the most likely sites for the next “color revolutions” similar to
those in Ukraine and Georgia.

Translated by A. Ignatkin