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Russian, NATO Arms Race Takes Shape

Jun. 7, 2014 - 03:45AM   |  
Russian Build-up: A Russian Su-30 fighter performs at an air show outside Moscow last summer. Russia plans to purchase more Sukhoi fighters and bombers, along with helicopters and transport aircraft as part of its Air Force expansion. (KIRILL KUDRYAVTSEV/AFP via Getty Images)
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WARSAW — The crisis in Ukraine is continuing to spur increased military efforts by both Russia and NATO’s Eastern European member states, with the former recently adding to its procurement list, and countries such as Poland, the Czech Republic, Lithuania and Latvia unveiling plans to expand their defense budgets.

In a move designed to bolster regional security, US President Barack Obama expressed support to Eastern European allies and announced a new initiative to increase US military presence in the region during his June 3-4 official visit to Poland.

Under the European Reassurance Initiative, Washington is to allocate US $1 billion to ensure security assistance for those Eastern European nations that feel threatened by Russia’s intervention in Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula.

At a joint conference held at a military airport in Warsaw, Polish President Bronislaw Komorowski said his country aims to further increase its military cooperation with the US. Referring to the F-16 jets sitting in the background, Komorowski said the US is viewed as a guarantee of regional stability.

“The security of Poland and the entire region also relies on Polish-American cooperation, on the presence of US troops on Polish soil at a time when we are all witnessing the crisis … in Ukraine,” the Polish president said.

Meanwhile, the Russian Air Force has announced a new plan to increase the combat and transport capabilities of its fleet. By the end of 2014, the military branch plans to order new planes, helicopters and radars, Col. Igor Klimov, a spokesman for Russia’s Defense Ministry, told local news agency RIA Novosti.

The aircraft include:

■ Sukhoi Su-34 bomber, Su-30SM and Su-35S fighter jets.

■ Yakovlev Yak-130 jet trainers.

■ Ilyushin Il-76MD-90 transports.

■ Kamov Ka-52 and Ka-226 helicopters.

■ Mil Mi-28N, Mi-8AMTSh and Mi-35 helicopters.

All of the companies are part of Russia’s state-owned giant, Rostec.

In addition to the aircraft, Russian military units are to receive new radars, as well as low-altitude stations Podlyot and Kasta 2-2, Klimov said. Other plans by the Russian armed forces include holding major military drills this year, the Vostok 2014, according to the spokesman.

“[The Russian Air Force will also order] high-end S-400 surface-to-air missiles and Pantsir-S short-range air defense systems,” Klimov said.

The ministry did not disclose the amount of the aircraft and equipment to be purchased. However, the acquisitions will be part of plans by the Russian Defense Ministry to spend $650 billion on new arms and military equipment by 2020.

Poland To Boost Military Spending

“The crisis in Ukraine is widely seen as the largest challenge to regional stability and security … in Eastern Europe in the past 20 years,” said Marek Jablonowski, a political scientist at the University of Warsaw. “Neighboring countries respond by a renewed commitment to ensuring sufficient defense capabilities. There is a noticeable shift in national policies.”

Poland serves as an example of such a shift. To accelerate the modernization of the country’s armed forces, Komorowski announced plans to raise Poland’s defense spending to 2 percent of its gross domestic product (GDP), up from the current 1.95 percent. The announcement was made at a joint conference with Obama on June 3.

With Poland’s GDP totaling about $514 billion in 2013, according to data from the International Monetary Fund, this would translate into expanding the Polish defense budget by roughly $257 million.

“I have informed President Obama on the Polish will to … increase the level of our commitment to defense spending, and also to make a gesture to encourage other [NATO] member states to follow this trend,” Komorowski said.

Under its ongoing military modernization program, Poland has also launched a number of procurements to expand the Polish Air Force. These include the planned acquisitions of 70 new helicopters and several hundred drones. This year, Defense Ministry officials announced the country was considering the purchase of fifth-generation jet fighters. In addition, Poland is planning to spend up to $5 billion on modernizing the country’s air and anti-missile defense system.

While the planned increase in military spending is not significant in absolute terms, it is exemplary of a region-wide trend.

In late May, Czech Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka announced that the Czech Republic is planning raise the country’s defense budget from 1 percent of its GDP to 1.4 percent as a reaction to the crisis in Ukraine. Since the conflict’s outbreak, two Baltic states, Lithuania and Latvia, also have claimed they will boost their defense expenditure.

“We are increasing our defense budget. Our political parties have signed an agreement to reach 2 percent of GDP by 2020,” Lithuania’s Defense Minister Juozas Olekas said June 1 at the NATO Parliamentary Assembly.

“Now, more than ever, the defense budget in Latvia has to be reconsidered, finding a way to gradually increase it to 2 percent of the GDP,” Latvian Defense Minister Raimonds Vejonis said on March 2.

Both countries allocate less than 1 percent of their GDPs to defense. ■


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