Four Security-Related Take-Aways from Putin’s ‘Direct Line’ Show

IMG_7279Another marathon (3 hours 40 minutes) ‘Direct Line’ show is over as Putin fielded the usual array of carefully-selected questions from the nation. As ever, one has to give him credit for being willing to do this at all, however staged it is (I don’t see Western leaders lining up to emulate him), although in the main it is beginning to feel like the series of a long-running show just before it gets axed, the lines predictable, the leads tired, the magic gone…

As such, not a great deal worth flagging up from a security-related perspective, but

  1. Putin claims there can be defence cuts without procurement cuts, but doesn’t really convince. He admitted that everyone — including the military — are having to make economies in the current economic crisis, but added that it should not affect the rearmament programme (even while criticising the USSR’s high defence spend), reassuring a defence plant manager who was worried “we’ll have to go back to making frying pans like we did in the 1990s.” Well, this simply won’t work unless he’s ready to see serious cuts elsewhere; politicians everywhere like to pretend there are magical efficiency savings to be squeezed out of state structures, but rarely do they achieve them on anything like the scale they claim. As is, the oboronzakaz defence order is being quietly scaled back and spaced out, but if he really wants to support buying new weapons, he will need to accept cuts elsewhere, in pay and conditions (= harder to hit those targets for professional volunteers), training, personnel (= further shrinkage), etc…
  2. The National Guard is obviously Putin’s new Praetorians. We heard the usual nonsense that this is about fighting crime, including a mention about controlling illegal weapons. Given that the natsgvardiya has no investigative capacities, this would really mean house-to-house searches, which is not impossible, but hardly encouraging… We have still heard no plausible explanation for the formation of the National Guard in law enforcement terms: let’s just accept this is a security force to keep the masses and elite in line.
  3. Ramzan Kadyrov is untouchable. Any suggestions that the NG is also going to control the ‘Kadyrovtsy’ sound doubly implausible now (I was anyway a sceptic). Putin was positively pathetic in his apologia for Kadyrov’s antics, including his calling critics “enemies of the people.” We got waffle about the Chechens being a hot-headed people (so are the Turks, one might say: let’s see him give them equal leeway), Kadyrov being a patriot, and that at least he is not in the forests any more shooting at Russians (alluding to his previous time as a rebel). Putin might as well just have said that he doesn’t dare do anything against Kadyrov or the Chechens because they are too scary.
  4. Not everything went well in Syria, but what a great sales event! He was unexpectedly downbeat when given a question he could pretty easily have turned into a paean to Russian military capacities. “Yes, certain drawbacks have been exposed… I shall be honest, there are many of them. Everything is now carefully being examined by experts.” I thought that pretty grudging (were I feeling conspiratorial, I’d wonder if he was stinting on his praise of the military because of the question someone texted in about Shoigu as the next PM), and his real enthusiasm was for the arms sales opportunities: “Interest in our weapons, especially after and during the operation of our Aerospace Troops and in general Armed Forces in Syria has grown sharply. We cannot meet the demands of the foreign market for some kinds of weapons, for example air defense systems.” That said, is the news really that good? He said that Russia now had a $50 billion order book over the “next few years.” Few to me implies at least three, and 2015’s orders $14.5B, so simply at that rate, 3 years = $43.5B, so absolute best case means up 15%, but if “few” is 3.5 years then that already comes to over $50B, so let’s not take these vague words at face value.
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  1. The Morning Vertical, April 15, 2016 – What Is Said…
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