Tag Archives: Ukraine

Russia’s Maneuvering of Conflicts for Enhancing Military Exports

The Red Queen’s Navy

Written by Vidya Sagar Reddy, The Red Queen’s Navy will discuss the The Red Queeninfluence of emerging naval platforms and technologies in the geostrategic contours of the Indo-Pacific region. It identifies relevant historical precedents, forming the basis for various maritime development and security related projects in the region.

“Now, here, you see, it takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place.”– The Red Queen, Through the Looking Glass, Lewis Carroll.

By Vidya Sagar Reddy

Introduction

Contrary to Western assessments that Russia’s military intervention in Syria would only deepen the economic crisis it is already facing, Vladimir Putin is tactfully turning this situation into an advantage. He is betting on the enormous Russian military-industrial complex with the logic that increasing the cash flow into this sector would create jobs and enhance military exports, reviving the economy. He is not alone in this thought. Foreign military sales is one of the principal sectors of the U.S. national economy creating millions of jobs, supporting local industries, and promoting innovation.

Russia provided ideological and military support to Communist forces in Asia, influencing the outcome of the Korean and Vietnam conflicts during the Cold War. The fallout of these conflicts continues to overshadow emerging security dynamics in the Asia-Pacific. In this context, the Asia-Pacific region, which is grappling to respond to the rise of a regional hegemon, appears to be most promising for exporting Russian weapon systems.

Russian Arms Sales in the Asia-Pacific

It is hard to substantiate whether Russia is a direct stakeholder in the stability of the Asia-Pacific. Its principal support to China in the South China Sea dispute is more of a measure to obtain a reciprocal response from China in its own altercations in Europe and West Asia. The conflicts in Ukraine and Syria continue to interrupt Russia’s plans to establish a network of energy pipelines, which is a major source of revenue for the country. The deteriorated political relations with Ukraine also means a setback for Russia’s military exports since it is dependent on Ukraine-made engines and sensors.

Amid these tensions, Russia has swung to Asia-Pacific, concluding a string of strategic partnerships and securing export orders for its defense industry. China is set to buy 24 Russian Su-35 fighter jets and 36 S-400 air defense systems. India has also finalized a deal to buy the S-400 which only adds to the dominance of Russian military equipment in its arsenal. India and Russia are also discussing the exportation of jointly developed BrahMos cruise missiles to other countries such as Vietnam.

During the recent BRICS Summit in Goa, India finalized the $2 billion deal to lease a second nuclear powered attack submarine (SSN) from Russia. India is currently operating an Akula II class SSN, rechristened the INS Chakra, on lease since 2012 for a period of ten years. India will also be buying four improved Talwar class frigates from Russia for $3 billion. Two of these ships will be built in Russia and the other two in India with the former’s assistance. These four add to the six commissioned warships of the same class, all built in Russia.

The decision to let the initial two warships be built in Russia has come as a surprise since India has already built the next generation Shivalik-class frigates domestically and has approved the construction of seven follow-on Project 17A stealth frigates by Indian shipbuilders. India will also need to buy the required power plants for these new frigates independently from Ukraine as the latter refuses to export military equipment to Russia due to the ongoing conflict. The fact is that Russia has already semi-built these frigates in its shipyard, but is struggling to obtain the engines from Ukraine. The Indian-Russian deal will arrange for these engines to be supplied to Russia through a third party (India) and the finished platforms will be commissioned for the Indian Navy.

The cruise missile salvo launched from the Caspian Sea flotilla against the targets in Syria is not only a show of force for Russia but also a live demonstration for elevating the export potential of its missiles. Several international customers including a few countries in Southeast Asia have expressed interest in the Russian Klub cruise missiles. As Russia’s official arms exporter Rosoboronexport puts it, this interest in cruise missiles leads to more orders for Russian warships and submarines because these cruise missiles require transportation and command and control platforms for deployment. Vietnam is keen to acquire land attack and anti-ship cruise missiles given the ever increasing threats from China to its territorial integrity. It has already purchased six Kilo class submarines from Russia, which will be armed with the Klub.

Russian Navy ships fire cruise missiles into Syria nearly 1000nm away from the Caspian Sea. (Russian Ministry of Defense)

Russia’s military equipment has a steady demand in the Asia-Pacific and other regions, partly due to the absence of issue linkages such as the human rights record the Western democracies would entangle their prospective buyers with. Russia is also generally insensitive to the security interests of its clients as evidenced by large deals with Vietnam, China, and India despite those nations’ concerns about one another.

Building on this demand and increasing its political leverage, Russia is even mulling reopening Soviet-era bases in the Asia-Pacific and beyond. For example, Russia is in discussions with Egypt, which is keen on allowing Russia to operate military bases in the country, thereby increasing the latter’s military footprint in the Mediterranean. There is speculation that Russia is also interested in renewing bases in Cuba and Vietnam. This will allow Russia to closely monitor both U.S. and Chinese naval activities, especially in the South China Sea.

Conclusion

Military might has always been a source of inspiration and pride for Russians, but military power does not automatically translate into economic well-being for the country. This is where Putin’s strategy comes into play, building on Russia’s vast military industrial apparatus for both international stature as well as the economic build up of the country. The Syrian conflict and the emerging security situation in the Asia-Pacific are being exploited for this purpose. The success of this economic strategy can only be awaited.

Vidya Sagar Reddy is a research assistant in the Nuclear and Space Policy Initiative of the Observer Research Foundation, New Delhi

Featured Image: Russian warships are seen during a naval parade rehearsal in the Crimean port of Sevastopol (Moscow Times) 

Shipbuilding constraints drive downsized but potent Russian Navy

Russia Resurgent Topic Week

By Dmitry Gorenburg

Official announcements related to naval shipbuilding give the appearance of a Russian Navy that is undergoing a rapid revival. However, the reality is that many projects have faced lengthy delays and cost overruns. As a result, some of the most prominent naval procurement projects have been scaled back, while others have been postponed for years at a time. The delays and cost overruns are the result of a long-term decline in naval research and development, an inability to modernize the shipbuilding industry made worse by Western sanctions, and pre-existing budgetary constraints that have been exacerbated in recent years by Russia’s economic downturn. However, the Russian Navy has developed a strategy that compensates for these gaps by utilizing its strength in submarines and cruise missile technology to fulfill key maritime missions such as homeland defense and power projection in the face of a failure to build an adequate number of large combat ships.

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An obsolete industry

Russia’s current shipbuilding industry was primarily formed in the 1960s and 1970s, and its ship design capabilities have changed little since the early 1980s. As a result, Russian naval R&D has fallen several decades behind both Western and Asian capabilities in this sphere. Most Russian ship designs are less energy-efficient and more difficult to operate and maintain than comparable Western designs. Because of the lack of investment in modern technology, Russian design bureaus have been unable to transition to three-dimensional digital design, a process that was largely completed in Western shipbuilding in the 1990s. Lack of investment has also delayed the transition to assembly of hulls from large sections, a process that took place in the early 2000s in other countries’ shipyards.

Russian leaders recognized these problems in the late 2000s and sought to absorb Western knowledge through joint projects in both military and civilian shipbuilding. However, the freezing of military cooperation with NATO states in 2014 as a result of the Ukraine crisis has largely foreclosed the possibility of catching up by borrowing Western know-how. Russian naval R&D is therefore likely to remain significantly behind when compared to the Western state of the art.

Although it has improved somewhat in recent years, Russia’s shipbuilding industry is considered to be particularly outdated and poorly structured when compared to other sectors of Russian defense industry. United Shipbuilding Corporation (USC) is the least effective of all state corporations in Russia’s defense industry as a result of its excessive size, bloated management structures, and misguided efforts to combine military and civilian shipbuilding under a single corporate roof. Unlike the majority of shipyards in other countries, Russian shipyards function not just as assembly sites for ships but also manufacture many components and even machine tools used in shipbuilding. This makes the industry less efficient than its foreign counterparts. According to reports by Russian government officials in 2013, more than 70 percent of equipment at Russian shipyards was outdated and in need of replacement. Aged equipment has resulted in delays and cost overruns in the construction of naval ships designed along modern lines.

The impact of sanctions

Russian shipbuilding has suffered more than other defense industry sectors from the introduction of Western sanctions. The German company MTU has stopped supplying diesel engines for Project 20385 corvettes, leading the Russian Navy to delay production of the several ships model and revert to the older Project 20380 version, which uses less reliable domestically produced engines.

Ukraine has stopped supplying gas turbines for Russian ships, leading to significant delays in the production of Admiral Gorshkov and Admiral Grigorovich class frigates. According to the head of USC, efforts to substitute domestic gas turbines are currently under way, with a domestically produced sample turbine expected to be ready for testing no earlier than 2017. As a result of this shift to domestic production, only two Admiral Gorshkov and three Admiral Grigorovich class frigates will be commissioned before 2020. Other ships in both classes will be delayed by a minimum of three years.

Western sanctions have also resulted in major problems with the production of ship components, including electronics, sensors, pumps, and electric motors. Russian manufactured components are particularly lacking in the areas of navigation and communication equipment. Most of these components are not produced domestically in Russia, and the industry has long been dependent on imports from Europe for high quality components. Efforts to start domestic production are underway, but prices for domestic variants are relatively high while quality is relatively low. This situation has caused tension between USC and the Russian Navy. One option that is being actively considered is shifting to imports from China for some components.

Financial constraints

The State Armament Program (SAP) for 2011-2020 assigned five trillion rubles, a quarter of the total program expenditure, to military shipbuilding. This amount was almost double the amount allocated to the ground forces and airborne forces combined. At the same time, it has been shown that this level of expenditure was beyond the means of the Russian government even prior to the budget crisis that began in 2014. While the percentage of Russian GDP devoted to military spending increased from 1.5 percent in 2010 to 3.4 percent in 2014, that level of spending was still sustainable for the Russian economy. However, SAP-2020 was backloaded, so that 70 percent of the expenditures were scheduled for the second half of the ten-year program. In the context of slowing economic growth even prior to the crisis that began in 2014, fulfilling these plans would have required Russian military spending to increase to levels of eight percent of GDP under the most realistic economic growth scenario, something that the economy could not support.

The economic crisis may result in further cuts to naval procurement. According to Russian analysts, fulfilling all currently announced naval procurement plans would require the amount of spending on military shipbuilding to increase to 6-7 trillion rubles for the next SAP. Initially, the military requested a total of 56 trillion rubles for new procurement for 2015-2025, though recognition of limits on the government’s financial resources resulted in cuts and a final request of 30 trillion rubles. Some reports suggested that even further cuts might be made, with the total program being potentially limited to only 14-15 trillion rubles. Furthermore, Russian media indicated that as a result of the unfavorable budget situation the next program may be postponed altogether.

The Russian Navy in a constrained resource environment

These financial constraints will result in Russia not being able to fulfill its goal of recapitalizing its navy with a new generation of large combat ships. Russia is unlikely to complete any new destroyers in the next ten years and will be able to complete only a small number of new frigates. At the same time, its legacy Soviet-era large combat ships will become less reliable as they age. The extent to which the Russian Navy can successfully modernize these ships will determine its ability to continue out-of-area deployments in numbers and frequency comparable to present-day rates – i.e. task groups of 2-5 ships – until the next generation of destroyers is ready in the late 2020s. If modernization programs are fulfilled only partially or not at all, by 2025 the Russian Navy will have few if any large combat ships capable of deploying regularly outside their bases’ immediate vicinity.

The Russian Navy will seek to ameliorate these limitations by focusing on developing its already formidable cruise missile strike capability. Post-Soviet innovations in precision-guided munitions, specifically tactical missile systems, are at the heart of Russia’s naval modernization. Moscow regards these systems – universal VLS armed with the latest anti-ship and land-attack cruise missiles – as potent force multipliers capable of offsetting Russian shortfalls in both the numbers and quality of ships in its fleets.

Their advent has allowed the Russian Navy to create true multi-mission platforms, capable of providing combat-credible force across several warfare areas. This innovation will allow Russia to substitute its diminishing number of large combatants with smaller ships that have limited suitability for expeditionary, blue water operations, but can nonetheless support defense and deterrence goals from seas adjacent to Russia’s littoral spaces. This focus will be combined with limited power projection based primarily on submarine that will be armed with similar cruise missiles.

Together, the combination of 30-40 small combat ships (frigates and corvettes) and 15-20 nuclear and diesel powered submarines – all armed with cruise missiles – will allow the Russian Navy to maintain its ability to protect its coastline and to threaten neighboring states. While it will not be able to project power globally, Russia’s naval capabilities will be sufficient to achieve its main maritime goals.

Dmitry Gorenburg is a senior research scientist in the Strategic Studies division of CNA, a not-for-profit research and analysis organization, where he has worked since 2000. He holds a Ph.D in political science from Harvard University and a B.A. in international relations from Princeton University. He blogs on issues related to the Russian military at http://russiamil.wordpress.com.

Read other contributions to Russia Resurgent Topic Week.

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Protraction: A 21st Century Flavor of Deterrence

This interview originally appeared on the Small Wars Journal website and was republished with permission. You may find the interview in its original form here

Interview with Jim Thomas (CSBA) conducted by Octavian Manea

Jim Thomas is Vice President and Director of Studies at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments (CSBA). He served for thirteen years in a variety of policy, planning and resource analysis posts in the Department of Defense, culminating in his dual appointment as Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Resources and Plans and Acting Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Strategy. In these capacities, he was responsible for the development of defense strategy, conventional force planning, resource assessment, and the oversight of war plans. He spearheaded the 2005-2006 Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR), and was the principal author of the QDR report to Congress.

During the last sequences of the Cold War, the US and NATO emphasized new capabilities and new operational concepts – Assault Breaker, Air Land Battle, Follow-On Forces Attack. What role did these elements have in changing Soviet perceptions about the military balance, including restoring a credible deterrence on the NATO’s Central Front?

Four things stand out as contributing to allied success in influencing the military balance in the early 1980s.

The first and probably the most important was political: allied solidarity. The Alliance successfully deployed highly controversial systems like Pershing 2 to force the Soviet Union back to the negotiating table on intermediate nuclear forces. Showing the alliance solidarity surprised the Soviet leaders and made the situation more difficult for them. Soviet leaders had high hopes that peace movements in Western Europe would scuttle any such deal and they were dead wrong.

The second is financial: beginning in the last year of the Carter Administration and continuing into, and intensifying during the Reagan Administration, decisions were taken to increase military spending. The so-called Reagan rearmament began and continued throughout the 1980s as an effort to outspend the Warsaw Pact forces.

The third is the development of new operational concepts, the American Air Land Battle concept and NATO’s complementary Follow-On Forces Attack, which emphasized being able to hold at risk second echelon forces, to “look deep and shoot deep.”

And that leads to the fourth element: technology. A DARPA initiative called Assault Breaker that was designed to harness advanced technologies that would allow for the implementation of Air Land Battle. It was the R&D centerpiece of a new technological investment strategy and the second offset strategy launched by Harold Brown and Bill Perry during the Carter Administration focusing on three technological areas: precision warfare, low observable aircraft, and the ability to use micro-processors to create the datalinks between sensors, controllers and shooters. Assault Breaker helped to spur development of new airborne sensors, networking, stealthy strike aircraft, and precision guided munitions.

All these trends were observed in Moscow. In 1984, Marshal Ogarkov, the chief of the Soviet General Staff, acknowledged that the so-called reconnaissance strike complex was emerging and that it offered a new revolution in military affairs beyond the nuclear revolution in which conventional weaponry with precision guidance could assume some roles that were previously monopolized by nuclear forces. He was also very pessimistic about the ability of the Soviet military and its defense industry to keep pace with these developments. This military pessimism converged with also changing political currents in Moscow. It wasn’t a decisive factor, but I think it contributed to the decisions made by the Soviet political leadership in the late 1980s to seek a better relationship with the West and try to reduce military competition, which increasingly was seen as a losing proposition.

How do Russia’s contemporary A2/AD capabilities change the security landscape in Europe?

First, Russia has some very capable air and sea denial systems. Russia’s ability not only to protect its own airspace but also to deny the use of airspace over the territory of NATO frontline states in a crisis or conflict has improved dramatically. This poses real problems to the Alliance especially if NATO continues to maintain a defense in depth posture with only lightly defended frontline states.

Second, since the end of the Cold War and especially since the NATO-Russia Founding Act and the adoption of the so called 3 No’s [“no intention, no plan and no reason to deploy nuclear weapons on the territory of new members”], the alliance relied on expeditionary, so-called rapid reaction forces that in a crisis or conflict would be dispatched from the more Western countries of NATO to reinforce the Eastern frontline states. But in the presence of advanced Russian air and sea denial systems this may be very difficult. In a crisis it may be in fact destabilizing to deploy NATO forces eastwards and in conflict it could be even suicidal as transport aircraft and ships, not to mention receiving ports and airbases would be vulnerable to Russian surface-to-air, anti-ship and land-attack missiles.

Third, there is this intermingling of anti-access/area denial capabilities that can essentially check conventional power-projection by other traditional militaries to reinforce frontline allies and at the same time this greater emphasis on non-linear/sub-conventional operations as emphasized by Valery Gerasimov, chief of the Russian general staff. These two types of endeavors really work hand in glove. It is this non-linear warfare area where NATO has been quite slow in terms of both defense (how it addresses these threats) as well as how it too might opportunistically exploit these similar approaches. The same can be said when it comes to A2/AD: how can the frontline states emulate or mimic some of the A2/AD approaches others are adopting to create an effective bear trap. And NATO countries also need to rethink the so called 3 NOs. It may be past time to return to a forward defense posture and permanently station US and other allied forces on the territory of the frontline states. We shouldn’t wait until the next crisis to move in this direction.

Is it accidental that revisionist powers in the Middle East, Far East and Europe are projecting their anti-status-quo interests at a time when they are feeling more confident in their own A2/AD capabilities and their ability to keep at bay traditional power projection?

Definitionally, the intention of a revisionist power is to challenge the status-quo and try to maximize its power and expand its sphere of influence. The character of revisionism is different across the three regions. Many in Europe were surprised by Putin’s annexation of Crimea because they took for granted the borders that were established at the end of the Cold War and that were perceived as indisputable as opposed to the situations in Middle East or maritime Asia.

All these revisionist powers appear less hesitant about employing irregular operations as a surrogate or as a complement to traditional military power projection. Especially when confronting other great powers, the ambiguous nature of irregular actions undertaken not by uniform soldiers, but by fishermen, by civilian protesters or by “little green men” offers a more insidious form of power projection.

Is this an incentivize for a revisionist power that had the intent, and now increasingly the capabilities and the ability, to wage low cost irregular warfare campaigns under an A2/AD umbrella?

Yes, that appears to be the case. Anti-access/area denial at the conventional level buys time and space for revisionist powers to conduct salami-slicing creeping aggression or coercion underneath whether it is in Crimea, in East China Sea, or in the future in the Middle East. Anti-access capabilities can enable conventional or unconventional forms of power projection by providing the umbrella to protect them from conventional counter-attacks especially during movements.

Rather than seeing the irregular gambit as a form of warfare distinct from conventional warfare, the revisionist powers appear to integrate these concepts in ways that combine different approaches. They are able to combine anti-access and area-denial, conventional capabilities with these irregular and sub-conventional capabilities in very effective combinations. These combinations could be differentially applied depending on the circumstances and their specific objectives at any time whether it is in Georgia, Ukraine or perhaps the Baltics or Moldova in the future. The anti-access/area-denial capabilities allow them to hold off conventional military forces and create an umbrella underneath which they can use their sub-conventional capabilities.

Do nuclear weapons have an A2/AD role? Can a nuclear umbrella play the role of an A2/AD umbrella underneath which a revisionist power can employ conventional or sub-conventional forces?

Nuclear weapons are sort of the original A2/AD threat. States that have them tend to be far more effective in dissuading others not to get too close or to think twice before attacking. Coupled with conventional A2/AD capabilities, Russia’s posture poses a vexing problem for allied planners. The range of Russia’s conventional air defense, anti-ship, and land-attack missiles blankets large portions of some frontline allies like the Baltics. Russia has declared that any attack against its territory could invite nuclear retaliation. Thus, its nuclear forces may be perceived as providing some form of sanctuary for its western conventional A2/AD capabilities.

Does NATO need a new updated 21st century Air Land Battle doctrine? How should NATO be re-postured for a security environment where parts of its territories are covered by the competitor’s A2/AD umbrella?

For NATO, the highest priority should be improving local defense of the countries on the frontline. I like Wess Mitchell and Jakub Grygiel’s proposal to establish a preclusive defense posture. Frontline states with assistance from their allies need to develop their own air, sea, land denial capabilities to negate and reduce the risks posed by the Russian conventional force aggression.

At the same time, NATO needs to develop an irregular dimension or irregular characteristics to Alliance deterrence to complement the conventional and nuclear forces. We need to expand the capacity of all NATO frontline states to conduct popular resistance, a defense that is highly irregular in its characteristics and holds out in particular a much greater risk of protracted warfare, denying quick wins for potential adversaries. We want to raise the costs dramatically for any potential aggression against NATO states and hold out the prospect of conflict widening while buying time for allies to respond and avoiding any fait-accompli on the ground. The emphasis should be put on the small highly distributed irregular resistance forces, prepositioned concealed weapons and clandestine support networks and auxiliaries. Modern guerilla forces armed with short-range man and truck portable guided rockets, guided artillery, guided mortars can conduct very rapid and very lethal maneuvers, ambushes and sabotages. We talk a lot about deterrence by denial and deterrence by punishment, but I think increasingly in the 21st century we must talk in terms of deterrence via protraction.

Should NATO have the ability to put in danger the Russian anti-access/area-denial capabilities more along the lines of the Air-Sea battle concept articulated in East Asia?

In Europe, the frontline states should make themselves indigestible and at the same time, NATO should expand its conventional strike capabilities, kinetic and non-kinetic, while preserving its nuclear options for escalation control. We want to demonstrate that there can be no possibility of aggression against NATO frontline states whether that would be classic armed conflict or would be subtle, insidious forms of subversion. We have to demonstrate unquestionable intolerance for the full range of threats that could be posed.

How should emphasis on defense modernization look like for a country like Romania exposed to the Russian A2/AD capabilities and in a time when the Black Sea is rapidly becoming a Russian A2/AD lake?

The sine-qua-non should probably be land, air, sea denial capabilities with greater emphasis on ground based air and coastal defenses, as well as distributed anti-tank weapons and mines. Romania has to return to its history and reintroduce its unique concept of popular resistance. In the long term, it may be an option to build a small fleet of coastal submarines as an asymmetric sea denial force.

This interview was published in the context of the Romania Energy Center project “Black Sea in Access Denial Age”, a project co-financed by the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). To read more, go to http://www.roec.biz/bsad/

The Gutting of Ukraine

By Norman Friedman

UkraineChina has consistently supported Ukraine during its agony at the hands of Russian-supported separatists. One of the less-publicized reasons why is that China has relied heavily on Ukrainian firms to help modernize its military.

For example, the active phased-array radar on board Chinese Type 052C destroyers was developed by a Ukrainian company. The current Chinese main battle tank is essentially the current Ukrainian one. The firms involved are all in the heavily-industrialized area in which the Russian-backed forces are operating; it may even be that the Russians are specifically targeting particular Ukrainian towns and companies. From Mr. Putin’s point of view, the Ukrainian companies may be unwanted competitors with the military industrialists on whom he depends for much of his power. At the least, he is trying to put them out of business. The white trucks supposedly carrying humanitarian aid into Ukraine from Russia were actually arriving to plunder Ukrainian factories of their modern machine tools. What the West may not want to sell to Mr. Putin, his forces can steal.

The Ukrainian plants and development companies exist because of policies implemented long before the Soviet Union broke up. The rulers of the Soviet Union were always worried that nationalism would break up their country — as, in the end, it did. One of their insurance policies against breakup was to make it difficult or impossible for those in any one of the republics making up the Soviet Union to build key items independently. For example, gas turbine ships built in Leningrad (St. Petersburg) in Russia were powered by gas turbines made in Ukraine. Their torpedoes came from Kazakhstan. Sonobuoys came from Ukraine, as did helicopter dipping sonars. Some ballistic missiles came from Ukraine. The only shipyard in the old Soviet Union capable of building carriers was in Nikolaev, in Ukraine. However, any carrier built there was armed with weapons and sensors from elsewhere in the Soviet Union, mainly from Russia.

In Soviet times, none of this really mattered. The Ukrainian factory making gas turbines responded to commands from Moscow to deliver engines to St. Petersburg, just as any factory in Russia did. There was little or no distinction between what happened in Moscow and what happened in, say, Nikolaev — no border, no transfer of cash. To a considerable extent design organizations were set up in Ukraine in the early 1960s or the late 1950s because Nikita Khrushchev, who ran the Soviet Union, was Ukrainian. For example, Khrushchev decided to reward his homeland by transferring the Crimea to it. Unsurprisingly, Russians applauded its seizure, since they had never considered the transfer legitimate. Ukrainian independence is a much more substantial issue, although most Russians apparently consider it a spurious notion, its separation a penalty imposed by the West at the end of the Cold War.

Once the Soviet Union broke up, the Soviet -era distribution of facilities suddenly mattered a great deal. All of the constituent republics of the old Soviet Union were suddenly plunged from a world of command by Moscow to a world of cash purchases. The Ukrainian plant could still make gas turbines, but if Moscow wanted a set for installation in St. Petersburg it suddenly had to pay up with real money. That was not easy. In time the Russians built their own gas turbine factory, but while that was happening they had to power ships with steam plants, because the steam plants were being made in Russia.

Conversely, key components of the carrier Varyag, afloat at Nikolaev, could not be delivered because they could not be paid for. The yard had no way to complete the carrier. Parts of her weapon system were visible for some years on the pier alongside, incomplete and hence impossible to install. In much the same way the Ukrainians had no way of completing a Slava class cruiser left nearly completed when the Soviet Union broke up. The carrier proved saleable — its transfer may have been the beginning of Ukrainian arms exports to China — but the cruiser did not. Even Ukrainian governments clearly favoring the Russians could not conjure up the resources to give the Russians weapon systems or platforms they wanted, because it took cash to move equipment over the border.

With their Russian (ex-Soviet) customers no longer paying, Ukrainian firms looked elsewhere, and they seem to have found their main customer in China — which certainly did have lots of cash. Exports were not so much finished equipment (which would probably have required components from elsewhere in the former Soviet empire) as innovative designs, such as the active phased-array radar. From time to time the Russians have tried to police the export of military data and know-how from their country, but once the Soviet Union broke up Ukraine must have made such controls a mockery in many cases. That might not have mattered had Russian military R&D kept advancing at its pre-collapse pace, but the cash shortage stopped most of that, too. Ukrainians who knew what the Soviet Union had developed by the time of its collapse could sell just about anything Russians could.

For a time, the Russians recovered to the point that they did have cash, but Russian military producers faced much higher costs at home, not least to feed an extremely corrupt political system. Now that a plunging oil price has cut Russian cash resources, it is even more difficult for them to buy from Ukrainian firms. It must be doubly difficult if they have to compete with much wealthier Chinese buyers. Theft is a much easier way to obtain the necessary products. Since it includes the theft of production tooling, the plants in question can be re-established in Russia, where their products will be far more affordable. Hence the systematic looting of plants in Ukraine. Looting also circumvents the effect of a falling price of oil, which drastically reduces hard-cash resources in Russia.

If the Ukrainian agony were all about money and access to technology, it would be unhappy enough. However, a major the driving force is nationalism. Vladimir Putin’s only important attraction for Russians is nationalistic: he is seen as a strong man who will restore the strength of the motherland, and he will also expunge all of those unhappy guilty memories of the Soviet past. In this narrative, the West is the enemy who broke up the Russian Empire and thus sought to crush Holy Russia. Anyone familiar with Russian history before the Revolution can recognize the sort of policy Mr. Putin is following. It takes a very committed Russian nationalist to say, as some have in recent days, that the falling price of oil is part of a deliberate plot on the part of ‘certain organizations’ in the West intended specifically to weaken Russia. Ukraine was the oldest part of the Empire, and its recovery excites Russian nationalists. Before he annexed Crimea, Mr. Putin was extremely unpopular. People in Russia saw him for what he was: a thief working with larger thieves to plunder their country. Afterwards his popularity soared, and old-style raw Russian nationalism became a ruling force.

Russian nationalism is opposed by Ukrainian nationalism. It may not be particularly powerful in the Eastern Ukrainian regions in which the Russians and their friends are operating, but in much of the country it is alive and well. Ukraine has a distinctive culture and language. The language and the alphabet are similar to Russian, but by no means identical. Ukraine enjoyed brief independence after the Russian Revolution. During the late 1920s and early 1930s the government in Moscow created a famine in Ukraine that killed 6 to 10 million people in the name of collectivizing farming. Ukraine had been the breadbasket of Europe, its wheat exports the major source of foreign currency to Czarist Russia. After collectivization, the Ukraine was badly enough ravaged that in the 1950s the Soviet Union found itself buying wheat abroad.

The horrors of the 1920s and 1930s remained fresh in Ukrainian minds when the Germans invaded the Soviet Union in June 1941. Initially Ukrainians understandably welcomed the Germans as liberators, only to discover that the racist Germans lumped them with the Russians as sub-human. Even so, they hated the Russians even more, and a low-level insurgency continued well into the 1950s. The Ukrainian view of the man-made famine is somewhat analogous to the Polish view of the Soviet massacre of Polish military officers in 1941 at Katyn. Each was a horrific crime committed by the Soviet Union and then buried. Under Soviet domination, denial that the Soviets had committed such crimes became a test of political loyalty. Once Ukraine and Poland were free of Soviet control, memory of such crimes helped generate nationalist hatred for the Soviets. When Mr. Putin glorifies the Soviet Union which produced him, he enrages those it tortured. Victims inside the Soviet Union are less than popular in the current nationalist climate, but victims outside are in a very different position.

To further complicate matters, another Soviet-era strategy for binding together the Soviet Union was to encourage ethnic Russians to settle in the various republics forming the Soviet Union. That produced large ethnic Russian minorities in countries like Latvia and Ukraine. Mr. Putin is encouraging the ethnic Russian minority in Eastern Ukraine to revolt against the government in Kiev. Although he is enjoying a short-term advantage, surely what he has done has made other post-Soviet governments uncomfortably aware that they may be harboring hostile minorities. They may decide to do something about them before they can revolt.

If that seems an extreme extrapolation, remember that before World War II Hitler exploited the manufactured resentments felt by a large ethnic German minority in Czechoslovakia (in the Sudetenland) to dismember that country (he did not have to resort to invasion or even to proxy invasion, as in Ukraine). Governments who remembered what minority Germans had done in the 1930s expelled them after Germany collapsed in 1945. Many Germans found themselves walking all the way across Poland from what had been East Prussia, and for years the cry to recover that territory resonated through German politics. What is likely to happen now in places like the Baltic states? Their governments lived through decades of repression in the name of the Soviet Union, but up to now they have been relatively restrained about the Russians in their midst.

Norman Friedman is author of The U.S. Naval Institute Guide to World Naval Weapon Systems. This article can be found in its original form at the Australian Naval Institute here and was republished by permission.