Syria: Is Putin Playing Russian Roulette with Obama?
Policy + Politics

Syria: Is Putin Playing Russian Roulette with Obama?

REUTERS/Grigory Dukor

With the G-20 summit underway in St. Petersburg as of Thursday, Russian President Vladimir Putin is backing up his blustery rhetoric toward the U.S. with action: He’s sending three additional warships to the eastern Mediterranean, where the U.S. has also positioned warships

Moscow had previously sent war and spy ships toward Syria, and it almost always has some kind of military presence in the Mediterranean. But this time, Putin sent the Nastoichivy destroyer, the flagship of Russia’s Baltic fleet, in an apparent show of force and a sign of how seriously Russia views potential action by the United States against Syria.


Putin seems to be inching closer and closer to some kind of military confrontation with the United States. He’s called Secretary of State John Kerry a liar, and beyond sending ships to Syria, he has hinted there could be some kind of retaliatory strike against American interests. 

If Putin is itching for a high seas fight with the United States, he’d be a fool to do so because of Russia’s outdated military infrastructure and equipment.

Despite Putin’s chest thumping, Russia is a paper tiger. Its military never recovered from the end of the Cold War, when most of the country’s defense infrastructure was looted by opportunistic generals and sold to the highest bidder.

This weakness was on display during Russia’s brief war with Georgia in 2008. Technology was so bad back then that officers relied on cell phones and walkie-talkies to communicate in the field. Air forces were unable to talk to ground forces, making coordinated attacks impossible. The military lacked the telecommunications know-how to effectively use satellite imaging.

The Russians rolled into Georgia aboard T-72 tanks, which are generations behind the Abrams tank that the U.S. Army says it no longer needs.  Soldiers told reporters they went days without eating.

The only reason Russia is considered to have any military power today is because of its weapons of mass destruction. They may never use them, but they ensure Russia’s survival.

Putin knows Russia is years behind the United States, and as part of his 2012 presidential campaign, he promised to modernize the military

He pledged to spend $772 billion on 2,300 new tanks, 400 new intercontinental ballistic missiles, some 600 new combat planes, 100 non-combat military planes, eight new nuclear subs, and 50 new gunships – along with a host of other military equipment.

“The processes of global transformation currently underway may carry all sorts of risks with them, many of them unpredictable,” Putin wrote in a state-controlled newspaper in February 2012. “We are forced to take decisive steps to bolster our national aerospace defense system to counter the U.S. and NATO efforts in the deployment of missile defense. One cannot be ‘too patriotic’ about this issue.”

The type of military buildup Putin describes could take two generations. He’s also been promising radical changes to the military for years and has yet to follow through. If he picked a fight with the United States – even a small one – he may not only lose, he could be humiliated.