Putin's zero-sum game: hidding arms race under the guise of friendship

Author : Georgiy Kuhaleyshvili

Source : 112 Ukraine

Russia to play zero-sum game with the West and Ukraine aiming to achieve normalization of relations on favorable conditions. Otherwise, Moscow is ready to challenge Washington and start an arms race
15:22, 27 December 2016

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The expert community still discusses a number of statements by President Vladimir Putin concerning Ukraine, the EU, and the US, voiced at the annual "great" press conference. At the end of each year, Russian leader answers the question of the foreign journalists about the most topical issues of the international agenda, domestic and foreign policy. This time the president voiced the Kremlin’s future policy towards Ukraine and the West.

Related: Putin’s annual press conference

Related: Why Putin offers Ukraine to exchange prisoners "all for all"

The mask of friendliness

This time, Putin changed his rhetoric towards Ukraine. In his opinion, Ukraine should get visa-free regime from the EU, and relations with Russia should be normalized. He supported the prolongation of Normandy format talks on Donbas conflict settlement, exchange of prisoners "all for all". The Russian president also claimed that Crimea suffers from a deficit of energy; it also has difficulties with using the subsidies of the federal government. Recall that previously mainland Ukraine was responsible for the energy supply to the peninsula.

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Putin voiced his intentions to "normalize relations" with the West. He has promised to cancel counter-sanctions concerning European producers after the EU cancels anti-Russian sanctions. Russia is interested to conduct a constructive dialogue with a strong, stable and independent Europe. Vladimir Putin expressed his commitment together with the newly elected US president Donald Trump improve bilateral relations, which were allegedly deteriorated by the fault of current Democrats’ administration. Vladimir Putin even sent Donald Trump a congratulatory letter on the eve of New Year holidays.

Related: Former US ambassador called Trump’s pleasantries exchange with Putin "trashing American"

Under guise of friendliness he is trying to hide quite objective reasons for this "reverence" for Ukraine and the West. The Russian economy cannot withstand the effects of anti-Russian sanctions. Russian media published the forecast of the Ministry of Economic Development on the development of the state economy over the next three years (taking into account the ongoing anti-Russian sanctions). Russia expects stagnation, weak economic growth of 0,6-2,4% per year.

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According to Russian economists, these growth rates are not enough for the Russian economy to recover from the crisis of 2009, when GDP fell by 7.8%. Ministry does not exclude that the price of oil will be $ 40 per a barrel during 2017-2019 years. For this reason, the Russian industry, retail trade, salaries, and incomes, investment in fixed assets would not significantly increase. Perhaps, in terms of household incomes, Russia is going to live 90's again, when Russians from the undeveloped regions could survive only due social benefits and pensions. Salaries of state employees would not increase. Annexed Crimea and Donbas occupied territories continue to be a hole in the budget of the Russian Federation. From an economic point of view Russia has a desire to end the standoff with Ukraine and the West.

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"Normalization" in Kremlin’s terms

We should not literally take the statements about Russian normalization of relations with Ukraine and the West. During the press conference, Vladimir Putin did not promise to fulfill Minsk agreements and take the Ukrainian vision of settling Donbas conflict: withdrawal of Russian-terrorist forces from the occupied eastern Ukraine, transfer of 40km border under the control of the armed police of the OSCE, holding elections, and resolution the issue of "special status." Russia will not make any changes to resolve the conflict in Donbas as long as in the "Norman Quartet" does not change the government. Kremlin hopes that the presidential elections in France and parliamentary elections in Germany would bring to power Eurosceptic politicians, who would abolish anti-Russian sanctions regardless of the situation in Donbas conflict zone in exchange for normalization of trade and economic relations with Russia.

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Moscow expects to realize Transnistria scenario in Donbas - save power of the pro-Russian separatists and the presence of its military. Russia wants to preserve Crimea in the Southern Federal District, and it is ready to support the pro-European vector of Kyiv only if Ukraine does not prevent international recognition of Crimea as part of the Russian territory. Recall that through the diplomatic efforts of Ukraine, PACE and UN General Assembly adopted a resolution on the annexation of Crimea and the violation of human rights on the peninsula. In terms of difficult economic realities, Kremlin wants Ukraine to resume trade and economic relations with Crimea to increase the self-sufficiency of the peninsula and to save the Russian treasury of extra costs.

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The Kremlin hopes to persuade the new owner of the Oval Office to abandon the policy of sanctions and anti-Russian policy of strengthening the military presence of NATO near the borders of Russia. USA is the main conductor of the policy of containment of Russia. The Kremlin hopes that the Republican administration will refrain from supporting Ukraine's efforts to restore the territorial integrity, will not prevent Russian military assistance to president Bashar Assad in combating moderate-Islamist opposition in Syria. Otherwise Russia will resume arms race with the US. During the press conference, Putin said that Russia is stronger than any aggressor. Putin also mentioned that Russia has improved its attack nuclear facilities in response to the US withdrawal from the ABM Treaty, during the reign of George. W. Bush, Jr. Russia intends to play with the West and Ukraine in zero-sum game and achieve normalization of relations on favorable conditions.

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The arms race with the United States: Kremlin’s farce

Apparently, Putin underestimates the effects of zero-sum game with Russia. If the new Republican administration is ready to try to negotiate with Russia on some issues, it does not mean that the US deliberately make concessions. Compromise is not typical for members of the Republican Party, which is sponsored by the business of the military-industrial complex. US President-elect Donald Trump believes that the US should strengthen and expand opportunities in the field of nuclear weapons, and he will win in the arms race. Trump’s political course towards Russia will be adjusted by the US Congress and some members of the future team. Republicans and Democrats in the US Congress insist on the continuation and strengthening anti-Russian sanctions after Russia's actions in Ukraine and Syria. The future US Vice President Mike Pence supports the placement in Poland and the Czech Republic the AMB object systems in response to Russia's support of Bashar Assad in Syria. Position of Donald Trump on strengthening the US nuclear arsenal coincides with the point of view of the future Secretary of Defense James Mattis, former commander of the Central Command of the US Navy (2010-2013). James Mattis also believes that the US underestimated the threat from Russia after the annexation of Crimea. In some ways, Russia's nuclear arsenal is stronger than the US one.

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According to Business Insider, Pentagon does not use mobile ICBM basing based on trucks similar to Russia's PC-24 "Jars". American Minuteman III ICBM of the 70s have only one combat unit, while the Russian equivalent of Topol-M (2007) model is able to carry several separate units, which increases the loss. US have fewer nuclear warheads (1,367 units.) than Russia (1796 units). At the same time, since the "Cold War" US followed a strategy of mutual destruction. US arsenal of the nuclear warheads is enough to turn Russia into ashes. The Kremlin could not destroy all nuclear warheads of the US. The Kremlin understands utopianism of the nuclear war with the United States. Therefore, the nuclear arms race will be another hole for the military budget of Russia. No matter how perfect is nuclear arsenal of Russia, any war for resources on the territory of third countries is conducted with conventional weapons.

Related: Hybrid Cold War

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According to Global Firepower, United States defeats Russia by the number of military aircraft and naval forces. According to National Interest, Russia faces shortage of qualified military pilots because of insufficient attention to the military authorities in the 90's. The Russian army is mobile enough compared with the US. America has a greater number of aircraft carriers and transport aircraft though. Military-industrial complex of the United States, which involves the private sector, is more high-tech.

Military force



Military personnel

1 400 000 people

766 055 people


1 100 000 people

2 485 000 people

Attack Aircraft

2 785

1 438

Attack Helicopters



Transport Aircraft

5 739

1 124

Tank Strength

8 848

15 398

AFV Strength

41 062

31 298

SPG Strength

1 934

5 972

MLRS Strength

1 331

3 793

Aircraft Carriers












Military power comparison results for United States of America vs. Russia (Global Firepower) 

The US has 47 companies specializing in producing weapons agenda, while Russia has about 20 such producers. United States has the largest military budget in the world. In 2017, the US plans to spend 773.5 billion dollars on defense, while Russia’s military budget is 45.1 billion dollars. Next year, the Kremlin cut military spending by 7%. One of the priorities of Trump’s campaign was an increase in the military budget and modernization of the armed forces of the United States.

Related: Cold War 2.0: Why Russia holds so many military exercises near the borders with NATO and Ukraine

Russia should take a more cooperative stance with the West on the peaceful settlement of the Ukrainian and Syrian issues. Kremlin just cannot stand the second "cold war" and a new arms race.

Related: Pope Francis called on to stop conflict in Donbas

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