(The Economist) Putin’s new model army – money and reform have given Russia armed forces it can use. This week Vladimir Putin said he had ordered 40,000 of his troops, strung along the border with Ukraine since March, back to barracks. As with two previous similar “orders”, there was little sign of an immediate withdrawal. Russia’s president may indeed wish to avoid a ground invasion. But the deployment of large numbers of well-equipped, combat-ready troops has proved useful, to intimidate and provide psychological support for the destabilisation of eastern Ukraine by pro-Russian separatists. For Mr Putin, this amply justifies the painful and expensive military modernisation he began nearly seven years ago. Any illusion that Russia could be a partner of NATO and the West has gone. This has brought the realisation that what kind of forces Mr Putin has and the uses he might put them to matter. […]
Russia’s strategic nuclear forces, which absorb a third of the defence budget, are still seen as the “trump card” according to Dmitry Gorenburg of CNA Corporation, a research outfit, and are critical to preserving the capacity for autonomous action by deterring Western interference. The nuclear forces, particularly the huge number of sub-strategic systems that Russia keeps, are also a necessary hedge against a rising China.
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