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MOSCOW. (RIA Novosti political commentator Boris Kaimakov)

Vladimir Putin’s speech in Munich has provoked a debate in Russia on the
state of the country’s army. There is no reason to simply reduce his speech
to Moscow’s complaints against Washington for not observing the letter and
spirit of agreements on curbing the arms race. Experts in Russia are
analyzing how solid Moscow’s arguments are for preventing a new arms race.

In his capacity as first deputy prime minister, former Defense Minister
Sergei Ivanov will concern himself, among other things, with upgrading
Russia’s defense shield. Whatever is said about new Defense Minister
Anatoly Serdyukov, who has more experience with money than with the army,
he may do well at handling the budget. Russian military expert Ruslan
Pukhov believes that the Russian defense budget is not spent wisely. In the
last four years it has grown by almost four times to reach $31 billion. One
third of this sum has disappeared without a trace.

Serdyukov will have a difficult task maintaining Russia’s defense
capability at a proper level in the face of the U.S.’s wild military
expenditures. Even the Pentagon’s new director has spoken about his
country’s “ballooning” defense budget. During its time in office, the Bush
administration has doubled military expenditures, which will reach $620
billion this year.

The Russian president did not go to Munich to shock his audience. He was
equipped with facts, one of which was that the U.S. has not had such a huge
defense budget since the Korean War.

Moscow knows that the U.S. is currently at war in Iraq and on the verge of
invading Iran. But in any case, the Pentagon has enough money to rapidly
improve its military hardware. Russian generals are asking the Kremlin
questions that not only demand political answers, but also imply their
unequivocal assessment of the army’s military and technical condition in
the face of the American challenge.

Now that arms control treaties are falling to pieces, Russian analysts say
that the U.S.’s arms buildup is becoming dangerous and making Russia
vulnerable. They are writing about the U.S.’s capability to destroy tanks
without combat contact. Radars can barely detect American Stealth aircraft.
But Russian experts are primarily concerned about the modernization of U.S.
ballistic missiles because it casts doubt upon Russia’s capacity to

Sergei Ivanov is proud of his country’s ground-based Topol-Ms and
submarine-based Bulavas, but experts do not consider these missiles 100%
failsafe. In the past few years Bulava tests have left much to be desired,
and the army has received only 50 Topol-Ms out of the planned 200.

Maybe, if the world situation were different, the Kremlin would not be
showing such a touchy reaction to the placement of 10 missiles in Polish
silos, or the deployment of an ABM system in the Czech Republic. Bush would
probably be able to convince Putin that these systems will serve as
protection against rogue states and the growing threat posed by the Middle
East. But when it comes to a strategic issue of national security, Russia
can only perceive these steps in the vicinity of its borders as posing a
threat to itself. Regardless of their friendship, Putin and Bush are bound
to heed what their top generals say about a change in the strategic
situation. The Munich speech bears this out. It calls for a calm
discussion, not the start of a new cold war.

Opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily coincide with those
of the editorial board. -0-