Since becoming president of Russia five months ago, enigmatic workout buff Dmitry Medvedev has made a point of flexing his country’s military muscles. Last month, he sent warships stocked with fighter jets to the Caribbean to participate in joint military exercises with Venezuela, and in August Russia’s tanks rolled into Georgia to help pro-Russian separatists in the breakaway region of South Ossetia. Now Medvedev is escalating Russia’s aggressive stance with what will arguably be the country’s biggest investment in nuclear technology since the Cold War.
Last week, Medvedev announced that Russia will build a new space and missile defence shield, while modernizing its nuclear defences over the next eight years. He ordered all military commanders to upgrade combat formations to “the permanent readiness category” by 2020, and declared that Russia would begin “mass production of warships, primarily nuclear cruisers carrying cruise missiles and multi-purpose submarines.” He stopped short, however, of divulging the status of developments related to the new Borei-class nuclear submarines. The subs—a huge source of pride for the Kremlin—are designed to carry a new intercontinental missile called the Bulava-M, which has a range of 8,000 km.
Russia’s reasoning for beefing up its military is twofold. First of all, the Kremlin desperately wants to reassert itself as a global power. But just as importantly, it wants to combat the growing influence Washington has in former Soviet-controlled territories such as Georgia, Ukraine, Poland and the Baltic states. Russia is already engaged in a heated battle to block Georgia and Ukraine from joining NATO, and Medvedev is furious about the U.S.’s attempt to establish an anti-missile shield across eastern Europe.
Perhaps the biggest reason for the hike in military spending, however, is simply that Russia can finally afford it. Oil money is gushing into the country’s coffers, and as long as it does, Russia’s military expansion will soldier on.