Friday, 26 December 2014

Latest: Russia to continue hardline stance backed by strong army, economic restructuring

MOSCOW — Russian President Vladimir Putin’s recent remarks at an annual press conference showed that his country will stick to a tough stance in protecting its national interests, in defiance of mounting external political pressure and Western sanctions.

During his 10th year-end press conference, Putin reiterated Russia’s hardline foreign policy and the urgent need to restructure the Russian economy.

It is also for sure that Russia will continue steadily intensifying its military strength and national defense to safeguard the country out of the current predicament.
 Latest: Russia to continue hardline stance backed by strong army, economic restructuring

“Besieged bear”

Russia was besieged by a “smokeless war” with the West because of the country’s alleged role in escalation of the Ukraine crisis, which resulted in rounds of sanctions on Moscow slapped by Washington and its European allies.

Under the shock chilling of relations with Western countries, Russia turns to the East, especially the Asia-Pacific region.

While reiterating that curtailing cooperation with Europe and the United States would never be an option, Russia has cemented its ties this year with such countries as China, India, Turkey, Iran, Vietnam, South Korea and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), with a range of major agreements being signed.

Putin also stressed that Moscow will restore and broaden traditional ties “with the south of the American continent and will continue cooperation with Africa and Middle Eastern countries.”

Meanwhile, Russia showed its hardline stance by dropping the South Stream gas pipeline project with Europe and implementing anti-sanction measures, such as import ban on agricultural and food products from related countries.

Russian experts believe that further sanctions are likely to be imposed by the West against Russia, while indirect military confrontations are also possible, especially on Ukrainian territories between Russian and NATO troops.

“Russia is absolutely not interested in any kind of confrontation,” said Sergei Markov, director of Institute for Political Research.

However, he noted, the country has to defend itself against the West’s undisguised attempts to overthrow its current regime through the geopolitical crisis in Ukraine.

Timofei Bordachev, director of Center for European Studies at High School of Economics, a Russian influential think-tank, said that although Putin repeatedly highlighted the desire to improve relations with the West, the president knows clearly that compromise should not be made at the cost of Russia’s national interests.

Beefing up “teeth and claws”

Comparing Russia to a bear, Putin said the country should not lower its guard, or it will lose its teeth and claws and become a hunter’s trophy.

Stressing Russia’s military doctrine would remain absolutely defensive, Putin claimed that Russia is not attacking the West politically, but protecting its own national interests at an increasingly robust pace.

“This is about the protection of our independence, our sovereignty and our right to exist,” he said.

In the current all-around face-off with the West, in particular under threats of NATO’s increased military presence in Eastern Europe, Russia has been adjusting defense deployment and speeding up its military rearmament.

In October, data presented by the defense committee of the State Duma, or the lower house of parliament, showed that Russia’s national defense budget for 2015 will reach a record high of 3.3 trillion rubles (over 64 billion U.S. dollars). And the parameters in 2016 and 2017 are set at 3.1 trillion rubles (over 60 billion dollars) and 3.23 trillion rubles (over 63 billion dollars), respectively.

From plans to create a space-based ballistic missile warning system and launch satellites with defense-related purposes, to the newly-built national defense center and the Arctic strategic military command, Russia has devoted itself to increasing the efficiency and utility of its national defense mechanism.

On military rearmament, Russia plans to modernize at least 70 percent of its armed forces’ equipment and 85 percent of its strategic nuclear weapons until 2020, with a financial allocation of 20 trillion rubles (over 391 billion dollars). Enlarged conscription, weaponry upgrade and so on are underway in every service branches of Russia’s armed forces.

It is also worth mentioning that Russia has been beefing up the formation of military units in Crimea and military deployment in the Arctic region.

The country has also strengthened its nuclear deterrence capability, including consolidating the airspace defense using in particular the first-strike nuclear weaponry.

Chained by economic problems

Compared with a solid foundation backed by strong national security forces, Russia’s economic foundation has been severely undermined by falling oil prices and rolling rounds of Western sanctions.

On Dec. 15, the Russian Central Bank admitted that the economy could fall into recession in the next two years, while specific figures given by Deputy Economy Minister Alexei Vedev envisaged a 0.8-percent decrease forecast of GDP in 2015.

However, admitting that Western sanctions seriously damaged Russia’s economy, Putin said at his year-end press conference that the economic situation was still on the normal track, and that it would take at most two years to rebound under the most unfavorable scenario.

Meanwhile, he expressed his confidence that the current situation can be used to offer additional conditions for the manufacturing sector, which would be a start to diversify the economy with more effective innovative development ways.

Although it is difficult to change Russia’s heavy reliance on energy exports in a short time, the government has set about taking measures for economic restructuring, as well as substitution of imported products such as military hardware components and foods.

Local experts said the restructuring does not mean fully dropping the energy-oriented development, but attaching more importance to exports of non-energy sectors as well as stimulating domestic manufacturing.

On Dec. 19, Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev urged the government to focus on supporting the innovation sector as a way to create a more self-dependent economy.

Under current circumstances, the project of encouraging innovations must be showered with money as they are the only chance for Russia to overcome the current adversity and get fully prepared for global challenges, said Nikolai Solobuto, managing director of the Finam investment agency. – Xinhua
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