Russia has been front-page news recently, mainly for hacking the email servers of the Democratic National Committee and using stolen emails to discredit presidential candidate Hillary Clinton. Now the U.S. intelligence services have confirmed these Russian cyber-attacks, which they say are major security threats that were ordered by Russian President Vladimir Putin.
All of this led me to do some research on Russia and I was surprised by what I found.
Russia is the world’s largest country by land area, 6.6 million square miles. Its population is around 145 million. Recent numbers from the World Bank show Russia’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) was $1.33 trillion in 2015. That was only a little over 7 percent of the U.S. GDP. Russia’s economy is smaller than Canada’s $1.6 trillion GDP, and even behind both South Korea and Australia. In fact California, which had the 8th largest economy in the world in 2015, had a GDP that was $1 trillion plus greater than Russia’s. And Texas’ GDP exceeded Russia’s by $200 billion.
Russia’s main export is oil so its economy is highly dependent on the price of that commodity. As President Obama recently observed, Russia doesn’t make anything that anyone wants to buy, although he probably wasn’t thinking of vodka.
Regarding the military, in 2015 the U.S. defense budget was $581 billion, over 12 times that of Russia’s. The globalfirepower website provides excellent data on how those budgets are spent.
Russia has a large submarine fleet, 60 subs compared to the U.S. fleet of 75. But it has only one aging, diesel powered aircraft carrier the Admiral Kuznetsov (above, as pictured on uawire), which can launch 32 fighter aircraft. Recent reports indicate that is barely seaworthy.
The U.S. operates around 19 carriers, including 10 nuclear powered super carriers capable of accommodating over 100 fighter aircraft each. Although Russia is attempting to modernize its navy, many of its ships are old Soviet Union era vessels that were described by one article as “wickedly uncomfortable” for their crews.
The Russian tank force is around 15,400 compared to 8.850 U.S. tanks. This force is apparently designed for a land war in Europe. NATO and the countries on Russia’s border that were once part of the Soviet Union view Russia’s ground forces with great concern. They fear more Russian attempts to “annex” territory like Putin did with Crimea.
The Russian air force is much more formidable than its navy. It is typically listed as second to the U.S. in numbers of aircraft, with roughly 2,200 combat aircraft compared to 5,090 U.S. combat aircraft. But many of Russia’s aircraft are also old and generally not of the same quality and sophistication as U.S. aircraft.
Russia does have thousands of nuclear tipped ballistic missiles according to most estimates. But one has to wonder how operational they are. Regardless, this force is in place to deter a first strike attack against Russia but it also represents the threat of a first strike attack against the U.S.
So, Russia is an economic weakling and doesn’t have a world-class military force by U.S. standards. And obviously Putin can’t afford another cold war arms race. But cyber warfare doesn’t require a huge economy or a large navy and air force. And that is where I believe Putin has chosen to attack the United States. He wants to undermine American’s faith in democracy and destabilize the country. Internationally Putin’s ultimate goal is to weaken NATO and America’s role as the leader of the free world.
Well, I believe president-elect Donald Trump’s comments about a rigged election and his weak support for NATO during the presidential campaign played right into Putin’s hands. And Trump’s more recent disparagement of the U.S. intelligence community and his pushback regarding Russia’s involvement in the 2016 election were exactly what Putin wanted to hear.
Numerous members of Congress, both Democrats and Republicans, along with members of our military and intelligence community view Putin’s Russia as a serious threat to U.S. security and national interests. They know that Putin is an adversary not a friend.
But Trump recently called those who don’t want a good relationship with Russia “stupid” and “fools.” It remains to be seen how this dichotomy of policies on Russia will play out in Trump’s administration.