Staunton, August 6 – Despite warming ties between Moscow and Kyiv following the election of Viktor Yanukovich, the Russian military is continuing with plans to reduce Russia’s dependence on the production of the Ukrainian military industrial complex by building up plants in the Russian Federation which can produce the same things.
On the one hand, such steps could be an effort by Moscow to put additional pressure on Kyiv by threatening to reduce Russian purchases in a key sector or simply be an effort by the Russian high command to secure greater funding, at least part of which would likely end in the bank accounts of senior officers.
But on the other hand, and despite the opposition of some in the Russian capital, these moves appear more likely a reflection of a growing acceptance by Russian leaders that Ukraine will remain independent, that Kyiv’s politics are not predictable, and that in the future, the Ukrainian government will again pursue policies at odds with Moscow.
Writing in “Nezavisimaya gazeta,” Vladimir Mukhin describes some of the steps Moscow has already taken in order “to reduce its dependence on the military-industrial potential of Ukraine” and on military facilities there at a price that some observers consider to be excessive and unjustified (www.ng.ru/cis/2010-08-05/1_razvod.html).
A few days ago, Mukhin reports, Admiral Vladimir Vysotsky, commander of the Russian navy, said that “Russia will continue construction” of a new aviation training facility in Yeisk in Krasnodar kray to be used in place of the current Nitka facility located in Ukraine’s Crimea peninsula.
And at about the same time, Vyacheslav Boguslayev, the chairman of the board of directors of Ukraine’s Motor Sich facility said that the Russian defense ministry had indicated that it would produce motors for helicopters and cruise missiles in Leningrad oblast and Moscow oblast that had been hitherto produced in his plant.
Many Russian experts, the “Nezavisimaya gazeta” journalist says, find “the logic of the Russian military leadership” not very clear because of the enormous amount of money involved of building new facilities, funds that they say “could be used in other spheres connected with guaranteeing the security of the country.”
At present, Mukhin points out, the Nitka facility in Crimea is the only one of its kind in the CIS. “But Ukraine doesn’t need it because it does not have aircraft carriers,” and Russian pilots after the collapse of the USSR almost every year have conducted training exercises [there],” to the benefit of the Ukrainian treasury.
In order to use the Nitka base, Moscow has been paying annual rent of 500,000 US dollars, a small sum compared to the 15 billion rubles (500 million US dollars) the planned Krasnodar facility will cost. If Russia continued to rent the Crimea base, he points out, it could do so for “more than a 100 years” at less cost than the new base.
The situation with the replacement factories for Motor Sich may be even more expensive. Not only will the new plants have to start almost from square one, but the Russian military will lose “the more than 50 years of experience” that the Ukrainian facility has, something that at least a few Russian experts say will take a long time to replace.
Among the opponents of these plans with whom Mukhin spokes was Vladimir Komoyedov, the former Black Sea Fleet commander and now a Duma deputy. He said that trying to replace Nitka was “a great stupidity: We have only one aircraft carrier,” and there won’t be another this decade. “Why spend money” to replace something Russia already has use of?
Of course, there were problems with Kyiv and the use of Nitka when Viktor Yushchenko was president, but now that is past, Komoyedov said, and “it is better to build such military relations with Ukraine in order that the character of the political regimes [there] won’t influence the chance to use their military infrastructure.”
Ruslan Pukhov, the director of the Moscow Center for the Analysis of Strategy and Technology, agreed. While it is understandable that Russia would want to insure itself against the unexpected, he said, it would make more sense for Moscow to purchase Motor Sich and make it “part of the Russian military-industrial complex.”