The Sorry State Of Russia's Defense Industry

A T90A Russian army tank
A T90A Russian army tank
Aleksander Golts



MOSCOW — Russia’s deputy prime minister in charge of defense is many things, but lazy isn’t one of them.

Dimitry Rogozin has been jumping from city to city — holding conferences about the construction of new warships and delivering grandiose critiques of the leaders of the Russian space program. Everywhere he goes, he delivers electrifying speeches, explaining that the world is a jungle full of enemies who want to steal Russia’s natural resources.

“If we don’t manage to modernize our country, then Russia will become the world’s loot,” he says. It sounds a lot like Stalin’s 1931 speeches. Rogozin’s solution also sounds pretty Bolshevik: he thinks Russia is too far behind in many domains to catch up to the West, but that Russia should concentrate on developing weapons that would allow it to hold its own.

The problem is that Rogozin’s energy doesn’t make up for the sad state of Russia’s defense industry. Domestic missiles stubbornly fly off course. The defense minister just called off tests of an underwater missile carrier after yet another unsuccessful launch of an intercontinental missile, which had apparently already been set off during an explosion at the factory. The whole series of missiles had to be sent back to the factory for inspection.

Then there was the catastrophe with the Proton-M rockets, a system used for both government and commercial space launches and satellites. During the most recent launch last July, the rocket booster crashed just after take-off, prompting an investigation and temporary suspension of the program. The failure meant billions of dollars in losses, and was caused by an employee who had gotten confused about the poles and put the sensors in the wrong place, according to an investigation. Then there was the nuclear submarine that caught on fire after a problem with the security machinery. The list goes on and on.

It’s not just about accidents, either. Experts say that the defense technology the government orders this year will likely be cut later, just as happened last year. In fact, in the past 20 years the government has never actually carried out its original purchasing plans, reducing them after the fact almost every year. Even President Putin has acknowledged, albeit indirectly, the failures of the military complex.

Failure to communicate

It’s obvious that Russia’s defense industry has serious structural problems that can’t be solved by speeches about the West’s aggression. Part of it is the sorry state of the sciences, and it doesn’t help that the average worker is close to retirement age. To say nothing of obsolete technology.

According to Putin, the biggest problem is lack of cooperation between the government and the defense industry. But in the case of dud missiles, there were 650 different businesses working on the project.

As much as Rogozin’s rhetoric sounds like Stalin, he’s not going to be able to solve the defense industry problem in the same way that Stalin did — by establishing civilian producers of consumer goods that could also be used to make military technology. That would require both political and economic isolation, because otherwise Russians couldn’t be forced to buy domestic consumer goods. Another option would be to establish special factories exclusively for defense industry use, although that would be extremely expensive. In that case, it would be important to produce only a few weapons, just the ones that are crucial to the Russian army.

In my opinion, the most important weapons would be those related to intelligence gathering, drones and high-precision weapons — that is, precisely in the areas where Russia is decades behind other countries. We should be asking, “Do we really need new tanks and armored vehicles? Do we really need more heavy missiles?” We have to focus on our priorities. That also means resisting the continual attacks from lobbyists who insist that refusing to buy more tanks or airplanes is treason. Which is to say that any real attempt by Rogozin to start production of military technology will put him in a difficult position.

He seems to understand this perfectly and is postponing the moment when he has to follow through with Putin’s promise to start full-scale weapons production. There is only one way out — to delay these ambitious plans even further. Rogozin has even admitted as much after a recent meeting about ship building.

“We talked about the government’s weapons program for 2016-2025,” he said. And so the vision of modernizing the Russian military continues to be stuck like a tank in a vicious circle.

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Feed The Future

COP26 Should Mark A Turning Point In Solving The Climate Crisis

Slow Food calls for an action plan to significantly reduce and improve the production and consumption of meat, dairy, and eggs by 2050.

A new dawn?

If, as the saying goes, we are what we eat, the same also goes for the animals that end up on our plate. How we feed our own food can have knock-on effects, not just for our own health but also for the planet. We are now aware of the meat and dairy industry's significant carbon footprint, responsible for more than a third of global anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions.

Large-scale cattle productions that favor pure profit over more sustainable practices also add to environmental woes through biodiversity loss, deforestation and pesticide use — with some of the world's richest countries contributing disproportionately: The five biggest meat and milk producers emit the same amount of greenhouse gases as the oil giant Exxon.

The good news is that we could meet — if we would — some of these challenges with an array of innovative solutions, as the fields of farming, breeding and nutrition look at ways to shift from centralized intensive agro industry toward a more localized, smaller-scale and more organic approach to production.

Cows fed corn and grain-based diets may grow larger and are ready to be processed at a younger age — but this requires significant energy, as well as land and water resources; in contrast, grass and hay-fed cows support a regenerative farming model in which grazing can contribute to restoring the health of soil through increased microbial diversity. Compared to highly processed GM crops, natural-grass diets with minimal cereals also lead to more nutrient-rich livestock, producing better quality meat, milk and cheese. Farmers have started focusing on breeding native animal species that are best adapted to local environmental contexts.

This new approach to agricultural practices is closely linked to the concept of agroecology, where farming works in tandem with the environment instead of exploiting it. If mowed a few times a year, for instance, natural meadows produce hay that is rich in grasses, legumes and flowers of the sunflower family, like daisies, dandelions, thistles and cornflowers. These biomes become reservoirs of biodiversity for our countryside, hosting countless species of vegetables, insects and birds, many of which are at risk of extinction. Until recently, these were common habitats in meadows that were not plugged or tilled and only required light fertilization. Today, however, they are becoming increasingly threatened: in the plains, where the terrain is used for monocultures like corn; or in hills and mountains, where fields are facing gradual abandonment.

It is worth noting that extensive agriculture, which requires smaller amounts of capital and labor in relation to the size of farmed land, can actually help curb climate change effects through carbon dioxide absorption. Researchers at the University of California, Davis determined that in their state, grasslands and rangelands have actually acted as more resilient carbon sinks than forests in recent years. Through a system of carbon uptake, these lands provide a form of natural compensation, going as far as canceling the farms' impact on the planet, rendering them carbon "creditors."

In the meantime, grasslands and pastures allow animals to live in accordance with their natural behavioral needs, spending most of the year outside being raised by bonafide farmers who care about animal welfare. A recent study by Nature found that allowing cows to graze out of doors has both psychological and physical health benefits, as they seem to enjoy the open space and ability to lie on the soft ground.

Some might worry about the economic losses that come with this slower and smaller business model, but there are also opportunities for creativity in diversifying activities, like agro-tourism and direct sales that can actually increase a farm's profit margin. This form of sustainable production goes hand-in-hand with the Slow Meat campaign, which encourages people to reduce their meat consumption while buying better quality, sustainable meat.

Others may assume that the only environmentally-conscious diet is entirely plant-based. That is indeed a valuable and viable option, but there are also thoughtful ways to consume meat in moderation — and more sustainably. It also should be noted that many fruits and vegetables have surprisingly large carbon footprints: The industrial-scale cultivation of avocados, for example, requires massive amounts of water and causes great hardship to farming communities in Latin America.

But forging a broad shift toward more "biodiversity-friendly" pastoralism requires action by both those producing and eating meat, and those with the legislative power to enact industry-wide change. It is urgent that policies be put into place to support a return to long-established agricultural practices that can sustainably feed future generations. Although no country in the world today has a defined strategy to decrease consumption while transforming production, governments are bound to play a key role in the green transition, present and future.

In Europe, Slow Food recommends that the Fit for 55 package include reducing emissions from agriculture activities by 65% (based on 2005 levels) by 2050. Agriculture-related land use emissions should also reach net-zero by 2040 and become a sink of -150 Mt CO2eq by 2050. But these targets can only be met if the EU farming sector adopts agroecological practices at a regional scale, and if consumers shift to more sustainable diets. If we are indeed what we eat, we should also care deeply about how the choices we make impact the planet that feeds us.

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