Russia Reform Monitor - No. 2226

The real state of Russia's defense budget;
Russia's growing AIDS epidemic

June 25, 2018

May 22:

The conventional wisdom surrounding a decline in Russian military spending is all wrong, according to a leading U.S. defense analyst.
Writing in Harvard University's Russia Matters bulletin, Michael Kofman of the Center for Naval Analyses argues that, while media reports about the implications of recent Russian defense budget cuts have painted a picture of the Russian military in terminal decline, the reality is very different. Russia's armed forces continue to grow "in size, readiness and modernization," while official cuts to the national defense budget have been "limited to single digits," at least so far.

The confusion now proliferating in the media, Kofman contends, can be traced back to how Russia's government has handled defense funding. "In 2016 the Russian government started paying off defense-sector debt that had piled up over the years, which created the illusion of much higher spending on national defense and, accordingly, a subsequent decline the following year," he writes. The real story is different, and more nuanced; "While we are in fact witnessing a steady decline of Russian defense spending as a percentage of GDP, defense cuts in absolute terms have been modest at best."

The level of AIDS cases in Russia is reaching "epidemic" proportions, with dangerous consequences for the country and its population. According to analyst Emil Avdaliani, the number of "registered HIV-positive people" in Russia reached the one million person mark in 2016-2017, but the "real numbers could be even higher, as many people tend not to divulge this problem." In all,
Avdaliani writes for Tel Aviv University's Began-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies, "the true figure could be some 1.5 million," or more than one percent of Russia's national population.

The statistics are sobering. "Although the spread of HIV has gone down in much of the world, including in African countries, in Russia the rate of HIV infection is rising every year," Avdaliani concludes. And, over time, Russia's larger demographic decline, coupled with "the high and growing HIV percentage" will have a direct – and negative – effect on "Russia's military power and thus its ability to project its influence abroad."

May 23:

Russian authorities have finally succeeded in their case against Asher Krichevsky, chief rabbi of Siberia and Omsk.
According to The Moscow Times, the government has been attempting to deport the rabbi since 2014. The case – thought by many to be politically motivated – took a new turn last month, when Omsk authorities revoked the rabbi's residency permit on grounds that he constituted a threat to national security. Krichevsky appealed the decision, but the court overruled him with no further justification, and government officials refuse to comment on his imminent expulsion from the country.

Russia avoided humiliation this week, when soccer's international governing body closed an investigation into potential doping by the World Cup host team. The International Federation of Association Football (FIFA) launched its inquiry in the wake of the damning 2016 report released by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) on Russia's systematic athletic doping and state-sponsored drug test manipulation. Now,
Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reports that FIFA's investigation turned up "insufficient" evidence of any violation of anti-doping rules by the current Russian team members. With WADA's consent, the organization closed its investigation into the official World Cup players but noted that testing continues on samples from other Russian athletes.

Yet, given the scope of Russia's doping scandal and the number of athletes implicated in the original investigation, FIFA's conclusion was unconvincing to a number of WADA officials as well as to other observers. Dr. Grigory Rodchenkov, the whistleblower who first exposed the scandal, has stated publicly that he received government orders directly from former Sports Minister Vitaly Mutko to cover up doping activities by the country's soccer players, and he believed that FIFA sanctions remained possible.

Related Categories: Russia; Democracy & Governance; Russia and Eurasia Program; Ukraine

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