Accident typifies plight of Russian military
From David Ensor CNN National Security Correspondent
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The submarine tragedy in the Barents Sea has served to underscore the gulf that exists between the U.S. and the once respected and feared Russian military.
The difference between the two forces is best illustrated by a comparison of the respective defense budgets of the two former Cold War adversaries.
The U.S. budget for 1999 was almost $280 billion while the Kremlin Russian budget was just a fraction of that, at an estimated $5.6 billion.
Back in the Soviet days, Moscow gave the lion's share of its resources to the armed forces--in the 1980s -- about $200 billion a year, experts say.
According to retired U.S. General William Odom, a former director of the National Security Agency, the relative poverty of the Russian navy was a factor in the lack of crew training that led to the demise of the nuclear-powered cruise missile submarine, Kursk.
"It's entirely possible that as much as half the crew of the Kursk is at sea for the first time," said Odum.
Russia trying to show its might
Russian ports are now full of rusting hulks that the navy, given Russia's struggling economy, cannot afford to maintain.
Two Chechen wars have devastated morale among Russia's bloated 1.2 million conscripted force.
"Very often the money that's dispersed for the feeding and maintenance is skimmed off by the senior officer on its way out to the troops," said Odum.
The parlous state of the Russian military raised questions among observers as to why the Russian navy was conducting a 30-ship exercise, including sophisticated submarines like the Kursk.
"I think it was designed to demonstrate to the world that they remain a superpower," said Hamre.
The plight of the Russian military also raised questions about the justification of U.S. military's emormous budget, according to Odum.
"It does raise the question of why we need 10 carrier battle groups and close to 100 attack submarines," he said.
With the deteriorating Russian nuclear arsenal posing a severe environmental threat, U.S. military officials believe the real challenge for the U.S. is not Russia's military strength but its weakness.
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