Russia’s permanent break with the West

From Moscow’s perspective, Russia is in direct confrontation with the West and fighting a proxy war with NATO in Ukraine. As a result, Moscow is looking to strengthen its cooperation with other countries. After the United States and Europe introduced sanctions, Russia was quick to ramp up its diplomacy, trading links and strategic communication with China and other non-Western countries.

Russia needs to soften the economic blow of Western sanctions while simultaneously securing political influence and support for Russian views.

Putin retains control

The political system in Russia is increasingly characterised by totalitarian features. The state retains control through political suppression, surveillance and propaganda.

The regime clings to the narrative that Russia is under attack by the West. The Russian presidential election will be held in spring 2024, which Putin will win without any real opposition. The election is controlled and intended to demonstrate that the public supports Putin and Russia’s current political course. Any costly and unpopular measures will be put on hold until after the election.

In response to poorer living conditions, the Kremlin is stepping up its political indoctrination of the public, with conservative values and the idea of Russia as a unique civilisation as central tenets. The Kremlin has a long-term perspective and is especially eager to convince young Russians that the current regime is the one that best serves Russia’s interests. This narrative is at the heart of the so-called patriotic curricula being introduced in schools and universities.

Investment in defence industry keeps economy afloat for now

Although Western sanctions are limiting public revenue, Russia is still seeing economic growth. This can largely be explained by extremely high spending on the defence industry. The regime is now spending around one third of the government budget on defence and security. Three shifts have been introduced across much of the Russian defence industry.

The need to finance the war has led to cuts in investment in infrastructure, healthcare and education. Meanwhile, Western sanctions are driving inflation and leading to raised production costs. High public spending adds inflationary pressure. This development is reinforced by a critical labour shortage, particularly in knowledge-intensive sectors.

The Russian economy also remains dependent on oil exports and is therefore vulnerable to oil price falls. As a result, Russia will continue to prioritise cooperation within the OPEC+ framework. In addition, the authorities will be levying higher taxes and rates on major commodity and energy companies. The longer the war in Ukraine drags on, the longer and more complicated the return to a sustainable Russian economy will become.

Loss of influence in Russia’s near abroad

Russia’s ability to influence political developments in neighbouring countries has become weaker due to the war in Ukraine. This is caused by both an erosion of trust in Russia as a dependable actor and a lack of resources with which to exert power. This trend is expected to continue in 2024.

Break with the West forces new Arctic policy

For Russia, the break with the West unsettles its long-standing Arctic policy, a central tenet of which has been cooperation with other Arctic states in order to maintain low tensions and facilitate foreign investment. The preconditions for successful development of the region as a future resource base have come under heavy pressure. The Russian authorities regularly express their concern for current developments and reiterate their distrust in the West.

Russia’s ability to influence developments in the Arctic has become diminished. This forces it to look for Arctic cooperation with non-Western countries, including other members of BRICS. The need for Chinese investment and technology in particular means that Sino-Russian cooperation will grow closer in the years ahead. This will continue to increase Russia’s dependence on China.

Russia seeks to preserve ‘no enemies’ strategy in the Middle East

Iran will remain a key partner for Russia in 2024, both to secure access to military materiel and as a transit country for Russian goods heading east. Saudi Arabia’s key role within the OPEC+ scheme and the Gulf States’ willingness to help Russia circumvent sanctions suggest that the Russian authorities and Russian businesses will continue their efforts to bolster relations with the resource rich Gulf States.

Although Moscow is strengthening relations with Tehran, the Russian authorities are expected to preserve their strategy of being a neutral power in the Middle East, open to dialogue with all parties. However, this approach could be challenged if the war between Israel and Hamas escalates into a regional conflict. In reality, Moscow has little opportunity to influence developments, and Russian interests may come under particular pressure should the conflict spread to Syria.

Russia continues to challenge Western interests in Africa

Even while waging war in Ukraine, Russia has managed to garner political support from and increase its influence in Africa. Moscow has entered into several new partnerships with African countries and is using them to demonstrate that Russia is not politically isolated on the world stage. Several African states and state leaders have problematic relationships with the West and a growing need for security and counterterrorism support. This creates opportunities for Russia, as is especially evident in the Sahel.

Military security support, channelled through private military companies, has been an important and efficient tool for increasing Russian influence. Although Russia is expected to preserve this strategy, the Kremlin will be tightening its control of the Russian military presence in Africa in order to prevent companies from gaining too much influence and independence, as was the case with Wagner under Yevgeniy Prigozhin’s leadership.

War in Ukraine central to military development

The war in Ukraine will be decisive for the development of the Russian armed forces in 2024 onwards. Russia has switched to a war economy, and the Russian defence industry has been given significant extra allocations. The industry is now capable of manufacturing sufficient ammunition and other materiel to ensure the continuation of the war in Ukraine throughout 2024. Due to a considerable increase in arms and equipment production, Russia has cut the time needed to restore combat power to pre-war levels to three to five years when the war is over. In the face of Western sanctions, Belarus, China, Iran and North Korea are the most relevant cooperation partners for technology and skills transfer.

Strategic deterrence remains the other key priority. As Russia’s conventional military capability has been reduced, the strategic deterrence forces, including the Northern Fleet’s long-range weapons systems, have taken on a more important role.

Russia is in the process of restoring core capabilities to continue the war against Ukraine, including weapons and materiel for the land forces. The rate of production of missiles and attack drones is also being accelerated in order to retain the ability to attack areas behind the frontline, Ukrainian population centres and critical infrastructure. Increased production of weapons and materiel, re-organisation of the forces and a steady supply of new personnel could pave the way for a major Russian offensive in 2024. Hard-earned experience and testing of new technology and weapons systems on the battlefield in Ukraine will also affect the development of the Russian armed forces in the years to come.

This photo taken and released by Russian Defense Ministry Press Service on Thursday, June 8, 2023, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu inspects the preparation of equipment and weapons for shipment to the zone of the special military operation at the arsenals and storage bases of the Western Military District at an undisclosed location in Russia. (Russian Defense Ministry Press Service via AP)

Russian defence spending: historic increase in 2024

The war in Ukraine continues to drive Russian defence spending. In 2022, the Russian defence budget saw a year-on-year increase of 16.5 per cent in real terms, and from 2022 to 2023 a further 27 per cent.
Russia was planning to spend USD 70.5 billion on defence in 2023, with continuous adjustments of the budget in line with growing needs. In 2023, the defence budget constituted 20 per cent of total federal spending and 4 per cent of the gross domestic product (GDP).
Planned defence spending for 2024 is unparalleled in recent Russian history, with an increase of USD 48 billion in nominal terms, i.e. a 61 per cent increase in real terms from 2023. Russia’s official defence budget consequently totals USD 118.5 billion, or almost 30 per cent of government budget expenditure in 2024. In the GDP forecast for 2024, the defence budget makes up 6.1 per cent. Other major items of expenditure that fall under other budget items come in addition to this and include the medical service, education, pensions and defence industry subsidies.
Image: Russia’s Minister for Defence Sergey Shoigu inspects Russian materiel before it is dispatched to the front in Ukraine. (Russian Defence Ministry / AP / NTB)

Whole of society a legitimate target

Russia’s military strategy involves targeting the opponent’s will to fight as well as their military capability. Russia will use all available means, both military and non-military, to undermine their adversary’s will to defend and then defeat them. The purpose is to pre-empt the other party.

In accordance with Russian military doctrine, Russia may also attack civilian targets, including a country’s political leadership, critical infrastructure and targets of high economic value. In the event of a military conflict involving Norway, most of these targets are located in southern Norway. Such targets can be influenced or attacked using a wide variety of means even before the outbreak of military conflict, including through political influence, information warfare, cyber operations, sabotage, infiltration, disruption of energy supply and border infringements.

Combat power retained near Norwegian borders

As Russia’s conventional military capability has been reduced, the significance of its strategic deterrence forces has increased. The Northern Fleet’s capabilities and proximity to NATO’s core areas make it central to Russian deterrence. As a result, NATO’s northern maritime flank has become more significant.

Whereas Northern Fleet land forces have been reduced by around 80 per cent, its naval forces have been little affected by the war in Ukraine and continue to receive new submarines and surface vessels. The Northern Fleet remains the greatest military threat to Norway. The Fleet’s vessels can threaten NATO supply lines and strategic targets, and the submarines are capable of attacking targets across Europe and the United States. The air forces on the Kola Peninsula have been affected to some extent by the war, resulting in a reduced presence of tactical bombers and strategic air defences.

After Russian bases further south were attacked by Ukrainian forces, Russia has temporarily relocated many strategic bombers to the Kola Peninsula. The aircraft are used in the war in Ukraine, and their deployment north is expected to continue.

The Northern Fleet’s deep-water capabilities continue to pose a serious threat to Western underwater infrastructure. The Russian underwater reconnaissance programme (RURP) has sophisticated surface vessels, submarines and other capabilities for mapping, reconnaissance and sabotage of civilian communication cables and underwater installations. RURP has a considerable capacity to threaten Norwegian and Western critical underwater infrastructure and energy sectors. In addition, Russian intelligence and security services are taking advantage of a significant number of civilian vessels.

Russia will continue to develop military infrastructure in the Arctic, including airbases and military bases, radar sites and coastal defence installations. Nevertheless, the war in Ukraine and a struggling economy leaves limited resources, and the work will take longer than originally planned.

Testing of new Russian weapons systems will also continue in the High North. Further testing of intercontinental ballistic missiles, long-range precision-guided weapons, hypersonic missiles and anti-satellite weapons is expected.

Weapons designed for nuclear propulsion, both missiles and torpedoes, were tested at Novaya Zemlya in 2023, and this activity is expected to continue. The testing carries a risk of accidents and local radioactive emissions.

Plans for a larger force structure

Moscow expects a lengthy confrontation with the West and has identified a need for expanding the Russian armed forces. According to official plans, the armed forces will increase from 1 to 1.5 million soldiers by 2026. The Moscow and Leningrad military districts will be revived, and new units will be formed in Karelia. Russia is also set to establish several new infantry and airborne divisions. An expansion of the military structure on this scale will be a time-consuming and challenging process, particularly due to the war. Although Moscow’s plans are first and foremost political posturing, some changes may take place near Norwegian borders already this year.

The land forces took receipt of many new weapons systems during Russia’s modernisation of the armed forces in the period 2010 to 2022. Much of this materiel has already been spent or lost in Ukraine, and it has been replaced by older materiel from storage. Moreover, Russia has lost a large proportion of its most experienced personnel. The land forces are therefore already undergoing major organisational changes. Even before the war, Russia was in the process of reducing the number of brigades and reintroducing the division level, as according to Russian thinking, divisions are seen as better suited to fighting a regional war with NATO.







Ocean shield EN

Exercise Ocean Shield 2023

The Russian naval exercise Ocean Shield took place in autumn 2023 in the Barents Sea, the North Sea and the Baltic Sea. The exercise demonstrated how Russia intends to position forward-deployed capabilities such as submarines, surface vessels and aircraft. The forces’ disposition confirmed that Russia views the High North and the Baltic Sea region as one continuous area.

During the exercise, Russia deployed vessels to strategic positions in the so-called Bear Gap between Svalbard and the Norwegian mainland, as well as to the Norwegian Sea and the Barents Sea. In addition, the Russian authorities announced two NOTAMS (Notice to Airmen) for military activity north and south of Bear Island. A NOTAM is a warning to aircraft pilots to keep their distance.

The Bear Gap is important as a border area in the Russian bastion defence, as it marks the transition between the shallow Barents Sea, which is the Northern Fleet’s main area of operations, and the deep Norwegian Sea. The fact that the naval exercise took place here indicates that the Northern Fleet wanted to demonstrate its ability to prevent allied access to the Barents Sea.


A changed security situation


China’s global ambitions
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