Zvezda: shipyard of the future or Soviet-style black hole by Stephen Fortescue

The priority given to the Zvezda shipyard by the state is indicated by Sechin, one of Putin’s heaviest hitters, being directly responsible and by a significant level of state funding. The Zvezda story provides the basis for discussion of broader issues in the ongoing Russian quest for a sustainable model for the building of a modern, value-adding economy which has something to gain from and offer to all parts of the sprawling Russian Federation.

Stephen Fortescue holds a PhD in Soviet Politics from the Australian National University. He is an honorary Associate Professor in the School of Social Sciences of the University of New South Wales, Sydney and Visiting Fellow in the Centre for European Studies of the Australian National University. He researches Russian policy-making capacity, Russia's development policy in the Russian Far East and its commercial engagement with the Asia Pacific, and Russian industry policy. The author acknowledges the useful comments of Julian Cooper and Richard Connolly on an earlier draft. © 2018 Changing Character of War Centre. All rights reserved. Material in this publication is copyrighted under UK law. Individual authors reserve all rights to their work and material should not be reproduced without their prior permission. The views and opinions expressed in these articles are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the views of the Changing Character of War Centre, Pembroke College, or the University of Oxford.

Review of John Davies and Alexander Kent, Red Atlas by Andrew Monaghan

Dr Andrew Monaghan writes a review of:

Red Atlas. How the Soviet Union Secretly Mapped the World by John Davies and Alexander J. Kent. London: University of Chicago Press, 2017. HB. 234pp. Maps, Photos, Index. ISBN-13: 978-0-226-38957-8

“This fine book examines the significant effort that the Soviet Union invested in mapping the USSR, its Soviet allies and world. This was the world’s ‘largest mapping endeavour’, conducted by thousands of cartographers who produced perhaps more than a million different types of maps of different parts of the planet, to an ‘extraordinarily high quality of craftsmanship’, to present an alternative view of the globe. Indeed, the maps often appear as works of art.”

Dr Andrew Monaghan is Director of Research on Russia and Northern European Defence and Security at CCW

War with NATO: Essence of a Russian Decision by Dr Jeffrey Michaels


Dr Jeffrey H. Michaels

The principal question I will be addressing is:  how should we think about the prospect of Russian military aggression against NATO? It is essential to have a clearer idea of the characteristics of a Russian decision to initiate military aggression against NATO. The approach taken here is unorthodox in that it avoids direct engagement with mainstream political science works dealing with the related subjects of war initiation, deterrence, the role of alliances, the waning of major war, nor does it directly engage with the literature on competing theories of International Relations. Though I will draw on some of this literature, and make a few indirect references to it, the principal aim is to narrow the focus from that of general theory towards understanding how certain issues may present themselves in this specific context.

Dr Jeffrey H. Michaels is a Senior Lecturer at Defence Studies Department, King’s College London. Dr. Michaels was a Visiting Fellow at CCW from September 2016 to July 2017.

Russia's 'Invincible' Weapons: An Update by Julian Cooper

On 1st March 2018, Vladimir Putin devoted much of his annual Presidential Address to the Federal Assembly to the presentation of a number of new 'invincible' weapons then under development. Soon after, these new systems were given names: 'Kinzhal' for a cruise missile launched from an aircraft flying at high altitude at a supersonic speed, 'Avangard' for a hypersonic boost-glide system, 'Sarmat' a heavy multi-warhead ICBM, 'Burevestnik' for a nuclear powered very long-range cruise missile, 'Poseidon' a nuclear powered autonomous under-water weapon able to carry nuclear munitions, and 'Peresvet' for a ground-based laser weapon system able to destroy or disable low flying drones, aircraft and,  possibly, satellites. Nearly a year later, in 2019’s Address to the Federal Assembly, Putin gave some additional information about the development of these systems and also spoke of two new ones to be developed in response to the decision of the United States to withdraw from the Intermediate Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty.


The significance of Putin's 2018 presentation and details of these new systems were provided in an earlier publication and will not be repeated here. The purpose of this paper is instead to outline what is now known about the current stage of development of the new weapons and future prospects for their deployment. It also considers a number of other significant new weapons currently under development and some general patterns that are beginning to emerge that could influence whether a new arms race is in prospect and, if so, what form it might take. 

For Julian Cooper, 'Russia's Invincible Weapons: Today, Tomorrow, Sometime, Never?', May 2018, Click Here.

Review of A Spy Named Orphan: The Enigma of Donald Maclean

The so-called Ring of Five spies – Philby, Burgess, Blunt, Maclean and Cairncross, young men at Cambridge recruited in the 1930s by the Russian intelligence service to penetrate the British bureaucracy – have been so much written about that it is with a heavy heart that one picks up yet another book about them.  It is, after all, over 80 years since they were recruited by the NKVD, as the Cold War KGB was then styled, and about 70 since they ceased spying.  For how much longer will they feature almost as contemporary news?  Will they make it past their own centenary?

Probably not, partly because such subjects have a natural half-life and partly because MI5 is gradually releasing its files of the period.  Once their contents are known there will be nothing else to say.  Most of it is known already, of course, although because MI6 does not release its files some writers will continue to speculate that the ‘real’ story is still withheld.  Happily, that does not apply to Roland Philipps whose A Spy Named Orphan, The Enigma of Donald Maclean is a thoroughly researched account which makes sensible use of all available material and largely eschews speculation. 

Russian military expenditure in 2017 and 2018, arms procurement and prospects for 2019 and beyond by Julian Cooper

Russian military expenditure in 2017 and 2018, arms procurement and prospects for 2019 and beyond

 Julian Cooper 

The Ministry of Finance issued provisional data on the implementation of the 2018 federal budget (total spending, open plus classified, by budget chapter and sub-chapter) on 22 January, although a few days earlier it had already made available details of open spending by government departments during the year. Total spending was 16,709 billion roubles but revenues amounted to 19,455 bn. r., giving a substantial surplus of 2,746 bn.r., 2.7 per cent of GDP, although in the amended budget law the target was 2.1 per cent.

Julian Cooper is Emeritus Professor at the Centre for Russian, Eurasian and European Studies, University of Birmingham/Associate Senior Fellow, Stockholm International Peace Research Institute.

Review of Chris Miller, Putinomics. Power and Money in Resurgent Russia by Jonas Driedger

The weakest part of this strong book is its main title. This is not a “Putinomics” book – in that it does not actually follow the widespread fallacy of attributing all of Russia’s policies to the supposed omnipotence and personal whims of its president. Rather, the book argues that Russia’s political elite – a complex wheel of which Putin is the hub and which this book usually refers to as “the Kremlin” – has pursued a single, persistent, continuous, and deliberate economic policy that has consequentially shaped Russia’s economy.

The ‘Kalibrisation of the Russian Navy: Progress and Prospects by Richard Connolly

The Russian navy (Voenno-Morskoi Flot, or VMF) is now nearly a decade into an ambitious rearmament programme. When this programme was drafted in 2010, it was envisaged that between 2011 and 2020 over 50 new surface vessels and 24 submarines would be built. These would be complemented by the delivery of a further 15 modernised late Soviet-era major surface combatants and around 20 modernised submarines. This would, it was hoped, bring the Russian navy into the 21st century. However, this ambitious programme for fleet modernisation has not gone smoothly. Whilst considerable financial resources were allocated to support naval construction, and a large number of hulls were laid down, deficiencies in Russia’s shipbuilding industry, as well as the impact of Western sanctions and the breakdown of defence-industrial relations with Ukraine, caused progress to be much slower than initially hoped. To date, only a small number of new surface vessels displacing over 2,500 tonnes have been delivered to the navy. And an even smaller number of genuinely modernised Soviet-era vessels are currently in service.

Strategic Planning, Situation Centres and the Management of Defence in Russia: An Update by Julian Cooper

After long delay, the Russian Law on Strategic Planning was finally signed into law by President Putin in June 2014. From the outset the final law on strategic planning makes it clear that the activity concerns both socio-economic development and ensuring national security. It is presented as a highly structured activity pertaining to all levels of government from the federal to the municipal.

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A World Shaped by Spying – Literature review by Robert Dover

Dr Robert Dover (University of Leicester) reviews:

  • Christopher Andrew, The Secret World, Allen Lane (London), June 2018, pp.960, ISBN-13: 978-0713993660

  • Mark Urban, The Skripal Files: The Life and Near Death of a Russian Spy, MacMillan (London), October 2018, pp310, ISBN-13: 978-1-5290-0688-9

“The clichés around intelligence being a much-misunderstood activity, of it being the ‘hidden wiring’ are clichés precisely because they contain a large kernel of truth. Both the books under review here aim to illuminate this activity, and to perform a kind of public service.

For Christopher Andrew, his canvas is wide and ambitious – he is aiming to explain and understand the role that intelligence has played throughout our development as an organised species, whilst making some narrower points about how policy makers and politicians continually under-perform because they are incapable of learning lessons from intelligence history. Mark Urban’s canvas is more limited, in the sense that he focuses in on an individual caught up in sweeping moments of contemporary history, and then someone who becomes the focus of what might become a pivot in international affairs.

But they are both interested in the same core questions, that of the role and use of intelligence, the impact that intelligence operations can have on individuals and on politics. We can extract broad lessons from both books, and curiously the length of The Secret World does not help it yield more advanced or more numerous lessons – as one might have expected. I will take each book in turn, because that offers some clarity and simplicity, but also because the two books – whilst offering similar qualities – are very different, as will become clear.”

Simultaneous Deterrence: Some Policy Considerations for the UK by Jeffrey Michaels

A new paper from former Visting Research Fellow Dr Jeffrey Michaels

Deterrence has once again become increasingly fashionable in Whitehall following a long hiatus after the Cold War. Unfortunately, as with many fashionable terms, a clear and consistent conceptual underpinning is lacking, and there is little or no common understanding within Government about what the term means or with respect to what issues it should be applied. One further unfortunate consequence of this terminological faddism is that by over-emphasizing deterrence in the official discourse, many problems not previously discussed in terms of deterrence are then labelled and understood as deterrence problems.

Dr Jeffrey Michaels is a member of Defence Studies Department, Kings College, London.

Article from Andrew Monaghan: Mobilization as Russian Grand Strategy

Dr Andrew Monaghan has written an article for Current Russia Military Affairs: Assessing and Countering Russian Strategy, Operational Planning, and Modernization, Edited by Dr. John R. Deni. This is publication of the Strategic Strategy Institute, US Army War College.

Dr Monaghan’s article is titled From Plans to Strategy: Mobilization as Russian Grand Strategy

The funding of nuclear weapons in the Russian Federation by Julian Cooper

The Russian federal budget is characterised by a high degree of non-transparency in relation to spending on defence and security. This particularly applies to the procurement of armaments and spending on the individual services of the armed forces. The funding of nuclear weapons is no exception. The available evidence is fragmentary and a considerable degree of estimation is required to obtain an overall total for spending on Russia's nuclear triad. For Russian specialists, this is a highly sensitive topic and the author is not aware of any published attempt to undertake this exercise within the country. Given the lack of transparency, the author has had no choice but to resort to the 'Sovietological' methods often necessary in the past to estimate economic data relating to the USSR – though this is a methodological issue, rather than a suggestion or foundation that Russia is “returning” to the USSR. Before looking at the available data, it is necessary to examine the institutional structures for nuclear munitions and their delivery systems and then analyse the treatment of expenditure on these structures and how it is handled in the chapters and subchapters of the federal budget.


Julian Cooper is based at the Centre for Russian, European and Eurasian Studies, School of Politics and International Studies, University of Birmingham and an Associate Senior Fellow at SIPRI. This paper was originally commissioned by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) as part of a project investigating the funding of nuclear weapons in countries which possess them.

Factors Influencing Russian Force Modernization by Dr. Lester Grau and Charles K. Bartles

A wide-spread Russian perception is that Russia is back as a significant Eurasian power whose opinions and desires need to be understood and accommodated. Russia has regained its national pride, confidence and sense of destiny. Russia still feels threatened from the south and the west and is taking political and military steps to deal with that unease. Historically, Russia feels most secure when it has a strong leader and a strong military. Russians are willing to forego much in order to ensure their security. There are perceived internal and external threats to the Russian state and Russia is addressing these through military reform, military restructuring, force modernization, equipment modernization as well as domestic security restructuring and modernization. Understanding those factors that drive these actions facilitates and potential forms of future war may assist understanding Russian official statements and actions.   

From Non-State to Proto-State: How the Islamic State Turned its Concept into Capabilities by Florence Gaub

Until the emergence of the so-called Islamic State (IS), jihadism led an asymmetric life: using improvised explosive devices and drive-by shootings, funnelling money through illegal channels and hiding from government forces. This guerrilla existence stood in stark contrast with its grand vision: to establish a state on the territories inhabited mainly by Muslims, and govern according to its own interpretation of Sharia law.

What stood between the reality and the vision was the lack of capabilities needed to first achieve territorial conquest and subsequently governance. In that sense, IS faced the traditional dilemma of all non-state actors: breaking into the monopoly of states requires certain state-like features in the first place. For non-state actors to mobilise the strategic resources necessary and then to translate them into effective military capabilities is only the first (and difficult enough) step; they then have to be ready to hold, and govern the conquered territory when they normally have no governance experience. The formidable challenges they face in this process mean that they normally never achieve either – with the exception of IS, which turned out to be the first non-state actor successfully to turn its concept of statehood into matching capabilities. How did it do that?

From Concept to Capability’: the Russian Approach to Capability Development by Carl Scott

The Russian approach to the development of military capability has evolved significantly since 2008, when a major review process was initiated across Defence. Many years of attempted reform had been stifled by the objections of the Armed Forces and precepts of Marxist-Leninism, which held on to the notion of mass conscription. Significant failings exposed by the conflict in Georgia in August 2008 precipitated a crisis which allowed President Putin to appoint an outsider to defence, Anatoly Serdyukov, to oversee significant and unpopular change. The subsequent transformation programme sought to redress the loss of competitive edge during the years of stagnation that had marked the closing years of the Soviet Union and the chaos of political transition following its collapse.  Widespread conceptual, material and organisational changes were introduced, with particular focus on seeking opportunities to respond to the evolving capability of competitors through emerging technologies.

The Russian Reconnaissance Fire Complex Comes of Age

by Lester W. Grau and Charles K. Bartles

The Soviet Union, and now Russia, have long worked on the development of twin concepts for the detection and assured destruction of high-value targets in near-real time. The Reconnaissance Strike Complex (разведивательно-ударный комплех-RYK) was designed for the coordinated employment of high-precision, long-range weapons linked to real-time intelligence data and precise targeting provided to a fused intelligence and fire-direction center. The RYK functioned at operational depths using surface-to-surface missile systems and aircraft-delivered “smart” munitions. The Reconnaissance Fire Complex (разведивательно-огновой комплех ROK) was the tactical equivalent. It linked intelligence data, precise targeting, a fire-direction center and tactical artillery to destroy high-value targets in near-real time. The Soviets were making good progress in development of both systems before the Soviet Union collapsed. After a period of chaos and adjustment, Russia is back on track and modernizing her armed forces. Part of that modernization is the fielding of a functioning and renamed reconnaissance strike system and reconnaissance fire system. The reconnaissance fire system (разведивательнфая-огновая система ROС) has now been successfully deployed and battle tested and is part of Russian Field Artillery capabilities. In the words of Deputy Chief of Staff of Ground Forces, Major General Vadim Marusin, “Today the cycle (reconnaissance -- engagement) takes literally 10 seconds.”

Russia's Invincible Weapons: Today, Tomorrow, Sometime, Never?

By Julian Cooper

On 1st March this year Vladimir Putin finally delivered his long-awaited annual poslanie, or State of the Nation speech, to the Federal Assembly. With pictures and video clips Putin described six weapon systems that had been developed or were being developed in the following order, the 'Sarmat' heavy ICBM, a nuclear-powered cruise missile, a nuclear-powered and armed undersea drone, a hypersonic missile, 'Kinzhal', launched from a supersonic aircraft, the 'Avangard' glide vehicle for an ICBM, and a laser weapon of unspecified purpose.

Here each system will first be reviewed in detail in the approximate order of its likelihood to enter combat service. Given the secrecy that has hitherto shrouded most of the weapons, the information presented has had to be assembled from multiple sources. Then the reception of the poslanie will be considered, together with some issues arising from it, not least why it was delivered in the form it took.

Julian Cooper OBE is Emeritus Professor at the Centre for Russian, European and Eurasian Studies, University of Birmingham and Associate Senior Fellow, Stockholm International Peace Research Institute.