Wed, May 02, 2018 - Page 6 News List

Sanctions force Russia to cut defense budget


Russia’s military spending last year fell sharply for the first time since 1998, as a slew of Western economic sanctions hit government coffers hard, a closely followed review said on Wednesday last week.

Despite soaring tensions between Moscow and Western nations, Russia’s military expense came in at US$66.3 billion, 20 percent lower than in 2016, the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute said.

“Military modernization remains a priority in Russia, but the military budget has been restricted by economic problems that the country has experienced since 2014,” senior institute researcher Siemon Wezeman said, referring to Western sanctions imposed against Moscow over its annexation of the Ukraine’s Crimea Peninsula.

Russia’s frosty relations with NATO, which have plummeted to their lowest levels since the Cold War, are also driven by sharp divisions over the Syrian conflict and the poisoning of an ex-spy in the UK.

Russia has largely protected its defense budget up to now, imposing cuts in areas such as infrastructure and education, but last year was the first time it had no option but to spread the pain, Wezeman said.

“It’s no longer possible to keep defense at a high level or keep it growing,” Wezeman said. “For Russia, it means they may have to swallow their pride.”

Meanwhile, all 29 NATO allies spent US$900 billion on the military last year, which accounts for 52 percent of total world spending, the institute said.

Military spending in both central and western Europe rose by 12 and 1.7 percent respectively, triggered “in part by the perception of a growing threat from Russia,” it said.

The US, which remains the world’s biggest military spender at US$610 billion, spent more on its military than the seven next highest-spending nations — China, Saudi Arabia, Russia, India, France, the UK and Japan — combined, it added.

World military expenditure reached the highest level since the end of the Cold War at US$1.739 trillion, but this was only a marginal increase, it said.

“Continuing high world military expenditure is a cause of serious concern,” institute chair Jan Eliasson said. “It undermines the search for peaceful solutions to conflicts around the world.”

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