Will NATO Be Able to Restrain Russia?

Western Experts’ Conclusions and Suggestions


Victor Hvozd

In the face of Russia’s aggressive foreign policy, the question of the USA and NATO’s ability to hold back its expansion is quite important. This refers, first of all, to the Russian military sphere, which is considered the source of the most critical threats to the world and European security, as well as directly to Ukraine’s one.

The situation in this sphere was assessed (October, 2019), in particular, by the RAND Corporation in the report “Trends in Russia’s Armed Forces. An Overview of Budgets and Capabilities”. The document provides a comparative analysis of the military capabilities of Russia and the European component of the US and NATO forces in the context of a possible local war between them without the use of nuclear weapons. The main attention is paid to the Russian Armed Forces, as one of the main tools for the realization of Moscow’s foreign policy interests.


The RAND Corporation is a leading US non-governmental organization that performs tasks set by the US Department of State, US Department of Defense, and US intelligence services expertise in political, military, economic, special, and other spheres.

In April 2019, the RAND Corporation prepared the report “Overextending and Unbalancing Russia. Assessing the Impact of Cost-Imposing Options” which contains a number of recommendations for deterring the Russian Federation. Within the framework of the relevant proposals, special attention is paid to Ukraine, which is in the midst of the Kremlin expansion.

According to RAND experts, since early 2000s, Russia’s consistent steps in developing its Armed Forces have enabled its’ bring them to an absolutely new level. According to analysts, in this regard most crucial were both, significant investments into the development of various modern weapons, and improvement of the organizational structure, forms and methods of combat use of the RF Armed Forces.

Regarding the plan of technical re-equipping of the Russian Armed Forces, RAND experts pointed out that the Russian military now has new long-range missile and artillery systems, fifth-generation tactical aircrafts, light and mobile armored vehicles, digital and computerized control and communications systems, and the latest electronic war and cyber capabilities.

In turn, a new feature in the tactics of the RF Armed Forces is that Russian tank, motorized rifle, and airborne units have opted to focus on mobility while sacrificing survivability on the battlefield. In particular, light armored personnel carriers or infantry fighting vehicles are made of light armor that protects only against small arms. However, due to their relatively low weight, they have a high off-road mobility and are fully amphibious. They can be airdropped and, in some cases, transported by helicopters.

Russia’s significant successes in air defense, electronic warfare, targets accuracy of indirect and long-range artillery fire, are also recognized.

Russian defense budgets and military expenditures in US Dollars

In addition, Russia is building up its forces, which exceed NATO forces at the European military theater, in the most important regions — in the Baltic and Black Sea. According to US experts, this allows Russia to capture the territories of neighboring countries (including the “new” NATO members) and to wage “expeditionary” wars in remote territories. The results of Russia’s intervention in the conflicts in Eastern Ukraine and Syria are quite illustrative.

…The armed conflict in the Donbas is an example of a modern high-end fight, where Russia is testing new methods of warfare and the latest weapons…

Thus, according to RAND experts, the armed conflict in the Donbas is an example of a modern high-end fight, where Russia is testing new methods of warfare and the latest weapons. At this it demonstrated the ability of the RF Armed Forces to carry out local military operations at the level of battalion and brigade tactical groups with the support of armored vehicles, artillery and multiple launch rocket systems.

Besides, Russia has conducted a combat test of the latest systems of electronic warfare in combination with fire systems. The very use of such systems made it possible to intercept and destroy Ukrainian UAVs, to find and jam Ukrainian counter artillery batteries by blinding Ukrainian radar systems. In this regard, US experts especially emphasize that Russian military equipment is not inferior to the samples of weapons received by Ukraine from Western partners.

According to the assessments by RAND experts, in general, through the armed conflict in the Donbas were rotated over 30 motorized rifle, tank and air assault brigades of the RF Armed Forces, which made them gain considerable modern combat experience of conducting local wars.

An important military practice was also received by the RF Armed Forces in Syria. Including practically worked out tasks: redeployment of troops over a long distance and organization of their logistical support; combat use of tactical and strategic aviation, as well as warships and submarines against ground targets; establishing interaction with foreign partners in real combat conditions.

All this has significantly improved the level of combat training of the RF Armed Forces and their readiness to perform tasks on all directions.


…NATO forces will not be able to effectively confront the Russian Armed Forces in a conventional conflict…

In the light of these circumstances, the RAND report emphasizes that the Russian Federation is creating challenges, risks and threats to Europe. In particular, quite possible is Russia’s attack on Baltic States and Poland, similar to its armed aggression against Ukraine. At the same time, NATO forces will not be able to effectively confront the Russian Armed Forces in a conventional conflict.

Other military experts from Western countries have drawn similar conclusions. Most of them acknowledge the superiority of Russia’s Armed Forces over the European component of NATO forces — in terms of personnel, conventional weapons (artillery, multiple launch rocket systems, and tactical aviation). First of all, this concerns the Baltic region, which may become the main direction of the next stage of Russia’s expansion.

At the same time, Western experts say that the readiness of NATO military units to real wars and armed conflicts is diminished. Their latest use was the active phase of a military operation by the US and UK forces against S. Hussein’s regime in Iraq in March–May 2003. After that, the US and Allied forces have largely performed counter-terrorism missions in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria. Besides, in 2011, an air operation was conducted against the troops of M. Gaddafi’s regime in Libya, which practically could not resist. The ground components of the US and Allied armed forces were not used.

Defense expenditure of NATO countries as a share of GDP (%)

The scales and characters of the military exercises of the Russian Armed Forces and the NATO forces also differ greatly. Thus, recently, within the framework of strategic command and post exercises of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation, front and army operations were being worked out with the involvement of appropriate troops of army, division and brigade’s level. While NATO forces’ exercises were on the level of brigades. In fact, the main superiority of NATO forces over the Russian Armed Forces is the naval component, which is absolute in character both, in terms of the number and warships’ combat capabilities. However, this has little effect on the balance of forces of the parties at the land military theater.


…Ukraine is the only country that managed to stop the Russian military invasion with the help of its own Armed Forces…

Based on this analysis, RAND experts and other Western analysts recommend the US and NATO leadership to pay attention to the development and improvement of the Allied forces’ ground component, to bring it into line with current threats to Euro-Atlantic security. They also stress the need for NATO members to fulfill their commitments to increase defense spending to certain levels. They also point to the expediency of studying Ukraine’s experience in counteracting Russia’s armed aggression. At this, they emphasize the uniqueness of such experience, since Ukraine is the only country that managed to stop the Russian military invasion with the help of its own Armed Forces.

In general, the leaderships of NATO and the Alliance’s leading member states take seriously such recommendations, and this is good for Ukraine both, in terms of improving its ability to contain Russia and because of the additional grounds for deepening our country’s Euro-Atlantic integration process.


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