defence connect logo



Far from broken – analysis reveals shocking pace of ‘rebuilt’ Russian military

Russian soldiers of the Russian National Guard operating in Eastern Russia (Source: Press service of the Russian Guard)

In just the space of a month, elation has turned into concern as Russia appears to have rapidly and comprehensively rebuilt it’s military capability with a little help from its “friends”, revealing a major challenge to Europe and, concerningly, a glimpse into the crystal ball for the Indo-Pacific.

In just the space of a month, elation has turned into concern as Russia appears to have rapidly and comprehensively rebuilt it’s military capability with a little help from its “friends”, revealing a major challenge to Europe and, concerningly, a glimpse into the crystal ball for the Indo-Pacific.

For many a Western commentator, Russia’s early failures and setbacks in their invasion of Ukraine not only caught them by surprise, but served as a moment of triumph.

The once mighty, seemingly inexhaustible Russian Army was fumbling the ball, and fumbling hard – failed airborne and air assault operations on Kyiv and its surrounds, coupled with the sloppy execution of combined arms thrusts from across the Donbass busted the long-held NATO myth that Russia could swarm through Europe almost unopposed.


Equally shocked were Russian commanders and the Russian President, Vladimir Putin, who expected to thoroughly rout the Ukrainian forces as they had done so definitively in 2014.

Meanwhile, Ukraine, emboldened by initially unquestioning and large-scale support from the United States and promises of further ongoing long-term support from its European neighbours, sought to push back boldly, leveraging nearly a decade of training and modernisation delivered by NATO partners equipping the Ukrainians with the capacity to resist their much larger Russian neighbours.

Despite early initial successes to recapture lost territory and to punish the Russian invaders, Ukraine’s counteroffensive eventually lost steam, as the war became a political football across the Western world and Russia slowly, methodically began rebuilding its forces, with both sides settling in for a long, brutal war of attrition.

However, now, despite recent pronouncements by US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, who said, “Russia has paid a staggering cost for [Russian President Vladimir] Putin’s imperial dreams.”

While the total costs to Russia is somewhere in the magnitude of more than 315,000 troops killed or wounded, in excess of US$211 billion (AU$316.4 billion) spent since the invasion began in 2022 and approximately 20 medium or large ships damaged or sunk in the Black Sea, effectively decimating the Black Sea fleet’s combat power – the tables have now well and truly turned.

Highlighting this, US Defense Secretary Austin and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Air Force General Charles Q. Brown Jr revealed the real state of play during an interview with journalists following a virtual meeting of the Ukraine Defense Contact Group at the Pentagon on Monday, 26 April.

Getting by with a little help from their friends

Contrary to what has been reported, it appears as though repeated sanctions upon the Russian economy have failed to hobble the Russian war effort, with ongoing support through rapidly developing parallel global economy built upon the foundations of multilateral organisations like the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) and the Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa (BRICS) group.

With Russia increasing economic integration with the world’s other major revisionist power, the People’s Republic of China – itself coveting a position as a major global power player backed by its immense industrial capacity – and India, both with voracious demand for Russia raw materials and energy (particularly heavily sanction liquid natural gas and petroleum products).

This circumventing of the Western sanctions network has effectively proven that the West, short of direct military intervention, has little-to-no leverage over great powers, or as the United States refers to them, “pacing threats”.

Meanwhile, Russia’s longstanding relationship with both North Korea and Iran have yielded results and support of their own, with both of the smaller nations providing various military and industrial assistance to the Russian war effort, ranging from mass suicide drones through to artillery munitions.

General Brown Jr told gathered journalists, “Ukraine’s soldiers continue fortifying defences against significant odds. Their army cannot stop a resurgent Russia, Russian force without sustained military support to Ukraine. Meanwhile, Russia has aggressively reconstitute[d] its military force using its numerical advantage to wear down Ukraine resolve and resources.”

Unpacking this further, Secretary Austin added, “So the Russians have increased their production of artillery munitions and other things. But they’re also being propped up by the likes of North Korea and Iran. And they had to go that direction because of the damage – to the chairman’s point, the damage that the Ukrainians had inflicted on the land forces there.”

Going further, Secretary Austin added, “All of their [Russia’s] defence industry really answers directly to the state, so it’s a bit – it – it’s easier for them to do that a bit quicker. But the reason that they’re where they are right now is because they’ve relied on the likes of North Korea and Iran to prop them up, and without that, they’d be in a much worse position.”

Adding further colour and concern for geopolitical events watchers is US Army General Christopher G. Cavoli, Commander of US European Command and Supreme Allied Commander Europe, who told Congress in April this year, ”The overall message I would give you is they’ve [Russia] grown back to what they were before. They’ve got some gaps that have been produced by this war, but their overall capacity is very significant still. And they intend to make it go higher.”

General Cavoli’s statement was amid revelations that Russia’s defence spending, already sitting at an estimated 6 per cent of the nation’s GDP, is somewhere between US$130 billion–$140 billion (AU$195 billion–$210 billion) per annum. This has resulted in an explosion of Russia’s defence industry, with Richard Connolly, an expert on the country’s economy at the London-based Royal United Services Institute think tank, telling Breaking Defense the 20 per cent growth in the defence industry workforce, from 2.5 million to 3 million people now.

Building further on this, General Cavoli told Congress, “Russia’s GDP increased by 3 per cent, primarily due to heavy investments in defence ... This defence spending includes new manufacturing plants and factories for weapons production. Russia is on track to produce or refurbish over 1,200 new main battle tanks a year, and to manufacture at least 3 million artillery shells or rockets per year – over triple the amount the US estimated at the beginning of the war – and more ammunition than all 32 NATO allied combined.”

Concerningly, General Cavoli said, “In sum, Russia is on track to command the largest military on the continent and a defence industrial complex capable of generating substantial amounts of ammunition and materiel in support of large-scale combat operations. Regardless of the outcome of the war in Ukraine, Russia will be larger, more lethal, and angrier with the West than when it invaded.”

Final thoughts

The war in Ukraine has served as an important learning experience both for the US and its partners, Australia included (some would say, especially us), and Russia and its partners, with lessons around the importance of manpower, the rise of autonomous systems and, most importantly, the role of whole-of-nation approach to national security.

Only by truly leveraging every aspect of national power and engaging early, consistently, and honestly with the Australian public can we position ourselves ahead of the curve and benefit from the challenges we face, rather than be swept away by the shifting geopolitical tides.

As I have said numerous times previously, ultimately, we need to see Australia begin to play the long game to fully capitalise on the opportunities transforming the Indo-Pacific.

The most important question now becomes, when will we see a more detailed analysis and response to the challenges and opportunities facing Australia and when will we see both a narrative and strategy that better helps industry and the Australian public understand the challenges faced and opportunities we have presented before us?

As events continue to unfold throughout the region and China continues to throw its economic, political, and strategic weight around, can Australia afford to remain a secondary power, or does it need to embrace a larger, more independent role in an era of increasing great power competition?

Get involved with the discussion and let us know your thoughts on Australia’s future role and position in the Indo-Pacific region and what you would like to see from Australia’s political leaders in terms of partisan and bipartisan agenda setting in the comments section below, or get in touch at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

You need to be a member to post comments. Become a member for free today!