29 Sep 2023, 00:00

Russia unveils huge spending hike to battle 'hybrid war'

MOSCOW, Sept  28, 2023 (BSS/AFP) - Russia said Thursday that it plans to
raise defence spending by almost 70 percent next year, funnelling massive
resources into its Ukraine offensive to fight what it calls a "hybrid war"
unleashed by the West.

With Moscow's "special military operation" now approaching another winter,
both sides have been digging deep and procuring weapons from allies in
preparation for a protracted conflict.

The announcement came as NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg and the defence
ministers of Britain and France visited Kyiv, where President Volodymyr
Zelensky lobbied for more air defence systems.

"We need to get through this winter together, to protect our energy
infrastructure and people's lives," Zelensky told Stoltenberg, warning of a
fresh campaign of Russian attacks after last year's strikes left millions short
of water and heating.

Ukraine's newly appointed defence minister Rustem Umerov, after meeting
with his British counterpart Grant Shapps, said "winter is coming but we are

Shapps said he was in Kyiv for his first visit to discuss with Zelensky
"what he needs to win".

Ukraine has repeatedly asked for more Western weapons, including
longer-range missiles, to help break through Russian positions and launch
strikes deep within Russian-controlled territory.

Kyiv began its counter-offensive in June but has acknowledged slow progress.

- 'Imperialist delusions' -

Stoltenberg accepted that Ukraine's army was facing "fierce fighting" as it
slowly claws back territory from Russian forces, but said Kyiv was gaining

"Every metre that Ukrainian forces regain is a metre that Russia loses.
Moscow is fighting for imperialist delusions," he said.

The speed of Ukraine's advances has raised concerns in some Western
countries over Kyiv's military strategy, but Stoltenberg again vowed that the
US-led defence bloc was unwavering in its support.

"NATO will stand with Ukraine for as long as it takes," he told Zelensky,
adding that Ukraine is "closer to NATO than ever before."

Zelensky said it was a "matter of time" before Ukraine joins the alliance.

When the Kremlin launched its large-scale military operation in Ukraine
last year it had hoped to topple the Ukrainian government within days.

But the conflict has dragged on and Russia has ramped up arms manufacturing
and pumped massive funds into its military machine, despite persistently high
inflation and a weaker ruble.

According to a finance ministry document published Thursday, defence
spending is set to jump by over 68 percent year-on-year to almost 10.8 trillion
rubles ($111.15 billion) -- more than spending allocated for social policy.

- 'Hybrid war' -

"It is obvious that such an increase is necessary, absolutely necessary,
because we are in a state of hybrid war, we are continuing the special military
operation," Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said.

"I'm referring to the hybrid war that has been unleashed against us," he

Russian authorities have repeatedly accused Western powers of de facto
fighting against Moscow through their military and other support to Ukraine.

Defence spending in 2024 is set to total around three times more than
education, environmental protection and healthcare spending combined, figures
calculated by AFP showed.

"The focus of economic policy is shifting from an anti-crisis agenda to the
promotion of national development goals," the finance ministry said in the

It said this included "strengthening the country's defence capacity" and
"integrating" four Ukrainian regions Moscow claims to have annexed last year.

President Vladimir Putin and other officials have largely shrugged off the
economic effects of the Ukraine offensive.

But Russia's central bank warned this month that economic growth was set to
slow in the second half of 2023.

Russia has sought to portray that it has reliable allies against the West.

But on a visit to Berlin Thursday, the leader of Russia's ally Kazakhstan
vowed that his country will "follow the sanctions regime" against Moscow.

"There should not be any concerns on the German side about possible actions
aimed at circumventing the sanctions regime," Kazakh President Kassym-Jomart
Tokayev said.

Kazakhstan has not recognised eastern and southern Ukrainian regions
occupied by Moscow as part of Russia and has been rattled by the full-scale

- Drones and cruise missiles -

The visits came ahead of Kyiv's first Defence Industries Forum, where
Ukrainian officials were to meet representatives from over 160 defence firms
and 26 countries.

Both Moscow and Kyiv have launched systematic aerial attacks on strategic
facilities with drones and cruise missiles.

Ukraine said earlier Thursday that Russia had deployed a "massive" drone
attack overnight, adding that it had destroyed 31 of the 39 aircraft.

Russian unmanned aerial vehicles were intercepted over Black Sea coastal
regions and further inland, it said.


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