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In Georgia, Russia saw its Army's shortcomings

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Already, Russian defense budgets are set to leap next year to a post-Soviet record of over $50 billion. Similar jumps are projected for coming years as well.

The fresh increases, announced by Prime Minister Vladimir Putin in late September, are in addition to a special $200-billion procurement program aimed at restoring the country's degraded strategic forces.

Mr. Arbatov argues that Russia's military problems run deeper than just two decades of neglect. "There is no political leadership over military organization. Nor is there any democratic control. The system needs to be changed," he says.

Russian forces entering South Ossetia lacked even basic intelligence regarding Georgian artillery positions and troop deployments, which led several of their leading units into costly ambushes. In one surprise attack, the 58th Army's senior commander, Gen. Anatoly Khrulyev, was badly wounded and had to be evacuated.

In a desperate effort to get information, the Russians sent an electronic reconnaissance version of the Tupolev Tu-22M Backfire bomber over the battlefield and it got shot down. In all, Russia lost four planes, including three Sukhoi Su-25 attack fighters to unexpectedly effective Georgian air defenses. Some Russian commanders reported using cellphones to communicate with their units when their own radios failed.

Additionally, the tanks deployed by the Russian Army did not have night sights for their guns, and the reactive armor designed to protect them from Georgian antitank weapons proved unreliable.

President Dmitry Medvedev spoke about the Georgia war as a wake-up call for the Kremlin. "A war can flare up suddenly and can be absolutely real," he said to military leaders late last month. "Local smouldering conflicts ... can turn into a real conflagration."

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