Last year was an extremely busy one for the Russian army. Operation in Syria, planned as short-term, was constantly prolonged; confrontation with the US and NATO increased to such an extent that the relationship began to resemble the period of the Cold War. The economic crisis, which the military previously could afford to ignore, began to threaten the implementation of defense programs. However, the hardware resource and the popularity of the military establishment only grew.
The Russian Air Force operation in Syria which started in September 2015, become a more serious test for the Russian Army than all the armed conflicts of the last decade. The five-day war with Georgia in August 2008, which revealed an almost complete lack of readiness to respond quickly to military conflicts, was the starting point for the military reforms. Six years later, in March 2014, the Russian armed forces were applied in full, and large by today's standards, operation in the Crimea.
However, the new-type army had to be baptized in Syria. For the armed forces the combat operations against real opponents - the radical Islamist faction "Islamic State" and "Dzhebhat en-Nusra" (banned in Russia) - was to be the final exam, a test that would have summed up the reforms initiated by Anatoly Serdyukov and continued by Sergey Shoygu. Over the last three years, the military officers and soldiers have been intensively prepared for sudden deployment on an unfamiliar theater, tought to quickly create disparate groups, worked hard on aviation coherence, and all of that turned up to be handy in Syria. Over the last year, the Russian military turned the Syrian territory into a ground for real weapons testing.
Hundreds of missiles, thousands of bombs, cutting-edge communications and intelligence means, strategic aviation and air defense systems, aircraft carrier group and high-precision weapons — all have been tested in the real world. The special operations forces, destroying terrorist leaders, have also proved their worth. According to the Defense Ministry, 25 Russian soldiers have been KIA during the campain — given the fact that Russia did not send its land forces into Syria. The military will start the New Year in a new environment: in the US there will be a change of administration (Moscow is hopeful that there will also be a change in Washington's approach to the Syrian issue), in Syria there will be a ceasefire (Turkey helped to facilitate it), and the military themselves believe it possible to reduce the number of forces and assets transferred to Syria.
According to Kommersant, Moscow hopes that the election of Donald Trump will, if not remove the tensions between the Russian Ministry of Defense and NATO, then at least decrease it. Over the last year, the parties have moved from pure rhetorics and allegations of violations of international agreements to a new stage of confrontation. Smoldering conflict in the south-east of Ukraine, the expansion of NATO infrastructure in the Russian frontiers, numerous incidents involving aircraft interception in the Baltic Sea created a nervous atmosphere, giving the Russian military an excuse to ask for more money, referring to the protection of national interests. Financial issues are extremely important for the Russian Defense Ministry. In recent years, the Ministry has managed to avoid curtailment of the state program of armaments for 2011-2020, which the financial and economic bloc of the government (largely managed to avoid the cuts due to the rigid Sergey Shoygu's position) insisted upon. In 2017, the financial battle will continue, and it will affect not only the existing program, but one that must be implemented in 2018-2025. Arguments between the Ministry of Defence and the Ministry of Finance on the financial issue amount to a record sum of 10 trillion rubles, and both departments have no ground for compromises.
Legacy of the previous year looks challenging. The Syrian campaign, which was supposed to be a small victorious war, turned into a protracted multi-layered game with many unknowns. Relations with NATO even in the post-Obama era can hardly improve at least in the medium term. The economic situation in the country has played against the military. But despite all this, the department manages to increase its weight and popularity: there's just nobody else who could fight.