Russian Defense Chief Says U.S. Could Cut Military Budget If It Stopped Attacking Other Nations

Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu has suggested that the "huge" U.S. military budget could be cut if American foreign policy was less aggressive.

In an interview with Russian newspaper Moskovsky Komsomolets published on Sunday, Shoigu said Russian armed forces were more concerned with defense of the country rather than force projection, and would prioritize weapons to level the playing field with the U.S. military.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has overseen a significant increase in the nation's military budget, seeking to modernize the armed forces and become a world leader in military technology. The country now has the sixth highest military expenditure in the world at some $61.4 billion in 2018, though it still lags far behind the U.S.'s $649 billion. The below chart, from Statista, shows the relative military spending of various nations.

Military Spending Budgets

But Shoigu argued that Russian military spending is proportionate to the country's foreign policy goals. "The U.S. spends huge amounts of money on private military contractors, on aircraft carriers," he told the Moskovsky Komsomolets. "Does Russia really need five to ten aircraft carrier strike groups, considering that we do not intend to attack anyone?" he asked.

Instead, the defense chief said Russia would be investing in "the means we could use against the enemy's carrier strike groups should our country come under attack. They are far less costly and more efficient."

Shoigu argued that the enormous U.S. military budget—given a further boon under President Donald Trump—was helping to fuel disastrous conflicts worldwide. "In which of the nations they went 'to bring democracy' did democracy flourish?" he asked.

"Was that Iraq, Afghanistan or Libya? And one certainly can forget about sovereignty and independence after American involvement."

Russian officials have been consistently critical of U.S. and Western military interventions in foreign nations. However, the Kremlin has itself directed several military and hybrid campaigns against its neighbors and rivals.

Moscow has repeatedly meddled in the domestic affairs of its neighboring nations in an attempt to maintain a Russian sphere of influence. In Georgia and Ukraine, most notably, this has taken the form of military action, which has left thousands dead.

Russian forces have also become deeply involved in the ongoing war in Syria in support of President Bashar al-Assad. Putin sent forces to support the dictator in 2015, though the Russian government argues the deployment is legitimate as its forces were invited by al-Assad. Russian troops have been accused of a variety of war crimes, including air strikes against civilian targets.

"Our Western colleagues love to accuse Russia of waging 'hybrid wars' or whatever," Shoigu said. "Well, I say [the] West is the one conducting actual hybrid warfare. The US now is about to leave Afghanistan in half-ruins and at the same time they work hard to stir things in Venezuela—all for the 'triumph of democracy' of course."

U.S., military budget, Russia, Sergey Shoigu
This file photo shows the USS Harry S. Truman anchored in The Solent on October 8, 2018 near Portsmouth, U.K. Matt Cardy/Getty Images/Getty