Russia Forced to Cut Defense Spending After U.S. Sanctions, Study Shows

As a slew of Western economic sanctions hits Russia’s economy, the government was forced to decrease military spending, which fell sharply in 2017 for the first time since 1998, a closely followed review said Wednesday.

According to AFP, Russia’s military expense last year came in at $66.3 billion (54.9 billion euros), 20 percent lower than in 2016, the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) said.

Moscow was last forced to cut spending in 1998 at the height of a massive economic crisis, the report said.

“Military modernization remains a priority in Russia, but the military budget has been restricted by economic problems that the country has experienced since 2014,” senior SIPRI researcher Siemon Wezeman said, referring to Western sanctions imposed against Moscow over its annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea peninsula.

Britain and its Western allies have blamed Moscow for the poisoning of Russian former double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter in England on March 4. Moscow has vehemently denied any involvement.

Russia’s frosty relations with NATO, which have plummeted to their lowest levels since the Cold War, are also driven by sharp divisions over the annexation of Crimea and the Syrian conflict. On Tuesday, the European Union was ready to impose new sanctions against five people who, according to the bloc, helped organize the Russian presidential election in the annexed Ukrainian region of Crimea in March.

Russia has largely protected its defense budget up to now, imposing cuts in areas such as infrastructure and education, but 2017 was the first time it had no option but to spread the pain, according to Wezeman.

“It’s no longer possible to keep the defense at a high level or keep it growing,” he said. “For Russia, it means they may have to swallow their pride.”