It's not very hard to get a number, or a couple numbers. I found close to a dozen sources that would state a budget or a spending number. Those are not necessarily the same thing. There were more that discussed percentages increase or decrease, and then went on to discuss what that might mean either for the Russian economy, procurement goals or both. Of the nine websites discussed below, some cited Jane's as a source, others mentioned articles in Russian news outlets Kommersant or Sputnik. SIPRI data was used more than once as well. I also found a recent press release by the Russian Ministry of Defense about the budget for the 2018-2027 period. Just as often as I saw numbers for a single year, I saw numbers spanning 10 year periods.
Also, it takes a little experimentation to figure out the right way to look for information. The latest budget to come out is regularly referred to as "SAP 2018-2027," because Russia refers to it formally in English as the "State Armaments Program (SAP)." In romanized Russian it looks something like Gosudarstvennaya Programma Vooruzheny which yields a romanized abbreviation of "GPV." So one might see SAP or GPV as an abbreviation.
Here are seven websites that published a real number about the size of the Russian defense budget or spending and a bit about each to illustrate the variation in reporting.
Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) is great for all kinds of IR stuff, but their Military Expenditure Database is longitudinal and free of charge for download as an Excel spreadsheet, PDFs, or even a beautiful interactive visual form. As you can see in the screen capture below their interactive graph shows that Russians spent $70,345,000,000.00 in real 2015 USD. One of their PDFs shows the same number for 2016 in billions of roubles and that number is 4645. So the 2016 Russian defense spending was 4.645 trillion roubles, or 70.345 billion US$.
|Russian military spending data from SIPRI|
Mark Galeotti and Michael KofmanBoth Galeotti and Kofman, respected Russia experts, wrote in depth articles about how an earlier Jane's piece had botched the math when analyzing a change from the 2016 to 2017 budgets. Jane's apparently published that Russia spent 3.8T roubles in 2016, and had allotted 2.8T roubles for 2017. Jane's suggested that Russia had experienced a 1 trillion rouble drop in spending. Both Galeotti and Kofman wrote lengthy explanations as to why a 25% cut is a misleading oversimplification of the delta.
"The truth about Russia's defence budget", by Mark Galeotti
"The Russian Defense Budget and You", by Michael Kofman
his own website, which is where I first saw his November 2017 prediction. He noted that the last program (2011-2020) had 19.3T roubles allotted and that this new one should be 19T roubles. His policy memo is also a great place to explore the break-down of spending expectations for this year and the next few.
Honorable MentionsForecast International (FI) and IISS both published articles in February about 2018-2027 spending plan. The differences in reporting are indicative of the nature of this problem. FI states that "Russia will spend over $300 billion on the procurement of new military hardware." They provide no rouble figure from which they convert that $300 billion. IISS writes that the new SAP "earmarks 19 trillion roubles (US$295 billion) for defence procurement and equipment support." Read literally, somehow equipment support costs 5 billion dollars less over ten years than simple procurement. To add much needed confusion here, the Sputnik News article that FI cites as a source writes that "the program stipulated spending 19 trillion rubles ($325 billion) on military equipment procurement."
In sum, if we now have a better sense of how they're fudging the numbers, god help us, because we're fudging the hell out of the reporting.