Russia’s military exercises, operations and defence industry exhibitions are showcasing an increasing number of unmanned aerial, land and maritime platforms. Some examples are dismissed by Western observers as evident failures and signs of unrealistic ambitions, even as a sort of “Potemkin village” display. However, there is no denying the fact that Russia’s defence leadership, military theorists and military practitioners are showing keen interest in robotic military applications featuring varying degrees of autonomy in performing their tasks.
Moscow’s military campaigns against Ukraine and in Syria have become the testbeds of such applications as well as of their integration into the Russian order of battle in conditions of real warfare. Compared to just ten years ago, the Russian Armed Forces have made considerable progress in adopting and expanding the use of these new technologies in their capability development. This process is bound to continue, with some important implications for countries such as Estonia that border Russia and feel threatened by its offensive military capabilities and hostile political intent as well as for the entire NATO alliance, which seeks to deter Russia’s military aggression.
This analysis explores how Russia perceives the value and impact of unmanned systems and platforms in military affairs and how it is preparing itself for the future where such systems enabled by artificial intelligence (AI) and ubiquitous connectivity will reshape the character of warfare.