In today’s Komsomolskaya pravda, Viktor Baranets interviews Ruslan Pukhov, Director of the Center for Analysis of Strategies and Technologies, and Member of the Defense Ministry’s Public Council. Pukhov provides a fairly balanced assessment of Defense Minister Serdyukov’s reforms, one year on.
Pukhov believes Serdyukov managed to reorganize and shake up the Defense Ministry apparatus, and partially achieved more rational use of the military’s budget money. He says the main thing is the breakthrough on the ’organizational measures’ of military reform. He calls the ‘new profile’ the deepest organizational change for Moscow since 1945, citing its large-scale relocation of troops and equipment, cutting of personnel and obsolete armaments, reorganization of military education, and civilianization of many military jobs. Pukhov concludes the administrative tasks of the reform are largely complete.
However, Pukhov also agrees with Baranets that the reforms have created a structural shell that has to be brought to life, made effective, and combat capable. This will be harder than what’s been done so far. Pukhov says there are few who doubt the army needed a radical, not just a cosmetic, reform, and the five-day August 2008 war proved it.
Pukhov thinks the reforms have created a new army, fundamentally different from the Soviet or previous Russian Army. In scale, they can only be compared with the military reform of Peter the Great. If it’s possible to reproach the Russian leadership for anything, it’s for dragging the process out with half measures which turned into a permanent degradation of the army, according to Pukhov.
Asked about Serdyukov’s greatest achievement and greatest failure, Pukhov says the former is having the political and administrative will to complete the first phase of reform. But the greatest failure is Serdyukov’s inability to win the support of the entire officer corps, and this has put part of the officer corps against him. Bureaucratic and poorly explained changes have often demoralized personnel, and poorly thought out personnel cuts have created discontent in the ranks, from contractee to general. Military discontent with the methods of conducting the reform could discredit the reform itself, and make it too difficult for the political leadership to continue supporting Serdyukov, although for now Kremlin is satisfied with Serdyukov and his role as the army’s ‘surgeon.’
Pukhov says many of the measures have been extremely painful, affecting the fate of hundreds of thousands of servicemen, and often been implemented in a typical Russian fashion he describes as ‘up the ass.’ The Defense Ministry’s ‘secret-bureaucratic’ approach itself has had an effect here as well.
After practically calling Serdyukov’s the army’s proctologist-in-chief, Pukhov cuts him some slack, saying he didn’t personally plan and implement the largest part of the ‘orgshtat measures.’ They were done by military specialists in the Defense Ministry, General Staff, and service and district staffs, by men who’ve served out there themselves and are now engaged in transferring their colleagues, cutting some, putting some outside the TO&E, ‘optimizing,’ and so forth. But Pukhov notes, all this could be done humanely, with respect toward the men and their professional experience.
Pukhov agrees with Baranets that a ‘soulless’ style of dealing with people, a lack of concern about human capital, and disregard for the human factor is traditional in the army. And, unfortunately, it permeates the entire military system, according to Pukhov. And a significant portion of the officer corps has become victim to such an approach during these rapid reforms.
Pukhov ends with some criticism for the top military leadership which often says it has come all the way from the bottom ranks, like those being ‘optimized’ today. But what’s happening, including the aforementioned ‘excesses’ of reform, in Pukhov’s view, should make one think that there are some unhealthy morale-psychological tendencies in the army, which started long before Serdyukov, and can’t be considered normal. Perhaps, for the success of reforms, the leadership should focus on the human aspect and recognize that the army, first and foremost, is people, and not pieces of iron.
So it sounds a little like Pukhov is saying the civilian Serdyukov didn’t realize how military men would implement his changes in their own organization, and what the human costs would be. Again, it sounds like he wants to cut Serdyukov some slack, and share the blame for the pain caused with others around him wearing uniforms with big stars. This tends to overlook the reality that many of those with the stars who objected were sent packing by someone.