Monthly Archives: November 2012

Ulyanovsk Redux

Artist’s Rendering of Ulyanovsk Under Construction (photo: Soviet Military Power, 1984)

A Glavkomat source has told Izvestiya the Navy plans to send a draft plan for a  60,000-ton displacement nuclear-powered aircraft carrier back to the designers for revision.

The Krylov TsNII and Nevskiy PKB have been on the task for 2 and 1/2 years, and have not received official word back from the Navy, according to the paper.

The source said:

“They essentially proposed the old Soviet ‘Ulyanovsk’ aircraft carrier to us, which wasn’t built due to the USSR’s collapse.  At the end of the 1980s, it was a modern carrier, a worthy answer to the American ‘Nimitz,’ but today it’s literally last century.”

This is the same complaint made by at least some generals and defense officials and commentators – the OPK is proposing (or providing) Soviet- or 1990s-era weapons systems to the military.  By the same token, that may be about all it can do in its current condition.  The Russians don’t seem to have an answer for breaking this vicious circle.

The Russian carrier design is half the size of the future Gerald R. Ford (CVN-78), envisions steam rather than electromagnetic catapults, and lacks AWACS aircraft.  But the designers claim the Navy gave them little to go on.

Izvestiya recalled former Navy CINC Vladimir Vysotskiy saying last year he hopes for one carrier strike group each for the Northern and Pacific Fleets by 2027.

Can He Possibly Avoid Prosecution?

Anatoliy Serdyukov (photo: ITAR-TASS / Aleksandr Mudrats)

Probably not.

It seems likely President Vladimir Putin, at some point, will turn Anatoliy Serdyukov over to the law, such as it is in Russia.  Despite assertions to the contrary, Putin will bow to evidence his former defense minister knew about,  condoned, or even participated in corruption schemes.

What’s Putin’s calculus?

Putin stands to look like a corruption fighter, perhaps for the first time.  Most of that corruption occurred on his protege-predecessor’s watch.  Serdyukov’s lost his tie to Putin’s closest associates through his estranged father-in-law Viktor Zubkov, so it’s free fire.  Putin can even save money by not pouring all 19 trillion rubles into new arms procurement by 2020 while investigators and prosecutors take at least 2-3 years unraveling the mess.

Few will recall Putin appointed Serdyukov to straighten out the Defense Ministry’s financial flows.  That didn’t work out too well.  Not many will remember Serdyukov was brought in because of the meager results of Putin’s stewardship of defense between 2000 and 2007.  Essentially, 12 years of Putin’s control and direction of the armed forces (de jure, de facto, or both) have come to little.  None of this will loom large politically for Putin.

On balance, it’s an easy decision to turn Anatoliy Eduardovich over to his fate.

Compared with nine months ago, clouds completely surround Serdyukov now.

Izvestiya wrote about his sister’s wealth right after the scandal broke.  A FGUP her husband ran won a lucrative one-bidder Defense Ministry vehicle leasing contract in 2010.  It’s not clear he was in charge of the firm when it got the deal.  But there can’t be any doubt the family connection was the reason for getting it.  The story appeared here, but the role of Serdyukov’s brother-in-law was unknown at the time.

This week the media reported Oboronservis affiliates responsible for paying energy suppliers for heating military installations are suddenly 4 billion rubles in the red.

The Investigative Committee (SK) searched Serdyukov’s cottage, along with those of other defense officials.

One-time Serdyukov deputy, apparent girlfriend, and central scandal figure, Yevgeniya Vasilyeva was denied bail and is under home detention.

Law enforcement sources are talking anonymously about much higher-profile and wider investigations.  There’s nibbling at other edges.  The SK is looking into alleged GOZ misappropriations.  The Main Military Prosecutor is reviewing old accusations about the poor design and quality of the army’s new uniforms.

Can Serdyukov avoid prosecutorial sharks with this much blood in the water?  Probably not.  Is he responsible for all Defense Ministry corruption?  Yes, by virtue of his former position. 

Could he become a sympathetic figure if he goes to prison?  Maybe.  Serdyukov might be seen as someone unwilling or unable to fix a broken system.  Perhaps guilty, but no more than Putin . . . a scapegoat or symbol of Russian problems larger than one man or one department of government.

A Conscript’s Year

A Picture for Ufimtsev’s Demob Album

Young Komsomolskaya pravda (Chelyabinsk) journalist Sergey Ufimtsev returned from conscript service in May.  He recently published a cheerful, humorous account of time as a soldier.  He doesn’t regret his wasted year in the army.  But he describes an army that Serdyukov’s (and Putin’s) reforms have not changed substantially.  At least not his remote unit, and probably many others as well.

Ufimtsev drew his ill-fitting uniform items and was sent to Ussuriysk in the Far East.  He describes skimpy rations which left him hungry again an hour later.

Officers left Ufimtsev and other new soldiers largely in the hands of senior conscripts, the dedy.  They still exist despite the fact that one-year conscription was supposed to eliminate them.  Ufimtsev says dedy took their new uniforms and cigarettes, and threatened them at times.  But they weren’t really so bad.  He actually learned from the soldiers who’d been around for six months.

The non-Russians, Tuvans and Dagestanis, in the unit and their petty exactions were worse.  Even officers feared them, according to Ufimtsev.

He goes on to describe training in his air defense battalion.  He got bloody blisters from endless close-order drill, and finally received his unloaded AK-74, which he cleaned often but never fired.  It was kept with others under seven locks in the weapons storage room.

This is why Serdyukov didn’t want to buy new automatic weapons for the army.  It already has massive stockpiles of unused ones.

Ufimtsev says he and his cohorts were kept busy with non-military work.  Money to hire civilians into housekeeping jobs apparently hadn’t reached his unit.  His battery commander took most of their meager monthly personal allowance (about $13) to go to “the needs of the sub-unit.”  The soldiers, mostly farm boys or technical school graduates, wore lice-infested underwear and got to bathe once per month.  The situation improved some when a new major took command, according to Ufimtsev.

Ufimtsev’s article drew so many comments that it’s possible only to summarize.

A few readers were critical of today’s youth.  One called them dolts, who cry to mom and dad, and wimps, not defenders of the fatherland.  Another says real men should be silent about the privations of army life.

Many readers drew the obvious conclusion that the author’s experience shows Russia needs an all-volunteer army.

One reader said, in a couple of months at home, he could train soldiers better for less.  He asks, “What’s the sense in such an army?”  Several commentators remarked that generals’ complaints about a lack of money for recruiting career military professionals is a lie.

One reader put it in the context of Yevgeniya Vasilyeva and the Oboronservis scandal that brought down Anatoliy Serdyukov:

“No, they won’t do away with conscription.  There’s no money.  They lost their conscience in their 13-room apartments and can’t find it.  But then they never will.  They have to decide which of 120 diamond rings to wear today.  Therefore, there’s no money for a professional army, and there won’t be.  And so there will be an army of slaves — it’s so expedient and cheap.”

Gerasimov New NGSh

Putin with Shoygu and Gerasimov

Today President Putin retired Chief of the General Staff Nikolay Makarov.  An old hand, currently Commander of the Central MD, General-Colonel Valeriy Gerasimov replaces him.  Putin also dropped First Deputy Defense Minister Aleksandr Sukhorukov (who’d had responsibility for armaments).  Western MD Commander Arkadiy Bakhin replaces Sukhorukov.  Aerospace Defense Troops Commander, General-Colonel Oleg Ostapenko also becomes a deputy defense minister.  Here’s the ukaz on the appointments, and on the dismissals.

Meeting with Gerasimov and Shoygu, Putin told the new NGSh he’s concerned by constantly changing Defense Ministry requirements on industry, and looks to him, and to the new defense minister, to “build a good, stable working partnership with our leading defense industrial enterprises.”

Serdyukov didn’t have one.  Perhaps all is not sweetness and light with the defense order in 2012.

Russia’s Arms Race

Sergey Karaganov

Sergey Karaganov wrote recently about Russia’s need for a military buildup.  His article appeared in Vedomosti, Russia in Global Affairs, and finally on the Valday discussion club’s site.

He sets out to explain why Russia needs a buildup, and why conventional military power is still relevant in today’s world.  He tries to square the buildup with a “record low” military threat to Russia.  But most of his text criticizes Kremlin intentions.

Down on Russia’s armaments plan, he’s high (probably too high) on the results of Serdyukov’s defense reforms.

It’s worth extracting and distilling some of Karaganov’s points into a stronger concentration.

He gives this as a general rule, but doesn’t (but should) emphasize how this applies to Russia:

“. . . nation states have lost much of their original strength.  Their ability to control information, financial, economic and political processes in their territories is wearing thin.  Also, they are becoming ever more dependent on the outside world.  There emerges another argument in favor of greater reliance on arms as the only tool of which the states almost entirely keep control.”

So Russia, like other states (perhaps to a greater degree), looks to its armed forces as the lone attribute of its sovereignty?

Russia, Karaganov contends, faces no external threat through the medium term.  A strong China is a problem, but not necessarily a military one.  Threats from the south are not like existential ones that shaped Russian history for centuries.  And the threat of a U.S. strike on Russian territory looks “ridiculous.”

Karaganov continues, saying the buildup is more about politics than anything else:

“I believe that in the eyes of the Russian leadership the need for gaining greater military strength will stem first and foremost from the factors of the country’s international positioning and the predetermined prospects of its political development.  Four years of sweet mumbling about modernization and practically no concrete action, except for Skolkovo, clearly demonstrates that neither society nor the elite is prepared for a modernization breakthrough.”

He describes why Russia’s ruler(s) opted for the buildup, then offers tepid support for it:

“It looks like the military buildup is expected to compensate for the relative weakness in other respects – economic, technological, ideological and psychological.”

“Criticizing this choice for being dissonant with the modern world is easy.  To a large extent this is really so.  But the modern world is changing so rapidly and unpredictably that quite possibly this choice is adequate.”

While lauding military reforms thus far, he admits:

“There are no well-considered re-armament plans behind them.”

“The process of rearmament is tough-going.  The defense-industrial complex has been bled white.  Still worse, it is not being reformed.  It is now a pale shadow of the Leviathan of the Soviet era. Just what the Russian army was only recently.”

Karaganov continues questioning the rationale for, and consequences of, the buildup:

“The military buildup policy is not only generally desirable for the ruling elite, and, possibly, for the country, but also inevitable.  The question is how and at what cost.  It will be important not to overspend, thereby ruining the development budgets.  In the meantime, it looks like a policy has been launched towards suicidal (for the country) cuts in spending on education, instead of its dramatic increase.  The reduction will upset even the beyond-horizon chances of making a modernization breakthrough.”

“It would be very silly to overspend and over-arm oneself beyond any measure only to breed more enemies, who would be looking at Russia with horror.”

“What makes the risk of mistakes still worse is that there are practically no institutional restrictions on the arms race.  Only two restraints exist at the moment.  The finance ministers – the current one and his predecessor – have been doing their utmost not to give as much as they were asked for.  And the defense minister has been trying to limit the appetite of what’s been left of the defense-industrial complex – thirsty for investment and, admittedly, corrupt as elsewhere.  In the current political system the national parliament is unable to play any tangible role in shaping a new military policy and in forming the budget.”

“No less alarming is the absence of an academic or public discussion of military policy priorities. In the meantime, there was such a discussion, although in a very limited form, even back in the last years of the USSR.  The academic think tanks created in those times are aging morally and physically.  From the right, liberal side the current military policy is criticized by a handful – literally two or three – of authors.  They surely deserve words of praise for being so bold.  But they lack knowledge and are politically engaged and biased.  In the center there is a group of experts close to the defense ministry, who are obliged to praise whatever it does and turn a blind eye on its mistakes.  And on the left side – in the mass media that are fortunately not quite available to the general reader – one can find publications by tens and even hundreds of specialists representing the remains of the financially and intellectually ruined academic part of the Soviet military-industrial complex.  I am not going to surprise the reader with the phantasmagoric threats these experts try to scare the country and themselves with.  Quite often their descriptions have no bearing on the reality and are nothing but caricature replicas of Soviet-era fantasies.”

“But to realize what is to be done, it is necessary to purposefully promote independent social, political and scientific analysis of the processes that are underway in the military sphere.  Or else there will be too many mistakes to be paid for too dearly.”

It’s pretty clear the new defense minister won’t be a brake on the OPK any time soon, if ever.

And Karaganov’s right, the lack of legislative or expert debate on defense policy is alarming.  But where in Russia hasn’t outside input and influence on politicians and policymakers waned?  His criticism of the state of press commentary on defense issues is a bit dramatic.

Anatoliy Serdyukov’s strength was making changes instead of talking them to death.  This approach engendered lots of resistance.  But, in the end, an intra-elite squabble rather than opposition to his policies brought his resignation.

The New Face of Russian Defense Policy

Sergey Kuzhugetovich Shoygu

Quite a surprise, a shock.  An interesting choice.  An ethnic Tuvan, an engineer who spent his post-Soviet life heading MChS — the Ministry of Emergency Situations, who was Governor of Moscow Oblast for just six months.

It’s a hard to imagine Shoygu advancing change and reform in the military to the degree Serdyukov did.

Despite his successes, Anatoliy Eduardovich was done in by offending his estranged mentor, father-in-law, and close Putin confidant, Viktor Zubkov.  The straw that broke the camel’s back was when police found the Defense Minister at Vasilyeva’s apartment, just below his own (how convenient), at 0600.

Ironically, Serdyukov wasn’t done in by the corruption of his young, largely female team of civilian administrators and former tax service officials.  And perhaps he wasn’t done in by his own corruption.  We’ll have to see what fate awaits him.

Serdyukov came close but didn’t match Sergey Ivanov.  Serdyukov spent 2,091 days as defense minister to the latter’s 2,150.

Can’t help but feel Shoygu won’t come close to either number.

Navy Main Staff Moved

Admiralty (photo: http://www.1tv.ru)

The Navy Main Staff’s officially moved to St. Petersburg after several years of on-again, off-again plans and delays.  Pervyy kanal covered a Senate Square ceremony and the raising of the Andreyevskiy flag over Admiralty in a light snowfall last Wednesday.

Wonder if there’s a “for sale” sign on the building on Bolshoy Kozlovskiy in Moscow.