Category Archives: Civil-Military Relations

Through the Public’s Eye

How does the Russian military look in the public’s eye?  The Public Opinion Foundation (FOM) asked recently, and the answers showed a fairly substantial improvement in the average citizen’s view of the capabilities of the armed forces.

The poll indicates the constant Russian media drumbeat on rearmament has affected public perceptions of the military’s capabilities.  Its unopposed march through Crimea this spring probably contributed as well, but no survey questions addressed this.

FOM asked, if extra government funding were available, would respondents use it on military or civilian needs. Those polled still strongly prefer civilian uses (55% vs. 61% in early 2012).

Seventy-four percent of those surveyed now think the armed forces are capable of ensuring the country’s security (vs. only 49% in early 2013).  Those who think not dropped to seven percent (vs. 23% in 2013).

Are They Capable?

Are They Capable?

In response to an open follow-up question, 21 percent said the military is capable because it has all combat equipment it needs.

Asked if the military’s combat capability is increasing, decreasing, or not changing, 64 percent said increasing (vs. 38% in 2013).  Only 12 percent said not changing (vs. 30% in 2013).

In an open follow-up, 20 percent said expedited outfitting, development of defense industry, and new weapons are all necessary for increasing the combat capability of the armed forces.

At the same time, 63 percent indicated Russia has a sufficient amount of modern arms and equipment (vs. 43% in 2013). Sixty-five percent think the share of modern weapons is increasing; 41 percent thought so in 2013.

The survey also asked respondents to rate their knowledge of the situation and problems in the armed forces.  These numbers were basically unchanged.  In this survey and in 2013, less than 30 percent said they knew them “well” or considered themselves “not badly” informed.  Slightly less than 70 percent said they didn’t know much or were poorly informed.

But, as the saying goes, opinions are something everyone has.

About one-third reported having relatives, friends, or acquaintances in the military; about two-thirds said they don’t.

The poll was done on 23-24 August with responses from 1,500 participants in 43 regions and 100 populated areas.  Its margin of error is not greater than 3.6 percent.

FOM also offers a complete breakdown of its survey results from the webpage for those who’d like to download them.  It shows them by age, sex, political preference, education, income, etc.

Serdyukov Suspected

Anatoliy Serdyukov’s no longer a witness; he’s a suspect.

The Investigative Committee of Russia (SKR) suspects the former defense minister of negligence leading to the loss of more than 56 million rubles.  He reportedly gave verbal orders to use budget money to finance a road to the Zhitnoye resort in Astrakhan Oblast, and to have railroad troops build it.  Soldiers were also reportedly employed in landscaping Zhitnoye, owned by Serdyukov’s brother-in-law Valeriy Puzikov.

Putin and Medvedev at Zhitnoye in 2011 (photo: Press-Service of the President of Russia)

Putin and Medvedev at Zhitnoye in 2011 (photo: Press-Service of the President of Russia)

Serdyukov will appear on 3 December for questioning under Part 1, Article 293 of the RF Criminal Code, which reads:

“1.  Negligence, that is the non-fulfillment or unreliable fulfillment of his obligations by a responsible person as a result of an unconscientious or negligent attitude toward service, if this inflicts a great loss or material damage to the rights and legal interests of citizens or organizations or interests of society or the state protected by the law, -“

“Punishable by a fine in an amount up to one hundred twenty thousand rubles or in the amount of wages or other proceeds of the guilty party for a one year period, or mandatory work for a period up to three hundred sixty hours, or correctional labor for the period of one year, or arrest for a period up to three months.”

A command “from above” to pursue Serdyukov was required, and, apparently, it’s been given.

According to ITAR-TASS, SKR spokesman Vladimir Markin says a “final evaluation” of Serdyukov’s “illegal activity” will be made during the investigation.

Some observers believe, at a minimum, Serdyukov’s orders look like a more serious charge of “misuse of official authority” (Article 285).  But, as Nezavisimaya gazeta writes, most doubt prosecutors will lay a heavier accusation on Serdyukov.

Political commentator Gleb Pavlovskiy says making Serdyukov a suspect raises the bar for the next targets of anti-corruption investigations, but Pavlovskiy doesn’t think he’ll receive any real sentence:

“As regards Serdyukov, apparently, there’s a point of view that he must be punished somehow, but he mustn’t suffer because he was a politically loyal functionary.  The new accusation proceeds from the idea that Serdyukov is guilty for not preventing the growth of MOD corruption to a scandalous proportion, but he’s not guilty himself.”

Similarly, politician and analyst Vladimir Ryzhkov suggests a nominal conviction and sentence of community service hours might satisfy public opinion, and give President Putin an acceptable exit from a thorny problem.

Observer Igor Bunin adds:

“. . . Putin, when he decided it was necessary to sort things out with Serdyukov, followed two goals.  From one side, make the elite understand that it’s forbidden to cross certain lines, and from the other side — raise his own prestige.  But at the same time he understood that he depends on this elite, and it’s impossible to punish this once close person severely, he was in the very tight-knit group connected to Putin.”

Political scientist Pavel Salin, however, thinks Serdyukov’s fate may be the object of struggle between “hardliners” and moderates.  No longer satisfied with Putin as arbiter of the political system, “hardliners” want a conviction, while moderates want to limit blowback on the elite and the status quo, and to confine anti-corruption measures to lower levels.

Ryzhkov also wonders if something along these lines is changing:

“It seems Putin himself wants to toughen something up.  At least the simultaneous start of the criminal case against Serdyukov and the announcement of creation of the Kremlin’s agency for battling corruption [PA anti-corruption directorate] shows that, possibly, they are really at least trying something to toughen the struggle against corruption.”

Zhitnoye in 2011 (photo: Press-Service of the President of Russia)

Zhitnoye in 2011 (photo: Press-Service of the President of Russia)

Speaking for his client, Serdyukov’s lawyer said he hasn’t been charged, and acknowledging any kind of guilt is “out of the question.”  Until now, he was a witness to property machinations involving Oboronservis and Slavyanka that occurred during his tenure as defense minister.

Just back on 15 November Serdyukov was named head of Rostekh’s obscure Federal Testing Research Center for Machinebuilding.

Wind Blows Hard Across Iturup

Recently saw a compelling piece in Smartnews.ru.

Had not heard of the site, but its text and photos vividly convey the plight of the inhabitants of Russia’s unneeded military towns.

Military Settlement Gornyy on Iturup (photo: ovsiasha.livejournal.com)

Military Settlement Gornyy on Iturup (photo: ovsiasha.livejournal.com)

Five hundred residents of Gornyy, a military settlement on Iturup in the Kuril chain, have appealed for help to resettle them or fix their broken down homes.  Iturup is the northernmost of the four southern Kuril islands which Japan  claims as its Northern Territories.

Gornyy on Iturup Island

Gornyy on Iturup Island

Smartnews writes that the Ministry of Defense still controls Gornyy, but only in a formal sense.  In reality, it has “thrown away” these former colleagues.

Local authorities want to help, but don’t have a legal right.  They can’t spend money on territory still belonging to the MOD.  They aren’t allowed to replace drafty old windows in buildings under a regional initiative called “Warm Windows.”  The Sakhalin Oblast Duma has appealed to Defense Minister Sergey Shoygu on Gornyy’s behalf.

Forces deployed here, units of the 18th Machine Gun-Artillery Division, were withdrawn from the area, but residents remained with no one to maintain their apartment buildings.

A Building in Gornyy (photo:  ovsiasha.livejournal.com)

A Building in Gornyy (photo: ovsiasha.livejournal.com)

Those who could left.  Those not expecting an apartment elsewhere from the MOD, or with nowhere to go otherwise, mostly military pensioners and their families, stayed behind.  Those with jobs work mainly at nearby Burevestnik airfield, built when the Japanese still controlled Iturup.  They will probably become unemployed when a new airport opens on the Sea of Okhotsk side of the island in the not-too-distant future.

One retiree says the once thriving settlement is now like a cemetery.  Some buildings are completely empty.  Their broken windows look like eyes.  The wind blows through neighboring apartments.  He continues:

“. . . we don’t have street cleaning or trash collection.  But mainly, there’s no future.  It’s hard on the morale, it’s simply dying — the feeling that you served at the very edge of the country, protected it, and now no one needs you.”

Officials don’t even come to Gornyy because you can’t pass through it.  It’s the most remote populated place on Iturup.  It’s 50 km to the rayon center (Kurilsk) and the MOD owns the road and isn’t in a hurry to maintain it.

An oblast Duma deputy says:

“It’s not easy living there for the military, I have complaints from several:  the boys have left, there is no one to register them [as legal residents in internal passports], no one can get medical insurance, or even vote in elections.  So people live, although there is some infrastructure there — a school, kindergarten, stores, but they don’t want to live there.”

Local authorities do what they can, arranging traveling medical care for people in Gornyy.

But ultimately, Smartnews writes, neither Gornyy nor Sakhalin can decide anything, the MOD needs to make a final determination on its property and clarify the fate of those living in the settlement.

Some former military in Gornyy, however, still hope the MOD will deploy an S-400 unit near their settlement and revitalize it.

Gornyy is an extreme case, but still similar to that of thousands of other military towns as well as many neglected and forgotten civilian settlements.

Everyone in Uniform

Under Sergey Shoygu, the Ministry of Defense looks more and more like MChS.

Shoygu’s apparently decided to put his senior civilian officials in uniform.

Tsalikov and Borisov Sport New Civilian Uniforms With Light Colored Epaulettes (photo: Mil.ru)

Tsalikov and Borisov Sport New Civilian Uniforms With Light Colored Epaulettes (photo: Mil.ru)

Deputy Defense Ministers Ruslan Tsalikov and Yuriy Borisov were photographed in their new apparel during last week’s conference on the results of the most recent surprise readiness evaluation.

Tsalikov gets to wear four army general stars given his title as “Actual Privy Councillor 1st Class.”

At the tank biathlon in Alabino, Tatyana Shevtsova and Anatoliy Antonov were caught wearing theirs at the right edge of this photo.

Antonov and Shevtsova in Uniform (photo: Rbc.ru)

Antonov and Shevtsova in Uniform (photo: Rbc.ru)

Like Tsalikov, Shevtsova (who somehow managed to hang on after Serdyukov’s demise) also wears four stars based on her civilian rank.

It looks a bit like either the USAF or the starship Enterprise has come to visit.

At any rate, Izvestia wrote about the new uniforms.  It notes the zippered jackets look like MChS, and are supposed to be more comfortable work-a-day attire for civilians and military men alike.  But one anonymous senior officer said the material feels like overalls, and he’s generally not won over at this point.

Big Consequences of Small Steps

Defense Minister Shoygu

Defense Minister Shoygu

A couple weeks ago, Aleksandr Golts wrote in Ogonek about the situation in which Defense Minister Shoygu finds himself.  Golts has two main points.  First,  small policy changes can lead to big ones which unravel former Defense Minister Serdyukov’s positive reforms.  Second, Shoygu in uniform is a setback to real civilian political control of Russia’s Armed Forces.

Golts says that, although officers had their pay raised 2-3 times and tens of thousands received apartments thanks to former Defense Minister Serdyukov, the military still clamored immediately for Shoygu to change every decision made by his predecessor.  Chairman of the Duma Defense Committee, KPRF member, ex-admiral Vladimir Komoyedov called for lengthening the conscript service term.  Generals associated with retired Marshal Dmitriy Yazov demanded an expert review of the results of Serdyukov’s tenure.

However, Golts notes both President Putin and Prime Minister Medvedev gave Serdyukov’s painful reforms high marks (Smirnov in Gazeta made the same observation).  So, concludes Golts, it was a signal to Shoygu that no fundamental review of them is needed.  This left Shoygu in a complicated situation.

So Shoygu has taken some minor decisions to placate those seeking the pre-Serdyukov status quo.  But these small steps, writes Golts, can have big consequences.  Reestablishing the Main Directorate for Combat Training (GUBP or ГУБП), for example, will ultimately undercut the authority of the main commands of the services and branches as well as (and more importantly) of the four new MD / OSK commanders.

Reversing Serdyukov’s significant cuts in the Russian military educational establishment will put unneeded officers in the ranks to reanimate cadre units and the mass mobilization system.

Lastly, Golts is critical of the president for deciding to “return” the rank (and uniform) of Army General to the Defense Minister.  Observers commented this was done to give Shoygu “authority” within the military which his predecessor sorely lacked.  But Golts says the army has a way of ensnaring a Defense Minister, drawing him into the military “clan” or “corporation.”

The Defense Minister’s civilian status, Golts continues, was the very first step in establishing if not civilian, then at least political control over the military.  But establishment of civilian control takes more than one civilian minister.  It takes civilians who formulate decisions for military men to execute.  He points to Serdyukov’s attempt to separate civilian and military functions and competencies in the Defense Ministry.

But now Serdyukov’s “skirt battalion,” which so irritated military men, is gone.  Golts concludes:

“Now the generals will return to their places, and the minister himself will be doomed to make not political, but purely technical decisions and bear responsibility for them.  In essence, he is returning to be the hostage of the military who prepares these decisions…”

One has to agree that Shoygu’s three-month tenure consists of little more than examining and questioning every decision made by Serdyukov. 

Shoygu’s status as civilian or military is more interesting. 

He passed through the general’s ranks to four stars between the early 1990s and early 2000s.  More unclear is how or why he got the first star.  He had been a strictly civilian and party figure.  Many readers may not realize Shoygu’s MChS is a “military” (militarized or paramilitary) ministry where servicemen and officers with ranks serve like in the Armed Forces, MVD, or FSB.  So, at some level, it may not be fair to claim anyone “returned” his rank, or forced him to wear a uniform. 

The question is does an MChS rank carry any weight or “authority” in the Defense Ministry?  Recall Sergey Ivanov never wore his SVR or FSB General-Colonel’s uniform as Defense Minister. 

Shoygu remains an inherently civilian and political figure whom President Putin turned to in a pinch and trusts to keep the lid on at the Defense Ministry.  Russians joked in November that the old Minister of Emergency Situations was clearly the right guy for the job when the Oboronservis scandal broke and Serdyukov had to go.

One shouldn’t worry about Shoygu and civilian and political control of the military.  The slippery slope of undoing Serdyukov’s positive efforts, on the other hand, is concerning.

Shoygu’s Inherited Dilemmas

Shoygu and Serdyukov

Shoygu and Serdyukov

Before Russia’s holiday topor fully enshrouded military commentators, Gazeta’s Sergey Smirnov published an interesting piece on the situation in which Defense Minister Shoygu finds himself.  There isn’t a lot of great comment on Shoygu yet, but it might be cranking up.  Smirnov looks at how the popular Shoygu could mar his well-regarded career while tackling the same accumulated military structural problems that faced his predecessor.  He writes about possible bureaucratic and personal conflicts with Sergey Ivanov, Sergey Chemezov, and Dmitriy Rogozin.

Leftover Problem One:  Contract Service

According to Smirnov, Russia’s military added virtually no contractees in 2012, but still has to recruit 50,000 of them every year until 2017 to reach its assigned target of 425,000.  The obstacles are the same.  Eighty percent of them don’t sign a second contract because the army doesn’t offer living conditions more attractive than barracks.  Undermanning is a related problem.  Smirnov says the military’s manpower is certainly below 800,000.  And Shoygu may have to acknowledge this problem.

Leftover Problem Two:  Bureaucratic Competitors

Smirnov describes Serdyukov’s conflict with Rogozin over the OPK and its production for the military.  He claims the “Petersburg group” of Sergey Ivanov, Chemezov, and Viktor Ivanov wanted one of its guys to take Serdyukov’s place at the Defense Ministry.  But Putin didn’t want to strengthen them, so he took the neutral figure Shoygu.

According to Smirnov, Serdyukov wanted out, and wanted to head a new arms exporting corporation to replace Rosoboroneksport.  That, of course, conflicted directly with Chemezov and the interests of the “Petersburgers.”  And Smirnov makes the interesting comment:

“But that appointment [Serdyukov to head a new arms exporter] didn’t happen precisely because of the big criminal cases which arose not by accident.”

Was Serdyukov done in for overreaching rather than for corruption scandals in the Defense Ministry?

Shoygu, writes Smirnov, was not thrilled at the prospect of continuing the “not very popular” army reforms.  Smirnov is left at the same point as everyone else:  will it be a “serious revision” of Serdyukov’s reforms or a “course correction?”

There’s lots of talk to indicate the former rather than the latter.  The new VVS CINC has bloviated about returning to one regiment per airfield instead of large, consolidated air bases.  He claims the Krasnodar, Syzran, and Chelyabinsk Aviation Schools will be reestablished.  He babbles about going to a three-service structure and retaking VVKO.  Shoygu will allow Suvorov and Nakhimov cadets to march in the May 9 Victory Parade.  He stopped the Military-Medical Academy’s move out of the center of Piter.  Other commonly mentioned possible revisions are returning to six MDs and transferring the Main Navy Staff back to Moscow.

Leftover Problem Three:  Outsourcing

Serdyukov’s outsourcing policy led to scandals, and didn’t work for the Russian military’s remote bases.  Gazeta’s Defense Ministry sources say the structure and activity of Oboronservis will likely be greatly modified or, less likely, Oboronservis will be completely disbanded if some workable entity can take its place.

Leftover Problem Four:  Military Towns

The military wants municipal authorities to take over the vast majority (70-90 percent) of a huge number of old military towns (that once numbered 23,000) no longer needed by Armed Forces units.  The army only wants some 200 of them now.

The local government wants the military to provide compensation to restore and support these towns, but the latter doesn’t have the funds.  The army is laying out billions of rubles in the next three years, but only to outfit 100 military towns it wants to use.  There is also the problem of who gets, or has the power to give away, legal title to this military property.

Leftover Problem Five:  Officer Housing

Shoygu, says Smirnov, has to solve the unresolved problem of officer housing, especially for officers “left at disposition” of their commanders (i.e. not retired but lacking duty posts and apartments).  The Defense Ministry still doesn’t know how many need housing.  Smirnov writes:

“Despite the fact that the military department daily reports on the handover of apartments, the line of officers retired from the army who are awaiting receipt of living space is not becoming smaller.  At present from 80 to 150 [thousand] former officers are awaiting the presentation of housing.”

More than enough lingering headaches for one Defense Minister.

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.