Category Archives: Serdyukov's Reforms

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.

Long Road from Witness to Accused

Serdyukov in a Contemplative Moment

Serdyukov in a Contemplative Moment

It’s time to update the legal situation of former Defense Minister, military reformer, and “witness” to enormous corruption right under his nose, Anatoliy Serdyukov.

On these pages, it’s been said there’s no way Serdyukov can escape the prosecutors and jail.  That assessment may have been hasty. 

It reflects a vain hope that even Russia, with it’s unbelievable corruption and light regard for the rule of law, will indict and convict someone too smart and too financially savvy not to know what his “women’s battalion” was doing with MOD property and shares in the quasi-military companies of Oboronservis.

Someone who clearly knew how various schemes involving his brother-in-law and military property would look if unearthed.

In Vladimir Putin’s Russia, politics and clan membership trumps law and everything else.  Serdyukov betrayed one of his benefactors by jilting his wife, Viktor Zubkov’s daughter, but remains free.  It must be Putin’s political calculation that keeps him out of prison.

Still, Serdyukov hasn’t been a cooperative witness; he’s practically been a suspect if we take the tone of what GVSU SKR investigators have told the media.

Last week Kommersant reviewed the facts regarding Serdyukov in an article on the GVSU SKR’s decision to prolong its investigation surrounding Zhitnoye until January 17.

The Oboronservis corruption investigations swirl around Serdyukov, but haven’t been directly connected to him.  They will continue until March.

The Zhitnoye case bears the most direct involvement by Serdyukov, according to Kommersant.  The paper believes it’s still fully possible he could turn from witness to accused in this case.

Zhitnoye in Winter

Zhitnoye in Winter

The affair might have ended in September when Serdyukov’s brother-in-law Valeriy Puzikov and one of his partners returned this property worth 150 million rubles to two “autonomous departments” of the MOD.  The MOD would have thus suffered no injury.  But investigators in the case argued Zhitnoye didn’t go directly back to the MOD whose budget paid for improvements at the Volga resort.  Road and bridge construction and landscaping at Zhitnoye cost the MOD 15.5 million rubles.

Serdyukov's Brother-in-Law Valeriy Puzikov

Serdyukov’s Brother-in-Law Valeriy Puzikov

Puzikov fled Russia in February, so we may never hear what he would say if questioned.

GVSU investigators say Serdyukov’s former deputies and his other underlings say he personally supervised work on Zhitnoye, but the GVSU’s case is still directed against “unidentified MOD officials.”  Serdyukov signed paperwork about Zhitnoye, and visited 17 times, but doesn’t recall other circumstances about the property, so he remains a witness.

On Serdyukov’s personal involvement, Kommersant writes:

“That fact is obvious because the beneficiary of the former official’s [Serdyukov's] malfeasance was his close relative Valeriy Puzikov.”

“So it’s early to say that Anatoliy Serdyukov is no longer of interest in the military investigation. Moreover, sources close to the investigation led us to believe that evidence gathered on the case could completely influence a change in the ex-minister’s procedural status.  However, a political decision is required for this.”

For his part, Serdyukov’s lawyer says the MOD suffered no damages, and he calls the entire investigation a waste of time and resources.

The other two “Serdyukov dacha” cases weren’t mentioned in this latest round of news.

However, Rossiyskaya gazeta wrote last week about a St. Petersburg property that reportedly long interested Serdyukov — the gardener’s house on the grounds of the Tauride Palace.  Apparently, unknown persons acquired it for the MOD in 2008, then it was sold by Yevgeniya Vasilyeva’s people to a shadowy firm formed just months earlier for 384 million rubles.  There is suspicion the buyer was under Puzikov’s control.

Gardener's House on Grounds of Tauride Palace (photo: Kommersant / Sergey Semenov)

Gardener’s House on Grounds of Tauride Palace (photo: Kommersant / Sergey Semenov)

Izvestiya reported that “power” ministry representatives (i.e. primarily of course the SKR) were called to the PA and ordered to stop broadcasting PR about investigations like those involving Serdyukov and Oboronservis, “which don’t have a chance of being cracked.”

The paper’s source in the PA said unwinding these scandals creates a “negative image” of the authorities in the public’s mind.  This official continued:

“While high-profile corruption cases will not be brought to court, they shouldn’t be so zealously publicized in the media.  No one has yet been punished, investigative actions go on, and the common man is already getting an impression about the impunity of criminals and powerlessness of the law enforcement organs.”

This conversation was conducted, first and foremost (but not exclusively), about Oboronservis, although not Serdyukov by name.

Another PA source said siloviki shouldn’t “air” criminal cases featuring highly-placed officials and serious damage to the nation’s budget.

Commenting on the Oboronservis scandals, MGU criminal law professor Vladimir Kommissarov describes not just criminal conspiracies but an entire “organized community” of corruption:

“There are surely forces not interested in the development of this criminal case — any criminal case of such a scale can attract other criminal cases.  It’s possible for one person to steal a million, but when we talk about dozens and hundreds of millions, then obviously not simply an organized group is at work, but an organized community.”

Izvestiya concludes that the state’s anti-corruption policy [such as it is] is based on the inevitability of punishment for offenders.  And this is what law enforcement is demanding from the PA.  Correspondingly, it should be possible to expect that all big corruption cases could end with real terms for all suspects.

But Serdyukov remains at most a suspect.  Perhaps investigators are starting to close in on him.  He didn’t really talk to them until March when confronted with property documents he had signed.

It still appears Serdyukov’s fate is controlled at the highest level.  Putin apparently told SKR chief Aleksandr Bastrykin early on that he didn’t want to send the former Defense Minister to jail.  But investigators are pressing forward.  If they change Serdyukov’s status from witness to accused, then perhaps Putin isn’t the complete master of this game.

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.

Still A Witness

Serdyukov on His Way to the SKR (photo: Kommersant / Dmitriy Dukhanin)

Serdyukov on His Way to the SKR (photo: Kommersant / Dmitriy Dukhanin)

For now.

On Friday, the Investigative Committee of Russia (SKR) subjected Anatoliy Serdyukov to a couple hours of questioning about the Oboronservis corruption scandal.  This session was scheduled when the former defense minister refused to answer questions on December 28 because his attorney was ill and not present.

Nothing much changed this time. 

Media accounts claim Serdyukov again effectively refused to answer SKR questions, taking the Russian version of the 5th (the 51st Article of the RF Constitution against self-incrimination).  He presented some written material to investigators describing the process of selling excess Defense Ministry property during his tenure.  But, according to Vedomosti, Serdyukov denied any wrongdoing, and placed blame for the sale of significantly undervalued and underpriced military real estate squarely and completely on his former subordinates (currently under indictment).

SKR patience with Serdyukov is wearing thin.  In fact, spokesman Vladimir Markin basically warned that he could become a suspect:

“In this situation, the former defense minister’s position might be regarded as an attempt to obstruct the investigation.  If the former defense minister believes he did not participate in those events which have become the subject of the investigation, then it would be fully logical to answer specific questions of interest to investigators.  But Mr. Serdyukov and his attorney believe it simpler to lay out a free form version of events in a light favorable to himself, and not to answer uncomfortable questions of substance for the investigators.  But in the investigation there is a large number of questions for Serdyukov about how decisions on the sale of Defense Ministry property were made, why deals were made at certain prices.”

“The position Mr. Serdyukov has taken does not guarantee that he will remain just a witness in the case.  It is fully probable his status could change.”

Kommersant and Interfax.ru reported Serdyukov claimed he signed off on paperwork for Defense Ministry property deals without looking into their “commercial aspects.”

A Kommersant source in the SKR admitted problems connecting Serdyukov to property sales or kickbacks.  However, he said investigators are looking at why Defense Ministry personnel and equipment built an 8-kilometer, 20-million-ruble road for a VIP resort in Astrakhan Oblast partly owned by the ex-defense minister’s brother-in-law, Valeriy Puzikov.  They’re also looking into high-priced Black Sea vacation homes built by Puzikov on Defense Ministry land.  

The SKR is apparently warming up charges against Serdyukov for exceeding and misusing his official authority. 

Investigators are clearly turning up the heat on Anatoliy Eduardovich.

Okryg.ru wrapped it succinctly:

“Serdyukov has a lot to be silent about.  Because if they’ve already decided to put him in jail, then helping the investigation is unrewarding.  Besides, it seems, the ex-minister still has a glimmer of hope that they will protect him.  Or, if you like, fight them off.”

“Judging by the reaction of official SK representative Vladimir Markin to the result of the second questioning, the Investigative Committee’s intention to put Serdyukov behind bars is practically unyielding.”

The blog calls Serdyukov a Putin creature who became “untouchable” but then got out of Putin’s control.  It concludes:

“The status of Anatoliy Serdyukov (witness or accused) depends not on what he said or was silent about, and not on how the investigator evaluated his answers or silence.  The fate of an official at such a level, at which Anatoliy Serdyukov dwelled, is decided exclusively in the Kremlin, that is, at the highest level.”

So will Putin see any reason to save Serdyukov, or will Putin leave him to the wolves?  Or can Putin control the wolves at this point?

Stories of the Year

RIA Novosti has its list of the main military events of 2012.

No surprise number 1 is the Oboronservis scandal, the fall of former Defense Minister Serdyukov, and appointment of successor Sergey Shoygu.

The rest:

  • 16 accidents in munition destruction leaving 12 dead and 23 injured.
  • Retirement of the CO of the Strizhi flight demonstration group who allegedly demanded money from subordinates for the freedom to show up for duty or not.  Remember Senior Lieutenant Sulim at Lipetsk?
  • Vityazi flight group doesn’t participate in Farnborough.
  • Ex-Gorshkov carrier still not delivered to India due to power plant problems.
  • Rearmament of RVSN with Yars and Topol-M ICBMs.  See Karakayev’s remarks the other day.
  • Acceptance of Dolgorukiy, Nevskiy, Bulava, and Severodvinsk all put off until 2013.
  • Delayed space vehicle launches, but fewer failures than in 2011.
  • The death of Ruslan Ayderkhanov.  A surprise pick.  Remember the army and medical examiners say he killed himself even though he was beaten and abused before he died.
  • The contract for five Borey SSBNs, and Prime Minister / President Putin’s role in getting the Defense Ministry and industry to agree on a price.
  • The collapse of Moscow’s $4.2 billion arms deal with Iraq amid talk of corruption.
  • Losing another Indian helicopter tender to the U.S.
  • Russia’s conference on EuroMD.

Combat Readiness Percentages

Conscript on His Mobilnik (photo: Reuters

Conscript on His Mobilnik (photo: Reuters)

Nezavisimaya gazeta’s editorial has the title above.  It’s sub-titled “An Unprejudiced Look at Military Reform.”

Here’s what it says.

“One of the most serious accusations against the former defense minister and former chief of the General Staff is the low combat readiness of armed forces units and sub-units caused by the military reform they conducted.  And the basic argument is the fact that only 15 of 35 combined arms brigades of permanent combat readiness are manned at 100%, the rest have personnel deficits from 20 to 30%.”

“There’s some truth in this.  If you figure the number of servicemen in the force structure — 220 thousand officers, 186 thousand contractees, 320 thousand conscripts and 50-60 thousand VUZ cadets — then the million required by the president’s decree has in no way been gathered.  But the main cause of this is by no means military reform, but the demographic situation in the country for which neither Serdyukov nor Makarov can answer.  And increasing conscript service, as proposed by some [Duma] deputies, can’t patch this hole.  And only those who contrary to Suvorovist science trained to fight the old way with numbers, and not skill, can talk about combat readiness relying just on arithmetical calculations.”

“Many concepts are part of combat readiness.  And not just manning.  Among its components, in particular, are the presence of modern combat equipment and combat support systems in the force, high operational-tactical qualifications of officers, their combat experience, skill and training of personnel…  The military reform of Serdyukov and Makarov, it seems, managed to deal with the last indicator.  We’ll cite just one fact — the average flying time of Russian Air Forces pilots reached 125 hours per pilot in 2012.  And squadron commanders flew 175 hours, and at Vyazma air base — more than 215 hours.  If you remember just several years ago our pilots had an average flying time of 30-40 hours, some of them generally 5-7 hours a year, and they got lost in the sky over the Baltic, then who would dare say that our military aviation is suffering from a lack of combat readiness.”

“The picture is approximately the same in the Ground Troops where soldiers and officers literally don’t leave the training grounds, conducting integrated tactical and operational-tactical exercises jointly with the Air Forces and Air Defense, with the Naval Infantry — if they’re on maritime axes.  They can’t complain about low combat readiness even in the Navy, whose ships, earlier tied to the piers, today ply the waters of the world’s oceans year-round, joining in the struggle against pirates in the Gulf of Aden.  They don’t complain of boredom in the VDV where over the past year more than 65 exercises of varying scale and intensity have been conducted, together with 1,150 combat training events, including more than 800 section- and 270 platoon-level combat firings, 73 company and 14 battalion tactical exercises.  Including with USA spetsnaz on American territory.  Additionally, the blue berets completed several tens of thousands of parachute jumps…  If these are not indicators of combat readiness, then what kind of percentages can you talk about?!”

“One more indicator of combat readiness is the evaluation of strategic nuclear deterrence forces which President Vladimir Putin recently carried out.  Launches of ground, naval and air-launched missiles were conducted then with high accuracy.  And the Supremo directed them from the Unified Central Command Post created in the framework of the reform this very year.”

“Yes, the reform according to the prescriptions of the ex-minister and the ex-NGSh has many deficiencies and mistakes.  ‘NG’ and ‘NVO’ wrote about them not once or twice.  We hope the new Defense Ministry leadership will rectify and correct them.  But not one more or less serious army dared test the combat readiness of our country’s armed forces after August 2008.  And no percentages can refute this fact.”

Yes, Serdyukov and Makarov are to blame for the mistakes of army reform.  Primarily for moving too fast across too broad a front without without adequately understanding the situation and consequences of their actions.  In some sense, this was their task — to break the logjam on military reform.  And that some people in Serdyukov’s team were venal didn’t help matters.

But NG’s right to argue they aren’t to blame for undermanning that leaves only 15 maneuver brigades at full personnel strength.  That’s a number not different from Putin’s first and second terms, the 1990s, or the late Soviet period.

NG’s also right to point to higher levels of training activity as an unalloyed good thing from Moscow’s perspective.  It’s a start.  It’s a function of having money and fuel, and a political leadership willing to allocate them.  But it’s only a necessary condition for building a modern army.  Sizeable Russian forces are probably ready to leave garrison when ordered.

The sufficient condition goes deeper.  Are those formations and units armed, equipped, supported, as well as trained to execute the missions their leadership envisions (and ones it doesn’t)?  It’s simply much harder to tell if they are ready for battle, if they will be capable in combat.  Much depends on the situation and scenario into which they’re thrown.  If, as NG alludes, Georgia should test the Russian Army’s readiness, it would perform better than in 2008.  It would probably do better in a new North Caucasus counterinsurgency.  But these cases are on the low intensity side of the warfare spectrum.  But perhaps they’re the most likely places where the Armed Forces would be employed.

But let there be no mistake, training activity doesn’t equal combat readiness, and combat readiness doesn’t equal combat capability.  It is significant and necessary, yes, but not sufficient.  One has to know a lot more about the condition of the forces and what goes on in those exercises.

Gerasimov Says No Sharp Course Change

General-Colonel Gerasimov (photo: RIA Novosti / Sergey Pyatikov)

General-Colonel Gerasimov (photo: RIA Novosti / Sergey Pyatikov)

Gazeta.ru pieced together RIA Novosti clips of General Staff Chief Valeriy Gerasimov’s session with foreign military attaches yesterday.

Gerasimov said army reforms begun by former Defense Minister Anatoliy Serdyukov will be “corrected,” not radically altered:

“Anticipating your questions on the possibility of a sharp course change in military organizational development, I would note there won’t be one.  In 2008, the Russian Federation President clearly indicated development tasks for our army, they will be fulfilled.  Naturally, some issues are being subjected to certain correction accounting for deficiencies revealed.”

“Organizational development” is primarily (but not entirely) TO&E and force structure.

Gazeta reports Gerasimov said mixed conscript and contract manning will be preserved, and the one-year conscript service term won’t be increased as some would like.

The new NGSh said the Defense Ministry is creating its own element to track fulfillment of the state defense order (GOZ):

“And by the minister’s decision, a structure will be created in the Defense Ministry which allows for controlling not only the completion of contracts, but work in all phases of the production cycle.”

Serdyukov’s Defense Ministry had various organs with this responsibility, including Rosoboronzakaz, Rosoboronpostavka, etc.  How will the new structure be better?

Gazeta closes with expert opinions on the fate of reforms introduced by Serdyukov.  Igor Korotchenko says:

“We didn’t have Anatoliy Serdyukov’s reform, but a reform the main parameters of which were set by the president.  That is the military reform course will continue fully with the exception of some cases of deficiencies revealed in the military education system, military medicine, and the reinforcement of control procedures over the activity of those structures involved in armed forces outsourcing.”

Ever-skeptical Aleksandr Khramchikhin doesn’t think there was a coherent course to be changed:

“In the army reform, there wasn’t a clear plan of action, one won’t appear under the new defense minister.”

“I don’t think Shoygu’s Defense Ministry will try to correct the course of reform or introduce some fixes.  There is nothing to correct.  Serdyukov’s reform had no kind of course, it went by the trial and error method.  There are grounds to believe that Shoygu will act according to the same principle.”

There’s a long list of policies commentators think will or might be changed, but little so far officially.  A new category to replace Serdyukov’s Reforms is needed.  Maybe Shoygu’s Nuanced Corrections?

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.”

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.