Prospects for Unrest in the Armed Forces


Protesters at the 9 March 2009 demonstration against the deactivation of the Berdsk-based 67th Spetsnaz brigade.

Angry servicemen, dependents, and civilian employees mounted three well-publicized protests against Defense Minister Anatoliy Serdyukov’s reforms in 2009.  Their demonstrations did not lead to violence or spread to other units experiencing personnel reductions and base closings.  However, a mutinous action in just one military unit would be a serious sign of less than solid support for Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and President Dmitriy Medvedev in the armed forces.

Russian-Style BRAC Pain

Defense Minister Serdyukov’s reforms have sparked discontent in the armed forces.  Russia’s economic difficulties have magnified the painful effects of sorely needed and overdue changes in the military. 

Serdyukov’s program amounts to a Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) process. The Defense Ministry is establishing 85 fully-manned, high readiness army brigades, and eliminating large amounts of understrength force structure and unneeded infrastructure.  It is cutting 150,000 officers and tens of thousands of warrant officers. 

Protesters in military units in Irkutsk, Berdsk, and Shatalovo mounted demonstrations last year, and dissatisfied Navy personnel in Sevastopol are on the verge of airing their complaints in public.  Unrest is clearly evident in a number of defense industrial enterprises. 

  • The protests did not led to violence, or spread to other units experiencing personnel reductions or base closings.  The Defense Ministry ignored them, and waited for demonstrators to tire and give up. 

Serdyukov made a concession to placate protesters in Irkutsk.  He moved units from the deactivated Berdsk-based 67th Spetsnaz Brigade to the Irkutsk Higher Military Aviation Engineering School. 

  • This provided employment for some Defense Ministry civilians who lost jobs when Serdyukov closed the school in early 2009.    

The greatest chance for unrest may emanate from half of the new army brigades with subordinate units that had to relocate and construct new barracks, housing, and essential infrastructure this year.  To date, however, there is only one report of trouble in this regard. 

Military Angry, But Unlikely to Become Violent

The demonstrations against Serdyukov’s reforms occurred without serious repercussions, and he has not slowed or altered his course.  

  • A range of respected Russian military, political, and economic analysts believe the anti-reform demonstrations reveal a level of anger and discontent broader and deeper than protests indicate.

Violent military protests are possible, but unlikely.  Public polling shows that most Russians do not expect unrest, and do not plan to participate in protests, although their opinions could change quickly in response to fast-moving developments. 

  • The Federal Security Service and Defense Ministry also conduct polls of the military’s political attitudes, but the results are not publicized. 

The regime has ample police power to suppress a violent military protest, but it takes any chance, even slight, of such an incident seriously.  It would indicate less than solid support from the armed forces.  A violent protest would put the authorities in the difficult position of calibrating a response.  They could overreact, or fail to react decisively. 

  • Deploying police units against the army could go out of control and escalate unpredictably. 
  • There is also a chance that the police could fail to subdue a military unit, either by refusing to move against it or by losing a tactical engagement.

4 responses to “Prospects for Unrest in the Armed Forces

  1. fantasies….wonder if somebody pays money to write this hopeless speculation…no wonder there appear to be no comments…wonder if anybody reads this …already sorry I did. But one way to help our budget here is to cut wasteful funding….

  2. Yes people read.. abit late i guess. Not an expert on the subject but it seems to me.. that Russia is doing the best they can to keep as much armed forces as possible from the army.. But we need to be realistic. No one is going to invade Russia any time soon.. So a big army is not only very expensive but also unnesesary. Also United States is reducing significatively the size of their land army. Tanks are only useful is you plan to invade a country.. and i dont think Russia need more to get their Job done on their potential future conflicts. Airforce will be fine as is ..but a couple dozens new latest jets will not be bad. Where Russia needs to spend as much as possible is on their NAVY…the more the better. Submarines and warships so they can Project their power in the world in future conflicts effectively to persuade any future wars. So if i were Putin.. i will reduce the land active army to a ridiculous low number.. about 200,000 but everyone of them very well trained proffesionals with cutting edge full body armor. and well paid. and have a reserve of at least 500,000. And translate the unenployed forces to completely different zones . it will not be popular choice but is the best for the country. Russia cannot afford any more to continue in passive mode.. waiting the west to do their moves and isolate more Russia every year. With NAto pushing their missiles every time a little more closer to moscow.

  3. Frankly as an outsider I would very much like to see a powerful Russia as a counterbalance to the ever increasing American Empire.

    An expanding Russian empire would worry me just as much though. How about politicians everywhere waking up to the fact that the money wasted on a modern tank could otherwise have built hundreds of productive tractors? Money wasted on aircraft carriers could have built no end of productive factories?

    Personally I would worry more about what Lind calls ’4G’ warfare (the fourth generation of warfare) than giant floating targets; and the best way to counter such would be by a happy and productive (prosperous) population at home.

    • Yes, power is built economically and wasted militarily . . . and power is useful only when it’s not used. We are witnessing a new “revolution in military affairs.” Russia is missing the boat. And the U.S. is fairly exhausted economically and militarily after years of war.

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