News on the Russian military of late carries a distinctly positive tone. The army is always receiving new weapons systems, completing major training evolutions, and signing up thousands of new contractees.
A contrast from years past when there was either no news or bad news about the military’s development (or lack thereof). Probably neither editorial line accurately reflects, or reflected, reality. Things are never as good, or bad, as they’re presented.
Ever an honest contrarian on the widest range of issues, Nezavisimaya gazeta now asks, somewhat obliquely, whether the frenetic activity of Russia’s Ministry of Defense is outrunning its financial support.
In an editorial last Thursday, NG wonders if the MOD can accelerate completion of many tasks without additional financing.
It isn’t the first time financial flags have been raised. Several times over the last year, reputable media sources asserted that Sergey Shoygu’s MOD would face sequestration soon. It hasn’t happened yet. Maybe the possibility is more pregnant given that Russia’s economy is flatlined right now. In some ways, worse than flatlined (e.g. the ruble exchange rate).
But we digress . . . .
NG reports that Shoygu, at last week’s collegium, reiterated the impermissibility of falling off a single task in the MOD’s “Action Plan 2020.” The reports of MOD officials said there have been no failures, only many impressive figures about the “thoroughly dynamic process of perfecting the state’s defense system.”
General Staff Chief, Army General Valeriy Gerasimov reported the facts to the assembled generals and high-ranking civilian officials.
To wit, by year’s end, 580 modern bunkers and storage facilities will be built in 15 arms depots as well as 160 facilities for RVSN ground-based strategic nuclear weapons, Ground Troops missile brigades, pre-fab radar stations, Borey and Yasen submarine bases, and new airfields.
“The fact is the scale of construction is grandiose, fully speaking for those amounts of financing the state is directing at the needs of the Armed Forces.”
The paper gives examples of hardware being acquired . . . 27 BTR-82As for the Western MD in January alone, 12 Su-35S fighters for the Eastern MD in February, 220 aircraft, 8 ships and submarines, 14 SAMs, 50 air defense radars, and more than 200 armored vehicles in 2014.
Meanwhile, the MOD’s capital construction chief Roman Filimonov reported a decision to move deployment of a pre-fab radar in the east up a year to 2014, outfitting of five VDV military towns up two years to 2014-2015, and quicker completion of a host of other projects planned for the more distant future.
Again NG concludes:
“The intentions, of course, are good. It just pays to remember that last December the parameters of the military budget for 2014-2016 were specified. And no one promised the army any additional money. And without it hastening fulfillment of plans appears highly problematic.”
An NG news story the following day added:
“We recall that the Minfin came out categorically against any increase in the military budget. More than this it insisted on moving ‘to the right’ the terms for implementing several defense projects. It seems in the Armed Forces they agreed with the financiers’ demands. In the event that directors of central organs of the military command, in whose interests recalculation measures are planned, don’t know how to find sources of financing for new work, they’ve been promised a forced redistribution of resources from facilities already in the plan to facilities appearing with the changes introduced. The collegium agreed to proposals voiced by Filimonov.”
So what do we take from this?
There’s no imminent threat to funding a rejuvenated Russian military. The current pace of development, achieved in 2012, will continue while Russia’s economic and political system can bear it.
But the NG articles may foreshadow even tighter budgets. Independent media are debating how to lift a stagnating economy still based on hydrocarbon rents. The Sochi Olympic hangover may have just begun. Government (and military) budget parameters are set, but they never really feel firm. The MOD just focuses on the money it has now.
In Soviet central planning, overfulfillment usually meant sacrificing quality to meet quantitative targets and time schedules, to make careers, and to earn bonuses. Today it means more demand, less supply, tighter markets, and rising prices. And even in the post-Serdyukov MOD, it means more opportunities for corrupt scheming.