A good friend asked for a reaction to Pavel Felgengauer’s latest piece.
This author agrees with many of Felgengauer’s views, though not all of them. In particular, this observer is unable to declare, like Felgengauer, that Russia’s military reform is failing abjectly, despite its uneven results.
Let’s look at his article.
Mr. Felgengauer presented the essence of Defense Minister Serdyukov’s dustup with Prime Minister Medvedev last week. Serdyukov said outright, if the PM wanted to fire someone for failing to prepare semi-abandoned military towns for handover to regional authorities, he should fire him.
You may have read on these pages, the problem of no-longer-needed military towns is an enormous one. There’s a veritable archipelago of hundreds of voyengorodki throughout Russia. They’ve long since lost their purpose and support from the Defense Ministry. Fixing them to transfer to civilian control is an enormous task, probably beyond the Defense Ministry’s current financing and capabilities.
One Putin campaign pledge for 2012 was not to foist broken down military infrastructure on Russia’s regions and localities. And, though left unsaid, the problems of voyengorodki are connected to the military housing woes. If more apartments were ready for occupancy, there might be fewer ex-servicemen living in the archipelago of former military towns.
Felgengauer could have written about how the Serdyukov-Medvedev flap reflects wider tensions in Russia’s ruling elite. Between Putin’s people and Medvedev’s. He did say the scandal showed the latter’s relative powerlessness.
Felgengauer might have clarified for some folks that, under the constitution, the Defense Minister answers to the President first, and the PM second. Not so for most ministers.
He mentioned the situation harked back to Serdyukov’s reported ambivalence about continuing in his job. There was also pre-election talk that Serdyukov might be replaced at the start of Putin’s third term. But Felgengauer concludes Putin wanted to keep him in the post regardless.
Felgengauer suggests Serdyukov might suffer a “mental meltdown.” He could have reacquainted readers with the temper and frustration Serdyukov showed the VDV in Ryazan in late 2010.
Turning to strictly military issues, Felgengauer concludes, “. . . the actual capabilities of the military after almost four years of Serdyukov’s reforms are questionable.”
Despite efforts to move away from reliance on hollow units, and increase permanently ready units, woeful undermanning (Vedomosti, June 9) leaves newly formed army brigades crippled, “with most of them not ready to be used in combat as full units in any circumstances.”
“Most of the soldiers are one-year serving conscripts, called up two times a year, so half of them at any moment have been serving less than 6 months — not yet trained to be battle-ready at all.”
Let’s examine all this a bit.
Undermanning certainly exists. The lack of detail on the strength of Russia’s new brigades make things somewhat sketchy. If (a very big if) the brigades aren’t large, 300,000 conscripts might stretch to cover them, barely.
If the 45 maneuver units have only 3,000 draftees each, that’s 135,000. Add maybe 60,000 (40 x 1,500) in other brigades, and Russia uses 200,000, or two-thirds, of its conscripts for the Ground Troops.
If these brigades are fully equipped and can depart garrison in an hour or two, they’re technically permanently ready. But, as Felgengauer points out, six months is not adequate time for combat training, so it’s not clear what missions they can accomplish. The issue is more combat capability than readiness. Permanent readiness is a starting point, not an end in itself.
Felgengauer rightly notes that Serdyukov’s reform has lacked a strategic objective and defined doctrine. One might say it’s failed to prioritize goals, problems, and threats. Felgengauer says “attempts to meet all other possible threats [besides the U.S. / NATO] resulted in thinly spreading out limited resources.”
This author agrees completely.
Felgengauer ends, weakly, saying military food service was outsourced to make conscript service more attractive, and Putin might abandon it. He views it as a failed military reform. It may be, but outsourcing was really introduced to keep draftees in training 100 percent of the time rather than in non-military duties like KP.
We’ll return to the issue of whether military reform is succeeding or failing another time.