Tag Archives: Vladimir Putin

Putin’s Arctic Chimera

Pronouncements on plans for stronger Russian military forces in the Arctic have been studiously ignored on these pages.

For two reasons . . . first, one can’t write about everything, and second (because of the first), one has to focus on a few significant topics.

The Russian military in the Arctic hasn’t been one of them.

Putin on Franz Josef Land in 2010 (photo: Kremlin.ru)

Putin on Franz Josef Land in 2010 (photo: Kremlin.ru)

President Vladimir Putin’s interest in the Arctic made news in 2007 when a mini-submarine planted a Russian flag on ocean floor under the North Pole.  The Kremlin wanted to stake a symbolic claim to the lion’s share of the Arctic’s potential underwater wealth.

The vast, frozen region may indeed have large percentages of the world’s undiscovered natural gas and oil deposits.

More than a few observers see Putin’s concern with the Arctic as an effort to extend Russia’s hydrocarbon export-based model of economic growth.

The friend-of-Putin state oligarchs running Gazprom and Rosneft would certainly like the Russian treasury (and military) to underwrite their efforts to get at Arctic resources and line their pockets with more cash.

But the capital investment and technology required would be staggering. Canadian expert Michael Byers has been widely quoted:

“We’re talking about the center of a large, inhospitable ocean that is in total darkness for three months each year, thousands of miles from any port.”

“The water in the North Pole is 12,000 feet deep and will always be covered by sea ice in the winter.  It’s not a place where anyone is going to be drilling for oil and gas.  So it’s not about economic stakes, it’s about domestic politics.”

It’s an easy place to show Russia’s leader defending national sovereignty and interests.  The news stories and press releases track with an established Kremlin narrative about hostile Western powers trying to grab Russia’s natural bounty.

All of which brings us back round to the military in the Arctic.

During  Serdyukov’s tenure, the Ministry of Defense first raised the prospect of basing two army brigades there.  In September, Kirov-class CGN Petr Velikiy and other ships sailed the Northern Sea Route into the eastern Arctic.  And late in the year, Putin himself was prominent in giving the order to build, or re-build, various Russian military bases in the Arctic.

But things have a way of taking ridiculous turns.

On 17 February, an unidentified source told ITAR-TASS that the MOD and Genshtab have proposed forming a new Arctic unified strategic command with the Northern Fleet as its basis.  The source claimed this Northern Fleet-Unified Strategic Command (SF-OSK or СФ-ОСК) would be a new de facto MD, even if it isn’t called one.

The Northern Fleet and major units and formations based in the north would be taken from the Western MD, and put into new groupings deployed in the Arctic, including on Novaya Zemlya, the New Siberian Islands, and Franz Josef Land.  Ouch.

SK-OSK is supposed to be inter-departmental too, with FSB Border Guards added.  The whole thing would report to the MOD, Genshtab, and, at some point, the NTsUOG.

The proposal is reportedly with Putin now, and a decision is expected in the coming months.

To make matters more interesting, Western MD Commander, General-Colonel Anatoliy Sidorov was cool, perhaps even balky, when confronted by the possibility of an “Arctic OSK.”

He told media representatives last Friday that his troops need no additional knowledge, and his equipment no additional preparation, for service in Arctic conditions.  He would not comment on possibly losing a large part of his current command.  According to RIA Novosti, he said only, “When there are directives, we will fulfill them.”

ITAR-TASS last week also reported on a company-sized anti-terrorist exercise in the Northern Fleet.

Northern Fleet Anti-Terrorist Training (photo: Mil.ru)

Northern Fleet Anti-Terrorist Training (photo: Mil.ru)

But there’s no “Al Qaida in the Arctic” yet.  Only Greenpeace.

Russia’s Arctic is enormous, and it is likely to be increasingly important, but not necessarily as the next big theater of war.  Naturally, Moscow wants to prepare for contingencies, but it’s already prepared and positioned as well as the few other regional players.  The money, time, and attention might be better spent on more palpable threats.  But, as Byers pointed out, the Arctic seems to be good politics.

Promotion List

It appears the best way to get the latest promotion list out is now Google Docs.  This conclusion follows a number of frustrating gyrations.

These promotions came in President Putin’s decree signed out 12 December 2013 and published in Krasnaya zvezda.

Putin Stresses Strategic Systems

Originally intended for another purpose, so it’s a tad dated.  Perhaps still useful to some . . .

Putin Talks Air Forces

Putin Talks Air Forces

Russian President Vladimir Putin conducted six meetings on key arms programs from 27-29 November in Sochi.  He focused on strategic systems in his public remarks before the sessions.

Looking first at the RVSN, Putin called development of the “main component of the strategic nuclear forces” a priority.  He said two RVSN regiments received new mobile missile systems – 18 RS-24 Yars (SS-29) ICBMs — this year.  Putin added that the RVSN will field 22 new ICBMs – likely also RS-24 — in 2014.

Putin said the RVSN need to overcome “any missile defense system.”  Makeyev State Missile Center general designer Vladimir Degtyar responded by describing development of a missile with “increased throw weight” and better survivability, presumably a new liquid-fueled heavy missile.

The Russian president said it is “not necessary to say much about how important the naval part of the triad of strategic nuclear deterrence is for us.”  New Borey-class SSBNs Aleksandr Nevskiy and Vladimir Monomakh need to enter service next year as part of a contingent of eight new SSBNs by 2020, he said.  Not mentioning the failed launch of a Bulava SLBM in September, Putin tersely commented, “The armament [Bulava] should arrive in step with its launchers, these submarines.”

Putin called for “active” work on the new PAK DA strategic bomber, and modernization of existing Tu-160 and Tu-95MS bombers.  OAK chairman Mikhail Pogosyan replied that the Defense Ministry has given the corporation the technical task for PAK DA, and the company is preparing for R&D starting next year.  He said OAK is almost ready to submit modernized Tu-160 and Tu-95MS bombers for state testing.

Turning to aerospace defense, Putin said two ‘regimental sets’ of S-400 SAMs were fielded this year, and three should reach the forces in 2014.  Almaz-Antey general designer Pavel Sozinov told the Russian president that the S-500 SAM system is approaching the “finish line” with testing planned in 2014-15, and the new medium-range S-350E Vityaz should reach units in 2015-16.  The first production lines in new Almaz-Antey plants in Nizhny Novgorod and Kirov will begin operating in 2015, according to Sozinov.

Putin addressed well-known problems in Russia’s space sector, noting that failures have brought significant material losses.  Some military space projects are drifting despite stable financing, he added.  He noted that five military satellites have been placed in orbit, and five more will be in 2013.  Six satellites will be orbited next year, Putin said.

Concluding the meetings, Putin reminded assembled military and defense industry leaders that Russia’s defense budget has increased four-fold over ten years.  He said this money was allocated to guarantee the country’s defense capability for the long-term future, and established tasks must be completed on schedule.  He plans to hold another rearmament review in six months.

Reaction to Putin’s Armaments Conferences

Actually, one reaction . . . a succinct editorial from Vedomosti capturing many good points with few words.

Vladimir Putin (photo: RIA Novosti / Aleksey Nikolskiy)

Vladimir Putin (photo: RIA Novosti / Aleksey Nikolskiy)

In Sochi last week, President Vladimir Putin conducted a whirlwind three-day series of meetings on Russia’s rearmament programs, giving his primary attention to strategic nuclear ones.

Here’s Vedomosti’s thinking on the sessions:

“Vladimir Putin conducted an intensive series of defense-industrial meetings.  During the trip to Olympic Sochi, the president in turn reviewed the problems of the development of aviation, the fleet, Space Defense Troops [sic] and the Missile Troops of Strategic Designation.  The fact that the discussion of military issues was raised to the highest level, signifies, probably, both the depth of the problems, and the priority of the subject.  The rational use of colossal resources was discussed:  expenditures on defense rose from 600 billion rubles in 2003 to 2.3 trillion rubles in 2013, and the general volume of the State Program of Armaments to 2020 is 20 trillion rubles.”

“These meetings affirmed:  Recent bureaucratic and staff [apparat] decisions, including appointment of a new minister of defense and a “military-industrial” deputy prime minister, did not solve the systemic problems of rearming the army and the quality of work of the domestic VPK.”

“The domestic VPK’s development is frozen, it needs foreign scientific and design developments — both dual-use and exclusively military, observes the director of the Center for the Analysis of Strategies and Technologies Ruslan Pukhov.  These demands can hardly be satisfied because of constant altercations with Europe and the USA on foreign policy issues.  Moreover, the objective requirement for technological cooperation will contradict Defense Minister Sergey Shoygu’s announced course of refusing imports of foreign armaments, combat equipment and support means (the purchase of the “Mistrals” is the exception proving the rule).  Of course, it is possible to hope that intelligence agents will acquire the needed technologies, as it was in Soviet times.”

“However, even this will not quite forestall the lag:  the institutes and specialists who provided the correct implementation of foreign technologies have been lost.”

“There is still a key question requiring a strategic decision at the highest level, — what is more important:  production of the maximum possible quantity of combat equipment or the training of professionals capable of using the most complex armaments, including foreign-produced ones.  For now, judging by Shoygu’s announcement on the preservation of conscript service, at the top they are inclined toward extensive development, toward employing unpaid labor, the use of which in the army turns into huge losses for households and the economy as a whole.”

“The personal participation of the president is essential in the resolution of conflicts between those who order and suppliers of armaments.  The latter in the absence of competition between various design bureaus and factories (it, as is well-known, existed in the time of the USSR and was one of the engines of the country’s technological development) have become monopolists, not interested in raising quality.  They are sure that the armed forces will buy their products, and know, that in case of disagreements with the military, the directors of state companies from among the closest associates of the first person will turn up on their side.”

Lots of thoughts and propositions for discussion and debate.

VDV Gets Army’s Air Assault Brigades

Mil.ru reported today on President Putin’s 11 October ukaz transferring administrative and operational control of air assault brigades in Ussuriysk, Ulan-Ude, and Kamyshin from Eastern and Southern MD Commanders to General-Colonel Vladimir Shamanov and the VDV.

The MOD website says the decree is No. 776; it doesn’t appear on Kremlin.ru yet, but may later.

Mil.ru reported VDV commissions are already surveying the condition of weapons, equipment, and facilities in the three brigades, and converting their training program to match that of the VDV.

Shamanov announced that this change, and others, were pending back in early August.

Another Housing Deadline Missed

Or about to be missed.

Recall some background on Russia’s military housing issue.

In 2012, President Vladimir Putin publicly set his latest deadlines for resolving the military’s housing problems:  2013 for permanent apartments and 2014 for service apartments.  He just awarded himself an extra year on each.  They had been 2012 and 2013.  And 2012 and 2013 weren’t even his original deadlines.

When Sergey Shoygu came to the Defense Ministry last November, he faced at least 80,000 men, officers and former officers, in line for permanent apartments owed them on retirement.

The MOD says there were approximately 60,000 needing them at the beginning of 2013.

The Defense Ministry’s Chief of the Housing Support Department (DZhO or ДЖО) Sergey Pirogov has only been on the job about a month.  Previously DZhO’s deputy chief, he replaced his boss — Galina Semina — a Serdyukov appointee.

Sergey Pirogov

Sergey Pirogov

On 1 October, Pirogov told the RF Public Chamber that 41,400 servicemen will receive permanent apartments in 2013.  He claimed 16,200 already have this year, and 25,200 will receive them in November and December.

There is simply no way the MOD can put more than 25,000 in apartments during the balance of this year.  Despite Pirogov’s statement, there is probably no one who believes him.

Pirogov has called permanent housing a continually “flowing” problem; 24,700 new men joined the line in 2012 and 9,900 this year.

The MOD grapples with its housing problem using two instruments — apartments in their “natural form” or generally despised GZhS, State Housing Certificates.  It also hopes soon to make the One-Time Monetary Payment (YeDV or ЕДВ) a possibility.

If the Finance Ministry will agree on an amount, and the Duma approves some legislation this fall, the YeDV might start on 1 January.  It would be figured on the cost of a square meter of housing, years served, and household size, and presumably won’t be less than 3 million rubles and military men hope it’s a lot, lot more.

In mid-September, Pirogov effectively admitted the military department came to the idea of the YeDV in order to get around the problem of massive corruption in military housing construction.

He also appeared on Ekho Moskvy’s Voyennyy sovet program, and said:

“It’s perfectly obvious that the one-time payment to receive apartments is needed to resolve the issue at once.  Moreover, some universalism is necessary here, a universal mechanism should develop equal rights for all servicemen.  In our opinion, an exit from the difficult situation could be the transition to presenting one-time monetary payments, to acquire or build housing for servicemen, the so-called YeDV.  On what is this based?  Well, look here, according to those figures which the MOD leadership has more than once voiced.  Annually we are paying servicemen, at the disposition [of their commanding officers], a huge amount…  We can’t dismiss a serviceman before providing him housing, and are forced to put him in so-called disposition, and in this case the serviceman receives [rank] pay, he can use sanitorium-resort support, other privileges, given to servicemen, but he can’t be dismissed from the armed forces if he doesn’t have housing.  And in this instance, the MOD will spend up to 30 billion rubles a year supporting our servicemen.  It’s bitter to have to say that the problem of providing housing is long-running enough, and a serviceman can be at the disposition 5 or more years.  And here about that sum which I named, if we multiply it by a quantity of years, we get a simply enormous sum, which the MOD pays out fulfilling its obligations, this is the first conclusion.  The second conclusion is the resources which the MOD actually spends on construction are also enormous.  By any evaluation, it’s on the order of 30 billion rubles a year.  But consider that on average it takes 2-2.5 years to build an apartment block, half a year goes to the necessity of drawing up documents.  And it turns out that 3 years properly here this money is here, it’s hung up, it’s not realized so to say.  Yes, they spent it, on building apartments, they so to say laid it out in such a way.  But even the optimization of additional expenditures, particularly with apartment upkeep.  I also would like to introduce an example, in 2012 we had more than 10 thousand frozen for various reasons, not occupied by servicemen.  It’s natural so to say that these apartments require their upkeep.  But in this case, if we didn’t turn off or didn’t turn on the heat properly, this in turn means correspondingly then already essential repair to newly-built, but not allocated apartments.  And this sum here — it becomes in principle very large and very significant for the MOD.  And more than this, even the colossal expended amounts, about which I already actually spoke, deciding the question with housing construction, we aren’t resolving the problem.”

Lots interesting here . . . Pirogov talks pretty clinically about those left “at the disposition,” but it’s a difficult life for an officer living in his garrison on a fourth of the pay he had when he had a duty post.  And, Pirogov says, the situation goes on a long time and costs up to 30 billion rubles per year. 

Pirogov says the MOD has also been spending 30 billion on housing construction, including on 10,000 unoccupied apartments.  But construction hasn’t solved the housing dilemma.

Maybe the housing situation has improved somewhat, but, as Pirogov admits, it’s still a long way from solved.  And Putin’s deadlines come and go and come again.

Promotion List

For Russia Day on 12 June, President Vladimir Putin promoted a number of  armed forces and other “power” ministry officers to higher ranks.

Click on this link to see those promoted in Putin’s decree along with as many positions as could be identified for them.  The link goes to an Excel file, click “View full-size workbook” and you’ll see the spreadsheet on Microsoft’s Skydrive site.

Promotions from February remain in the file as well.

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.

Star Shower

Russian has an untranslatable word, звездопад, invariably used in announcing high-level military promotions.  It might be best translated as meteor shower.  But when it comes to generals, admirals, and O-6s adding metal to their shoulderboards, star shower sounds better.

Late Thursday, President Putin provided a star shower via ukaz, and here are the results:

  • RVSN Commander Sergey Viktorovich Karakayev and VVKO Commander Oleg Nikolayevich Ostapenko become General-Colonel (three stars).
  • New Navy CINC Viktor Viktorovich Chirkov becomes Admiral (three stars).
  • New Air Forces CINC Viktor Nikolayevich Bondarev becomes General-Lieutenant (two stars).

Looks like maybe the new high command team is locked into place for some time to come.

The other promotions:

  • Commander of the 9th VKO Brigade Vladimir Aleksandrovich Korytkov and Chief of PVO Troops and Aviation for the Central MD Yevgeniy Nikolayevich Tuchkov become General-Major (one star).
  • A Northern Fleet division commander Vladimir Mikhaylovich Vorobyev, Chief of Staff of the Northern Fleet’s Kola Mixed Forces Flotilla Vadim Franstevich Kulit, and White Sea Naval Base Commander Viktor Nikolayevich Liina become Rear-Admiral (one star).

Power Couple

Putin Congratulates Knyazeva

No, not newly-minted General-Major Yelena Knyazeva and President Putin.  The couple is Knyazeva and her husband, Deputy Chairman of the Moscow City Duma, Andrey Metelskiy.

It’s not surprising Kremlin.ru published this picture of the Supreme Glavk shaking Knyazeva’s hand instead of some run-of-the-mill male general’s.

When Putin elevated the fiftyish Knyazeva to one-star rank last month, the Russian press noted his decree gave the Armed Forces a female general for the first time in a number of years.

The last one was the world’s first woman in space, Valentina Tereshkova, who reached general-major in the 1990s.  Media reports added that several women currently hold general officer ranks in the MVD and other uniformed federal services.

This year the Russian Armed Forces indicated having 3,000 female officers in the ranks, a 50 percent increase over 2011.  There were 28 (now 27, of course) women colonels.  There were only 12 female O-6s in 2011, according to RIA Novosti.

Yelena Georgiyevna is Deputy Chief of the Defense Ministry’s Main Directorate for International Military Cooperation.  Before that, she headed the English Department at Moscow’s Military University.  That university now encompasses the Military Institute of Foreign Languages (VIIYa) where she graduated and taught for many years.

She became chief of VIIYa’s English faculty in 1995.  Her participation in international projects during the heyday of Russia-NATO cooperation provided a logical segue to her current duties.  But her timing was fortuitous too.

Under Serdyukov, women emerged in various top Defense Ministry posts, although Knyazeva’s case was somewhat different because she rose inside the military department.

At VIIYa, Knyazeva met her future husband, Andrey Metelskiy, according to Krasnaya zvezda.  Some eight or nine years her junior, Metelskiy studied Farsi and French at the military institute.

Andrey Metelskiy (photo: Volgorad.er.ru)

Metelskiy’s an interesting figure.  In a Bratishka.ru interview, he indicates he was an 18-year-old lieutenant (!?) serving in Afghanistan when he was wounded in 1986.

After finishing VIIYa and leaving the army, Metelskiy was a businessman with a somewhat confusing political biography.  One observer claims he was a Derzhava supporter who only emerged in the youth section of Unity in early 2000.

But Metelskiy’s mainline biography says he was a deputy chairman of the Moscow city branch of Unity before the December 1999 State Duma elections.  He went on to be first deputy of the Moscow regional branch of Unity’s successor, United Russia.

Metelskiy was elected to the Moscow City Duma in 2001, and is currently in his third term.  He has been a Duma Deputy Chairman since 2004, and heads the United Russia faction which holds an overwhelming 32 of 35 seats in the municipal legislature.  Metelskiy represents the Izmaylovo area in northeastern Moscow.

The observer above recounts a legal dustup in late 2005 between Metelskiy and Rodina’s Dmitriy Rogozin who accused him of sporting military awards he didn’t earn.  But Metelskiy won a defamation case against today’s deputy prime minister for the OPK.

On Medvedevu.ru, a man tells his version of a 2009 car accident with Knyazeva, Metelskiy, and their Lexus.  According to him, Metelskiy denied causing the crash, threatened him, and advised him to forget the whole incident.  Nor did the victim get satisfaction after wending his way through the court system for a couple years.

Knyazeva and Metelskiy are an interesting and well-connected Moscow power couple.  Putin was probably just renewing his acquaintance with Knyazeva since it’s more than likely they’d already met given her husband’s position.