Category Archives: Civil-Military Relations

Better Talk About Your Problems

Army-2015 (photo:

Army-2015 (photo:

Last week the Russian MOD put on an extravaganza.  Army-2015 was a huge public exhibition of the latest and greatest Russian military technology and equipment.  It was a major patriotic event designed to boost the average Russian’s pride in his or her armed forces.

Army-2015 was not intended as a forum for discussing the Russian military’s deficiencies and difficulties.  However, the venerable BBC Russian Service interviewed four well-known commentators attending the show about this very issue. It’s a topic no longer easy to find in the Russian media.

The BBC turned first to State Duma Deputy Vyacheslav Tetekhin from the KPRF who pointed to the Pentagon and its penchant for airing the U.S. military’s problems to identify and resolve them.  Tetekhin said Russia very much lacks similar discussions in its legislature and military ranks.

Army-2015 (photo:

Army-2015 (photo:

The British broadcaster asked these observers to name weak points in Russia’s military which — in their opinion — need to be fixed immediately.  The experts listed five:

  • The development and production of modern armaments suffers from a lack of personnel and the “incompleteness of the material base.”
  • The size of the armed forces is insufficient, and manning is difficult because of a lack of men.
  • A lack of follow-through in reforms, arbitrariness in decisionmaking.
  • Insufficient modern weapons, including UAVs, and the slow pace of reequipping the army.
  • The need for large expenditures to continue reform — to stop it is impossible, but great resources are needed to complete it.

That “incompleteness of the material base” sounds like defense industry is missing skilled workers, part and component suppliers, and sub-contractors who traditionally supported big arms makers. Moscow was compensating for this with foreign purchases, but it is now preoccupied with arranging for domestic import substitution.

Tetekhin expressed his concern about who will design Russia’s future weapons systems.  The skill of those working in R&D today is “an order lower” than the previous generation, he says.

For Konstantin Sivkov, the main problem is that the armed forces aren’t large enough.  He says they need to be 50 percent bigger to defend the country. More modern weapons answering modern requirements are also needed.

Igor Korotchenko sees the lack of drones — tactical to strategic and strike variants — as Russia’s most important military shortcoming.  He also complained of changing priorities and arbitrary decisions made by new defense ministers, especially regarding arms purchases.  As a remedy, he calls for permanent deputy defense ministers and service CINCs.

They tried virtual life tenure for deputy defense ministers and CINCs in Soviet times.  Didn’t work out too well.  It was a true recipe for arbitrariness and stagnation.

Lastly, the BBC quotes Konstantin Bogdanov, who gives us the most thorough summation of where the RF Armed Forces are today.  It’s worth quoting verbatim:

“The first and main problem is the unfinished state of the military reform, launched at the end of the 2000s, and repeatedly changed in its particulars. Both under Serdyukov and under Shoygu.”

“The second problem is connected to the still not overcome so-called ‘procurement holiday of the 1990s.’  The fact is a significant part of equipment, which should have been withdrawn from the inventory at the start of the 2000s and replaced with new models, is being replaced only now.  Fifteen years at a minimum have been lost.”

“This led, in particular, to an entire range of industrial enterprises, to use a sports analogy, ‘getting out of shape.’  Over the course of a long time, they couldn’t support the delivery of necessary equipment and armaments with the required characteristics and production costs.”

“This situation is being corrected somewhat, but at the end of the 2000s it was completely outrageous.”

“The manning problem is connected with the demographic hole.  They have to drag people into the army, I wouldn’t say with a lasso, but with a very sweet cake — pay.”

“There is yet another problem — the need for large infrastructure outlays.”

“Abandoned military garrisons in the Arctic, the construction of new bases there.  But this is not just a problem in the Arctic, attention is just riveted on it.  […] Airfields are being reestablished, military bases reestablished, which were abandoned at the end of the 1990s.”

“This is enormous money, and how all this will look under difficult financial conditions is hard to say.  The army is eating lots of resources, but it has gone halfway and stopping here wouldn’t be right.”

Catalyst for Military Reform

It’s sad, but safe, to conclude that Russian politics has always been pretty violent. Always being the last several hundred years.  And that violence has claimed its latest high-profile victim.

RIP 1959-2015

RIP 1959-2015

The many eulogies for Boris Nemtsov were eloquent and on-target for what they said about the man and about Russia today.

It was surprising, however, that they all (from what the present writer can tell) pretty much neglected Nemtsov’s role as a critical catalyst for serious reform of the Russian military.  The part Nemtsov played was just one way he reflected hope for the emergence of a liberal, European Russia.

Whether in government in the 1990s or out in the 2000s, Nemtsov argued for making military reform a priority.  He was the political face of criticism of President Vladimir Putin for failing to reform the armed forces.  He had lots of knowledgeable help and supporters, but he was a politician who could make the case publicly and loudly.

In the early 2000s, Nemtsov and the SPS advocated reducing the compulsory military service term from two years (which the MOD thought barely sufficient) to just six months.  He also called for slicing the army from more than 1 million to just 400,000.

Early and often, Nemtsov said the military should rely first and foremost on professional contract servicemen.  He did this in rallies and marches back when they were permitted and could be arranged with relative ease.  Former Defense Minister and Putin confidante Sergey Ivanov labeled Nemtsov’s call for an all-contractee army by 2007 “populist hodgepodge.”

But Nemtsov’s insistence was a major impetus behind the government’s 2003 contract service experiment in the 76th Airborne Division, and the 2004-2007 Federal Targeted Program to introduce contract service throughout the armed forces.  In the latter, the MOD aimed to convert 200 divisions and regiments to full professional manning instead of conscripted soldiers.

Even Ivanov said, if the government’s program worked, conscription could be cut to one year.  It didn’t.  Nemtsov argued that the contract service program, as implemented, was underfunded.  He also tried to tell Putin that the MOD generals could never be trusted to reform themselves.

What has happened since?

Civilian Anatoliy Serdyukov served almost six years as Defense Minister and imposed many military reforms on reluctant Russian generals.

One-year military conscription was phased in and became the norm in 2008.

Most importantly, professional contract service replaced conscription as the basis of Russia’s military manning policy.  The armed forces have the goal of putting 425,000 volunteer enlisted in the ranks by recruiting 50,000 each year through 2017.

And the Russian Army has, generally speaking, become a safer place to serve.

Boris Nemtsov wasn’t solely responsible for these important changes, but he was a significant force pushing for them.

So it isn’t surprising Nemtsov was killed while urgently trying to awaken somnolent Russians — mothers and fathers — to the dangers of letting the Kremlin send its young men to fight, and possibly be injured or die, in eastern Ukraine.

Through the Public’s Eye

How does the Russian military look in the public’s eye?  The Public Opinion Foundation (FOM) asked recently, and the answers showed a fairly substantial improvement in the average citizen’s view of the capabilities of the armed forces.

The poll indicates the constant Russian media drumbeat on rearmament has affected public perceptions of the military’s capabilities.  Its unopposed march through Crimea this spring probably contributed as well, but no survey questions addressed this.

FOM asked, if extra government funding were available, would respondents use it on military or civilian needs. Those polled still strongly prefer civilian uses (55% vs. 61% in early 2012).

Seventy-four percent of those surveyed now think the armed forces are capable of ensuring the country’s security (vs. only 49% in early 2013).  Those who think not dropped to seven percent (vs. 23% in 2013).

Are They Capable?

Are They Capable?

In response to an open follow-up question, 21 percent said the military is capable because it has all combat equipment it needs.

Asked if the military’s combat capability is increasing, decreasing, or not changing, 64 percent said increasing (vs. 38% in 2013).  Only 12 percent said not changing (vs. 30% in 2013).

In an open follow-up, 20 percent said expedited outfitting, development of defense industry, and new weapons are all necessary for increasing the combat capability of the armed forces.

At the same time, 63 percent indicated Russia has a sufficient amount of modern arms and equipment (vs. 43% in 2013). Sixty-five percent think the share of modern weapons is increasing; 41 percent thought so in 2013.

The survey also asked respondents to rate their knowledge of the situation and problems in the armed forces.  These numbers were basically unchanged.  In this survey and in 2013, less than 30 percent said they knew them “well” or considered themselves “not badly” informed.  Slightly less than 70 percent said they didn’t know much or were poorly informed.

But, as the saying goes, opinions are something everyone has.

About one-third reported having relatives, friends, or acquaintances in the military; about two-thirds said they don’t.

The poll was done on 23-24 August with responses from 1,500 participants in 43 regions and 100 populated areas.  Its margin of error is not greater than 3.6 percent.

FOM also offers a complete breakdown of its survey results from the webpage for those who’d like to download them.  It shows them by age, sex, political preference, education, income, etc.

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.

Wind Blows Hard Across Iturup

Recently saw a compelling piece in

Had not heard of the site, but its text and photos vividly convey the plight of the inhabitants of Russia’s unneeded military towns.

Military Settlement Gornyy on Iturup (photo:

Military Settlement Gornyy on Iturup (photo:

Five hundred residents of Gornyy, a military settlement on Iturup in the Kuril chain, have appealed for help to resettle them or fix their broken down homes.  Iturup is the northernmost of the four southern Kuril islands which Japan  claims as its Northern Territories.

Gornyy on Iturup Island

Gornyy on Iturup Island

Smartnews writes that the Ministry of Defense still controls Gornyy, but only in a formal sense.  In reality, it has “thrown away” these former colleagues.

Local authorities want to help, but don’t have a legal right.  They can’t spend money on territory still belonging to the MOD.  They aren’t allowed to replace drafty old windows in buildings under a regional initiative called “Warm Windows.”  The Sakhalin Oblast Duma has appealed to Defense Minister Sergey Shoygu on Gornyy’s behalf.

Forces deployed here, units of the 18th Machine Gun-Artillery Division, were withdrawn from the area, but residents remained with no one to maintain their apartment buildings.

A Building in Gornyy (photo:

A Building in Gornyy (photo:

Those who could left.  Those not expecting an apartment elsewhere from the MOD, or with nowhere to go otherwise, mostly military pensioners and their families, stayed behind.  Those with jobs work mainly at nearby Burevestnik airfield, built when the Japanese still controlled Iturup.  They will probably become unemployed when a new airport opens on the Sea of Okhotsk side of the island in the not-too-distant future.

One retiree says the once thriving settlement is now like a cemetery.  Some buildings are completely empty.  Their broken windows look like eyes.  The wind blows through neighboring apartments.  He continues:

“. . . we don’t have street cleaning or trash collection.  But mainly, there’s no future.  It’s hard on the morale, it’s simply dying — the feeling that you served at the very edge of the country, protected it, and now no one needs you.”

Officials don’t even come to Gornyy because you can’t pass through it.  It’s the most remote populated place on Iturup.  It’s 50 km to the rayon center (Kurilsk) and the MOD owns the road and isn’t in a hurry to maintain it.

An oblast Duma deputy says:

“It’s not easy living there for the military, I have complaints from several:  the boys have left, there is no one to register them [as legal residents in internal passports], no one can get medical insurance, or even vote in elections.  So people live, although there is some infrastructure there — a school, kindergarten, stores, but they don’t want to live there.”

Local authorities do what they can, arranging traveling medical care for people in Gornyy.

But ultimately, Smartnews writes, neither Gornyy nor Sakhalin can decide anything, the MOD needs to make a final determination on its property and clarify the fate of those living in the settlement.

Some former military in Gornyy, however, still hope the MOD will deploy an S-400 unit near their settlement and revitalize it.

Gornyy is an extreme case, but still similar to that of thousands of other military towns as well as many neglected and forgotten civilian settlements.

Everyone in Uniform

Under Sergey Shoygu, the Ministry of Defense looks more and more like MChS.

Shoygu’s apparently decided to put his senior civilian officials in uniform.

Tsalikov and Borisov Sport New Civilian Uniforms With Light Colored Epaulettes (photo:

Tsalikov and Borisov Sport New Civilian Uniforms With Light Colored Epaulettes (photo:

Deputy Defense Ministers Ruslan Tsalikov and Yuriy Borisov were photographed in their new apparel during last week’s conference on the results of the most recent surprise readiness evaluation.

Tsalikov gets to wear four army general stars given his title as “Actual Privy Councillor 1st Class.”

At the tank biathlon in Alabino, Tatyana Shevtsova and Anatoliy Antonov were caught wearing theirs at the right edge of this photo.

Antonov and Shevtsova in Uniform (photo:

Antonov and Shevtsova in Uniform (photo:

Like Tsalikov, Shevtsova (who somehow managed to hang on after Serdyukov’s demise) also wears four stars based on her civilian rank.

It looks a bit like either the USAF or the starship Enterprise has come to visit.

At any rate, Izvestia wrote about the new uniforms.  It notes the zippered jackets look like MChS, and are supposed to be more comfortable work-a-day attire for civilians and military men alike.  But one anonymous senior officer said the material feels like overalls, and he’s generally not won over at this point.

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.