A View of a Year of Russian Military Reform

Nasha versiya’s Aleksandr Stepanov says the Russian military’s revolutionary changes in 2009 make Defense Minister Serdyukov the reformer of the year, but he’s looked a little closer to see a more mixed picture.

According to Stepanov, the Defense Ministry’s professional sergeant training program ran into problems because it lacked enough qualified candidates.  He reports more than half of them left Ryazan when they were housed in barracks rather than dorms.  Much like problems experienced by contract soldiers, there were disputes over their free time and days off, and whether they could leave the garrison. 

Unlike Serdyukov’s desire, warrant officers could not be eliminated in one stroke.  The Navy is keeping its michman schools in order to man the submarine fleet with the required number of technical specialists.  Warrants in the RVSN and VVS will also be allowed to serve to retirement if they choose. 

Stepanov calls officers who can’t be dismissed for lack of housing ‘dead souls.’  They don’t have duty posts, and are placed ‘at the disposal’ of their commanders.  They receive only basic pay, which can be difficult to obtain, and not other supplements and bonuses that provide most of an officer’s monthly salary.  Recall that General Staff Chief Makarov put the number of ‘dead souls’ outside the TO&E, but not dismissed, at 37,000.

He puts the military’s apartment deficit at 90,000, and most military men doubt the Defense Ministry will fulfill its housing promises.  The apparent dismissal of the military’s housing chief is a sign that things aren’t going well on this front.  Despite the budget money spent, the problem isn’t being solved.  The Defense Ministry can’t get the quantity of apartments it wants at an acceptable price, and many construction projects are frozen due to the effects of the economic downturn.  The military department has to buy or use land no one else wants, for instance, an allegedly contaminated former munitions dump where it is building thousands of apartments for servicemen in Vladivostok.  Given the unresolved military housing problem, the visit to Novaya Izhora and the possibility of building large single-family homes (cottages) seems a little strange. 

Serdyukov’s Order 400 which brought premium pay to the military brought not a little tension to servicemen and units.  It has been modified.  Now all officers in the best units will receive it.  For example, not just pilots but also officers working in ground crews.

The decision to add priests to the army officially was a new development for 2009.  Ninety percent of them will be Russian Orthodox, but other ‘traditional confessions’ will be represented later on a proportional basis.  These clergymen are supposed to fill the gaps left by ‘socialization work’ officers or zampolits that have been largely cut.  There is now only 1 indoctrination officer position authorized per battalion.

The armed services all look forward to new weapons systems, but the state of the OPK doesn’t inspire confidence that they will be delivered.  The Bulava SLBM debacle and the fact that the VVS won’t entertain buying Russian manufactured drone aircraft attest to this.

No one has talked much lately about Serdyukov’s new uniforms for the military.  Stepanov says fashion designer Yudashkin’s uniforms will cost three times more than the old ones.  But, from 2012, officers and contractees will no longer be issued uniforms; they’ll receive a 20-25,000 ruble stipend to pay for their uniforms.  However, a complete set of uniform items is expected to run from 130,000 to as much as 300,000 rubles.

The Defense Ministry had planned to outfit soldiers with more modern boots this year, but didn’t have the money.  So it appears that old footrags and woolen pullon boots can outlast even the greatest reformers, according to Stepanov.

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