Who Defends Officers?

On 13 April, Svpressa.ru made the point that officers don’t have a place to turn for help or protection against abuse in the army, unlike conscripts who have the Committee of Soldiers’ Mothers of Russia (KSMR or КСМР).

In response to the suggestion that officers need a “Committee of Officers’ Wives and Mothers” to help them with problems in the service, KSMR Chairwoman Tatyana Znachkova said:

“There’s no one to defend officers, and many of them live unhappily, not better than conscripts.  So their wives could create a committee for their defense.  Officers or their wives actually have come to us very often in recent times.”

Asked what their complaints are, she says:

“Legal violations in the unit, low wages, problems with obtaining housing.  But we can’t help them.”

“So I advise them to create their own organization because their problems are so very great.  But they are silent.  It’s understandable why the officers themselves are silent, they’re not allowed to gripe, but why are their wives silent?  No one can prohibit them.  If the family is without housing, without work, without money, what’s to lose . . .”

Svpressa continues, many of the officers cut have been thrown overboard, without housing, without work.  So in Voronovo, near Moscow, where a unit was closed a year ago, residents say former colonels and lieutenants go around to nearby dachas offering to do repairs or any kind of work on the houses.  They do it to feed their families since they don’t have any other work.

Anatoliy Tsyganok tells Svpressa:

“Officers have now been thrown to the whims of fate.  There’s really no where for them to complain.  Their problems are resolved well only in words.  Look for yourself, in just the last year, more than 3 thousand officers discharged into the reserves without housing and deceived by the state about the payment of monetary compensation have turned to the European Court . . .  The main part of complaints concerns nonpayment to servicemen of money for participation in this or that combat action or peacekeeping operation.  Part of the complaints are collective.  And the quantity of such complaints will increase since there is more and more of a basis for them.”

Asked about the basis of complaints, Tsyganok says:

“Some officers are outside the TO&E, receiving a fifth of their usual pay for several years, although they are supposed to be in such a situation not more than half a year.  They are waiting for apartments from the Defense Ministry.  They have every basis for placing law suits in Strasbourg.  In the framework of armed forces reform almost all billets in voyenkomaty at different levels were cut.  And 90 percent of former voyenkomat officers, dismissed without apartments, will also appeal to the ECHR [European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg].  These are educated people who understand they won’t get the truth in a Russian court.  And their only hope is the European Court.  Today there are very many officers left without apartments.  They don’t know in what order, when and who will give them apartments.  These people have a direct road to the ECHR.”

Tsyganok goes on to mention how President Medvedev has promised to house officers, and claimed that an unprecedented 45,000 apartments were acquired for them last year.  Tsyganok believes the number was actually less than 30,000.  He notes that in St. Petersburg officers are being offered prefab housing, fit only for summer living, built for the Defense Ministry at a vastly inflated price (5-6 million rubles vs. 1.25-1.35 million market price).  Officers with apartments in abandoned military towns have to hope the nearest municipality will take them over and assume responsibility for services, but they usually don’t want to.

Tsyganok describes the difficulty in employing former officers.  Businesses generally don’t want anyone new over 40.  An initiative to use officers as teachers didn’t get off the ground.  So, according to Tsyganok, many officers choose between working for security firms or criminal groups.

He repeats his familiar lament that Russia is losing its well-trained, well-educated military intelligentsia—officers who completed 4-6 years in a VVUZ, mid-career branch-specific training, and 3 years in the General Staff Academy.  He concludes:

“So I presume, Russia is flashing back to the former Red Army.  In case, heaven forbid, of some conflict, I believe the current Russian Army won’t survive.  In these conditions, I think it doesn’t compare even with Georgia . . .”

Tsyganok says it’s absurd for an officer to have to repair dachas like a guestworker to feed his family.  It’s even more absurd for him to choose between security guard and criminal.  But the saddest thing in this situation is there’s no place from which to expect help.  So maybe officers need an organization to protect their rights, and in light of the current military reform, the need is very acute.

Organizations and institutions that exist, or have existed, to help officers are like most civil society in Russia—weak or eventually dispersed or coopted by the authorities.  There are ones that come to mind—the All-Russian Professional Servicemen’s Union (OPSV or ОПСВ), the Movement in Support of the Army (DPA or ДПА), and the All-Russian Officers’ Assembly that last met in 2005 or so.

On 14 April, Viktor Baranets picked up some similar themes, saying today’s reformist thinking from Defense Ministry and Genshtab chiefs is generally incomprehensible to Russian Army commanders.  For many years, they inspired the troops by telling how superior contract manning would be, and these serious intentions were underscored by hundreds of billions of rubles.  But the result was fewer contractees than before.  And now the Genshtab has said it’s changed its mind about more professionals and is reversing course.

Similarly, for years there’s been talk of ‘raising the prestige of the officer corps.’  And what does Baranets see in reality:

“And the fact is a large number of majors and even lieutenant colonels have started to be put in sergeant billets.  I’m not talking about captains and senior lieutenants.  Because, do you see, there aren’t enough professional junior commanders.  They’ve only just begun to train them.  But why do we need to ‘pay’ for the tactical calculation of reformers at the expense of downgrading people?  Putting officers in lower positions by every army canon is a form of punishment.  And no kind of service expedience can justify this violation.  And where is the logic even?  With one hand the chiefs give such officers impressive premiums for good service, and with the other they write orders on a transfer to a position which is not seldom even 4 steps lower than the one they occupy!  The rampage of personnel abuse has already gone to the point that they’ve already warned cadet-graduates of the Voronezh Military Aviation University [sic] (tomorrow’s lieutenants):  only those who graduate with a gold medal and distinction will get officer’s positions, the rest—sergeant’s.  In such confusion I don’t exclude that soon General Staff Academy graduates will command platoons.  It’s time for the Main Military Prosecutor to sort it out:  but how do these reform outrages accord with the demands of our laws?  But does it even make sense to put a specialist with higher education, whose 4-5 years of preparation cost the state millions of rubles, in a position yesterday still occupied by a junior sergeant who has secondary school and 3-months of training behind him?”

Viktor Litovkin noted this morning that Serdyukov’s Military Education Directorate Chief, Tamara Fraltsova, told Ekho Moskvy that the VVUZ system will again produce an overabundance of lieutenants this year for a shrinking number of junior officer posts in platoons, companies, and batteries.

Fraltsova said:

“Today the army has the right to pick the most worthy officers from the number of VVUZ graduates.  We’ve tightened the rules for passing examination sessions.  Now a cadet can be put out of the military-education institution for one 2, an unsatisfactory evaluation received in the course of a session.”

Litovkin says the overproduction of lieutenants (and decline in officer posts) led to young air defense officers being assigned to sergeants’ duties last summer.  A similar thing happened with VVS pilots; not every graduate-pilot could find an operational aircraft.  So great resources—3-6 million rubles per pilot—were poured into the sand.  Litovkin sees it as indicative of an armed forces reform in which great resources are expended in vain.  Not to mention the trauma to lieutenants who, against the law, are placed in lower-ranking duties.

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