Bad News for Would-Be Officers

Future Officer, or Sergeant? (photo: RIA Novosti / Valeriy Titiyevskiy)

There’s no better time for bad news about changes in military education than the beginning of Russia’s academic year.

The Defense Ministry said Monday it’s stopping induction of cadets into military higher educational institutions (VVUZy or ВВУЗы).  And new students will not matriculate next year either.

There’s no doubt there’s lots of excess capacity that needs to be cut from Russia’s military education system, but, as usual, there seems to be more angst about the way the process is being managed than about the need for some kind of change itself.  The Defense Ministry is trying to ram many young men who signed up to be officers into sergeant’s billets, and generally changing the rules in the middle of the game.  There’s no doubt large numbers of VVUZ professors and other teaching staff will be pushed out of the service, but the Defense Ministry is denying this for now.  Perhaps most interesting, RIA Novosti elected to editorialize on this issue, saying it exemplifies the Defense Ministry’s, and the Defense Minister’s, poor way of dealing with the public and presenting its initiatives.

Deputy Chief of the Defense Ministry’s Main Personnel Directorate (GUK or ГУК), Tamara Fraltsova (who doubles as Chief of the Military Education Directorate) made the announcement during a video conference marking the opening of the Presidential Cadet Corps in Orenburg.  Specifically, she said:

“In the course of this year and next, the Defense Ministry is refraining from selecting cadets for its VUZy.”

“This is connected to an overabundance of officer personnel and a deficit of officer positions in the Armed Forces.”

“At present, graduation of cadets exceeds the officer positions we have in the Armed Forces by four times.”

In other words, the military educational system is still too big, and needs more cuts.  There are 56 teaching institutions in all – VVUZy and their branches (filialy). 

The ‘overabundance’ of officers is part and parcel of Defense Minister Serdyukov’s ‘new profile’ reforms in which officers are being reduced to 150,000 from well in excess of 300,000 in late 2008. 

Fraltsova has previously indicated VVUZy would be cut further and unified into ten ‘inter-service scientific-training centers.’  Duplicative or overlapping specialty training will also be eliminated.

Izvestiya reported that Fraltsova said the military education system is still configured to support a 4-million-man, rather than a 1-million-man, army.

Nevertheless, Fraltsova maintained that all 15,000 VVUZ graduates were placed in military billets last year.  But she didn’t say what kind of billets.

Krasnaya zvezda quoted her:

“. . . there is a chance for higher quality manning of the Armed Forces.  So, the requirements for future officers must be stricter.”

“There is a need for a review and selection of military specialties, according to which education in military VUZy is provided.  Part of [these specialties] will be transferred to the civilian ranks, part will go into to the duty category of sergeant personnel.”

There’s been media reporting for months that any cadet receiving even a single ‘2’ – an unsatisfactory mark – is now drummed out.  But this doesn’t eliminate many – 70 percent of cadets graduate without ever getting even a ‘3,’ according to the Defense Ministry.

Writing in Komsomolskaya pravda, Viktor Baranets indicated that only 100 of 600 lieutenants who arrived in the Pacific Fleet got officer jobs, and, in Voronezh, only the very top-ranked graduates found officer posts in the Air Forces.  About 20 percent of cadets normally graduate ‘with distinction.’  So the remaining 80 percent either accepted a sergeant position, or immediate dismissal into the reserves and the civilian world.  

Grani.ru reported that most graduates of the Defense Ministry’s Military University – a social sciences institution located in Moscow – got a ‘free diploma’ and an immediate discharge.   

According to Izvestiya, Fraltsova said there are only 5,000 command positions in the Armed Forces against an influx of 15,000 newly-commissioned junior officers.  The paper quotes her:

“Let them compete for what they will get.  The rest simply received a free higher education.  In my opinion, this is fair.”

She claims these changes are improving student performance, and she wants to use competitive ratings to make initial officer assignments.

She dismisses worries about the impact of cadet reductions on VVUZy teaching staffs because, in many cases, they’ll be busy teaching noncommissioned officers.  Some will be one-year conscript sergeants, and others three-year contractees getting nearly 3 years of post-secondary schooling.

Fraltsova revealed that 60 percent of VVUZy already teach on a ‘for-profit’ basis, and this will fully employ their instructors.

The effects of officer corps cuts, and VVUZy cuts, have rippled down to Russia’s venerable Suvorov and Nakhimov schools.  Without places in VVUZy, these young men will have to seek spots in other power ministry academies, if they want to be officers.  Premilitary Suvorov and Nakhimov schools now have to compete for students with the new Presidential Cadet Corps, which are supposed to train youth for the civil service in each federal district.

Forum.msk’s Anatoliy Baranov remarked that Fraltsova and her ilk “will suddenly observe in 10-15 years that everyone in higher military institutions has died, and there is no one and no way to teach new officers.”  Leonid Ivashov told Gzt.ru simply, “We are witnessing the destruction of Russian military education.”

RIA Novosti published surprisingly stark criticism of Fraltsova’s (and Serdyukov’s) performance. 

First, it quoted her:

“. . . not everyone in Russian society is sympathetic to this initiative.  Yes, these are very severe measures, not many like them, and we are being subjected to criticism for this decision.”

The news agency said Fraltsova’s press conference left the media with the impression that the Defense Ministry still doesn’t know what to do about the military education system.

It called the halt in VVUZ induction a ‘radical step,’ which calls attention to the Defense Ministry’s secretiveness in making important decisions.  The agency complains that, since 2008, when the ‘new profile’ started, the media and society have learned about most changes after the fact.  Veterans and other social groups have written to Serdyukov asking to give input, but it’s not clear their letters are even answered.  RIA Novosti concludes, in this case, the military department has once again ‘stepped on a rake.’

Yesterday Deputy Defense Minister, State Secretary Nikolay Pankov went on TV in damage control mode, saying these changes are intended to improve military education as well as to save money.  He intimated there will be lots more pain in going from 56 to 10 institutions.  Pankov said 20 percent of this year’s 10,000 VVUZ graduates will become sergeants instead of officers, but the Defense Ministry will keep these reluctant NCOs in mind if officer billets come open.

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