Not One of My Generals Looks Down on Me

Serdyukov with Der Spiegel (photo: Yevgeniy Kondakov)

Let’s look at Defense Minister Serdyukov’s two most recent media interactions, starting with his interview Sunday on Rossiya TV’s ‘News of the Week’ program.  If anyone finds the video for this, please send it in.  As it is, we have just the wire service snippets.  Better than nothing.  Much of this you will have heard before, but there will be things of interest, so don’t stop reading.

On the army’s winter preparations, Serdyukov said the Defense Ministry has studied the ‘serious emergencies’ [so there were more than just Steppe] in military garrisons last winter, and taken necessary measures to prepare the army for this winter.  He says the army is 98-99 percent ready, so he concludes this winter will go very quietly. 

This is, of course, quite a contrast with what Minregion and Basargin have reported, as well as with Severomorsk’s predicament.  There hasn’t been any press release announcing that the Severomorsk garrison’s utilities debt has been cleared, or that the heat’s been turned on yet.  The Navy had been preparing to move several hundred people from buildings belonging to eight different units without heat.

On allowing parents and public representatives to accompany conscripts to their service locations, Serdyukov had this comment:

“It seems to me this removes a certain tension from both parents and public organizations.  And this worried us enough, therefore we, including commanders, became more seriously inclined to it.”

Serdyukov issued yet another denial of any intent to change the current one-year draft term:

“Once again I want to say we don’t intend to increase the term (of service).  The term is 12 months, and so it will remain.”

He called a professional army a goal “we still can’t allow ourselves.”

He commented, yet again, on Russia’s plans for foreign arms purchases:

“Unfortunately, in recent years, in a number of (cases) and types of equipment we have fallen behind a little.  This, certainly, concerns both armored equipment and communications and UAVs somewhat.  We, naturally, won’t go over to mass purchases of foreign armaments and military equipment, we will only buy that which interests us, in limited quantities, to understand and evaluate those tactical-technical characteristics which they possess, on the one hand, and on the other – to try to formulate for our industry what we want to see from ourselves very soon.”

Serdyukov mentioned again Russia’s desire for two large amphibious carriers from abroad, and confirmed that two more would be built in Russian shipyards using the full technical documentation transferred along with the first two units.

The Defense Minister described a three-stage military reform to 2020:

“In the first part there are TO&E measures, and we have essentially already completed them.  We’ve gone to 1 million (servicemen) in size, of them 150 thousand will be officers, on the order of 100-120 thousand will be professional noncommissioned personnel, and the rest will be conscript soldiers.”

“The second task is, naturally, social issues which we need to take care of for our officers.  And armaments are the third task.  Armaments is a quite lengthy process.  We’ve broken it into two parts:  to 2015 is the first phase and out to 2020 will be the second.  We need to get to these parameters:  by 2015 modern equipment in the army must be not less than 30 percent and by 2025 on the order of 70 percent.  We believe that 2020 will be the completion of the transition to a new profile of the armed forces.”

It looks like Serdyukov is giving more wiggle room on rearmament.  Most reports to date have quoted Defense Ministry representatives saying 70-100 percent new arms by 2020.  Well, perhaps ITAR-TASS heard it wrong.  For this writer’s money, even 30 percent in 2015 looks like a longshot.

Also, not really much to say about those military social issues – and this presumably would be the main focus now since task one’s pretty much done and task three’s a long-term deal.

Even the pretty much completed task one is interesting.  Many press and media outlets seized on this one to finally understand, more precisely, the composition of the armed forces.  So Serdyukov says they’re down to 150,000 officers already.  And with a thinner layer of sergeants, that leaves between 730,000 and 750,000 conscripts at any given time.  But drafting 270,000 semiannually would leave Moscow short by roughly 200,000 conscripts.  Better round up those evaders.  And with all the varying comments, it’s very hard to say if Russia’s at one million men (150,000 officers) yet or not.

But moving on . . . on 27 October Der Spiegel copped an interview with Serdyukov.  It focused on relations and cooperation with NATO, Europe, and the U.S., and Russia’s view of missile defense, but there was stuff on Serdyukov’s reforms.  The Defense Minister told Spiegel flatly:

“As far as weapons go, in recent years, no modern weapons have been bought for the Russian Army.  Our armaments are largely outdated.”

Quite a stark admission he might not make to a Russian magazine.  Perhaps he’s willing to be a little more painfully blunt with a Western publication.

On buying abroad, Serdyukov told Spiegel that Russia can produce everything it needs, but some things are simpler, cheaper, and quicker to get from foreign producers.  He confessed that Russian industry has fallen behind the last 20 years.

Serdyukov goes on to discuss the million-man army, the imbalance in officers and grunts, eliminating corruption, Rosoboronpostavka, and cutting administrative layers. 

Then he’s asked why military men might oppose his changes:

“It’s obvious.  Who wants to lose his job?  Over the coming three years, we will cut the size of the officer corps to one hundred fifty thousand men.  At the same time, we will make service in the army more attractive, in particular, by raising pay.  The attractiveness of army service has now reached the very lowest level.”

Again, are they at 150,000 officers or not?  No one’s clear on this.  And one would think, with all Serdyukov’s efforts, serving might already be a little more attractive.

Asked if he’s worried about a military putsch, Serdyukov said:

“This doesn’t worry me.  We aren’t taking any impetuous measures.”

Of course, impetuous depends on whether you’re on the giving or receiving end of policy.

His interviewers asked if it’s easier for a civilian to conduct reforms in the military.  Serdyukov said:

“I can’t do everything myself.  We are working in a team – the Chief of the General Staff and my deputies.  It’s possible some things are simpler for me to do because I’m not connected to certain traditions and understandings which exist in the army.  I see problems from the outside, and because of this it’s easier for me to ask why we can’t do things differently.”

And finally they asked him if a general can take a civilian seriously, and he replied:

“I can assure you not one of my generals looks down on me.”

Shades of Seltsy perhaps . . . it seems it would have sufficed to say something bland like ‘we have our own spheres and mutual respect’ or we’ve created a two-branch Defense Ministry with civilians occupied with this and military men with that.  But instead Serdyukov comes off sounding like it’s a choice between dominating and being dominated.

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