The Results of Reform

Trud’s Mikhail Lukanin offered an interesting one last Wednesday . . . with help from other frequent commentators, he takes a swag at describing the results of Anatoliy Serdyukov’s nearly 4-year tenure as Defense Minister.

It’s interesting because it’s unclear if Lukanin’s article is intended to damn by faint praise, to be sarcastic, or was ordered by someone.  Maybe he intends to say these are just results, the good and the bad.

It’s easy to see some good in Lukanin’s first five, but his final three are pretty much unleavened.

The Army’s Become More Mobile

Lukanin quotes Vitaliy Shlykov:

“Until 2008, our army looked like fragments of the old, Soviet one, weighed down with heavy weapons, oriented toward global nuclear war with practically the entire world.”

He says even in the August war against Georgia the army was still “Soviet” — slow to stand up, with an archaic command and control structure.  But now the situation’s changed with mobile brigades that can answer an alert in 1 hour instead of days.

The Army’s Rid Itself of the Spirit of the Barracks

Valentina Melnikova tells Lukanin that the soldier’s life has changed cardinally under Serdyukov.  She says, until recently, one-third of soldiers were typically involved in nonmilitary work every day.  Now soldiers are gradually being freed from such duties as commercial firms take them on.

New Equipment Has Come to the Troops

Lukanin writes that finally a start’s been given to the largest rearmament of the army in post-Soviet times.  One that will take new weapons and equipment from about 10 percent of today’s inventory to 90-100 percent [official sources only claim 70 percent] by 2020.

Lukanin quotes Ruslan Pukhov:

“The Navy alone will receive 40 submarines and 36 new ships, and the Air Forces 1,500 aircraft in the next decade.”

Officer Pay Has Grown

Lukanin says lieutenants and majors made 14 and 20 thousand rubles per month respectively before Serdyukov’s reform,  but now 50 and 70 thousand if they receive premium pay for outstanding combat training results.  And from 2012, premium payments will be included in their permanent duty pay, and 50 thousand rubles will be the minimum base pay for officers.

Lukanin quotes Aleksandr Khramchikhin: 

“The officers of our army are actually comparable with the armies of developed countries in pay levels. “

They Didn’t Talk Reform to Death

Lukanin says experts think it’s good Serdyukov’s reform was pursued energetically, without lengthy discussion and debate.  Pukhov gives the cut from 6 to 4 military districts as an example:

“At one time, it would have taken years to transfer a huge quantity of officers and generals from place to place, but the Defense Ministry did this in just 4-5 months.”

They Stopped Training Officers

Lukanin refers to Serdyukov’s halt to inducting new cadets into officer commissioning schools until at least 2012.  He says 2010 graduates were either released or accepted sergeant positions.  This led to the departure of experienced instructors, and their replacement with younger officers lacking the necessary experience.

Sergeants Almost Ceased to Exist

Contract sergeants were dispersed in 2009-2010.  The Defense Ministry considers them poorly trained, and in no way superior to ordinary [conscript] soldiers.  Now it’s counting completely on conscripts with an even lower level of training.

There’s Nothing to Defend Against China

Here Lukanin notes that some results of reform have put people on guard.  Anatoliy Tsyganok tells him tank units have been practically eliminated: 

“Now only 2,000 tanks, old models at that, remain in the army.”

In Tsyganok’s opinion, tanks are still very relevant for the defense of Russia’s border with China.

What do we make of all this?

  • It’s good that the Russian Army was restructured into smaller, more combat ready formations, i.e. brigades, and sub-units. 
  • We really have no clear picture of the extent and success of outsourcing nonmilitary tasks in the army.  Meanwhile, the “spirit of the barracks” is alive and well when it comes to dedovshchina and violence in the ranks. 
  • The promise of another rearmament program shimmers on the horizon, but it’s not delivering much yet, and there are plenty of serious obstacles to completing it. 
  • The officer pay picture has improved, but the Defense Ministry has real work to do this year to implement a fully new pay system next year.  Meanwhile, several years of premium pay have caused divisions and disaffection in the officer corps. 
  • Moving out smartly on reform was a change over endless talk, but there are areas where more circumspection might have served Serdyukov well. 
  • The Defense Ministry definitely had to stop feeding more officers into an army with a 1:1 officer-conscript ratio.  We’ll have to see what kind of officers the remaining VVUZy produce when the induction of cadets restarts. 
  • Aborting contract service cut the army’s losses on the failed centerpiece military personnel policy of the 2000s.  But something will have to take its place eventually to produce more professional NCOs and soldiers. 
  • Russia is probably right to deemphasize its heavy armor.  It doesn’t appear to have much of a place in the coming rearmament plan.  And tanks really aren’t the answer to Moscow’s largely unstated security concerns vis-a-vis China anyway.

So what’s Serdyukov’s scorecard?  A mixed bag.  Probably more good than bad, but we’ll have to wait to see which results stand and prove positive over the long term.  Definitely superior to his predecessor’s tenure.  Expect more Serdyukov anniversary articles as 15 February approaches.

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5 responses to “The Results of Reform

  1. Roger McDermott

    There are a number of important points to place this article in its proper context.
    Apart from the deepening crisis the reform faces, including its lack of clarity, sudden reversals on decisions and no clear planning on manpower, there is an information campaign in progress by the defense ministry to promote a) Serdyukov, and b) the reform [whatever that now is].
    Also, the article needs no answer or response, since it not only fits neatly into the typical information campaign approach by the ministry, but is in fact self-undermining since it is flawed: it weighs too heavily in favor of the views of at least two advisors to Serdyukov. In terms of its content, as can be seen by the responses left on the Trud site by its readers, it is a tad ridiculous in places. Tsyganok makes the only really valid point in relation to China.
    Serdyukov is culpable for the mess they now face. It makes many feel nostalia for the days of Ivanov.

    • I take your points, but I see things somewhat differently. I think what Serdyukov’s tried to do is clear. Actually, frighteningly clear to those living under it. But you’re right, there’s been absolutely no planning on manpower. The one-year draft was a political commitment made prior to Serdyukov, and now it’s apparently sacrosanct. But if a volt-face on contract service is possible, then I wouldn’t rule out an eventual change to 18 months or even 2 years. There is definitely a PR campaign on. I just don’t know if Trud has a record of participating in them. This article is pretty lukewarm PR support as it is. It’s just kind of strange. But I like Lukanin’s stuff usually. You’re right, the article leans heavily on Pukhov, but I think he’s still fairly independent of vlasti. As you’ve read, I tend to go easier on Serdyukov though I’m no cheerleader. The Sergey Ivanov days, I think, were an unmitigated waste for the Russian military. But the two men faced pretty different circumstances in 2001 and 2007. Without Sergey Borisovich, there might not have been an Anatoliy Eduardovich.

  2. Roger McDermott

    No, what Serdyukov tried to do is not ‘clear,’ by any stretch of the imagination. His announcement of reform on October 18, 2008 made no mention of many aspects either, not made ‘clear’ at the time, or reflecting the add-on aspects later. By ‘pain’ we can only deduce officer downsizing, which had to happen, and was in fact drawn up and planned by Ivanov, though delayed. Also, on old aspects of the ‘new’ look [whatever that is] Serdyukov recently admitted the reform of the MD’s to OSK’s [in itself quite weird] was first advanced by the General Staff in late 2007, in other words when Baluyevskiy was still CGS [who apparently opposes ‘reform’].

    All the information campaigning cannot conceal the fact that the reform is dying, and its death, fittingly began and later developed further in Ryazan.

    On faith in “independent” experts/advisors in Moscow, this does not reflect reality. Let blog readers look at the press conference by Pukhov, launching the book on the reform, in which he asserted its “aim” is to defeat in two weeks any neighboring state [China? Nyet? What about the others? Kazakhstan -ally-? Baltic States? Who did he have in mind?]

    The content of the Trud piece will not deserve serous attention by military analysts.

  3. One of my Russian contacts, who is very knowledgeable about this whole process suggests, that after Putin discovered that 40% of the budget was being ripped off, decided that since Russia did not face a military threat, and because the only the potential threat the inept Russian military presented was domestic, that he put Serdyukov in charge knowing that he would screw things up. But a screwed up Army without its senior leaders (all of whom have been replaced by yes men) would be much easier to control and less of a domestic threat.
    When one considers how sub-structural the changes in the military have been a politician would be wise to take steps to neuter the military so that
    he (Putin) will not face an internal threat sort of a la Yeltsin.

  4. One of my Russian contacts, who is very knowledgeable about this whole process suggests, that after Putin discovered that 40% of the budget was being ripped off, decided that since Russia did not face a military threat, and because the only the potential threat the inept Russian military presented was domestic, that he put Serdyukov in charge knowing that he would screw things up. But a screwed up Army without its senior leaders (all of whom have been replaced by yes men) would be much easier to control and less of a domestic threat.
    When one considers how sub-structural the changes in the military have been a politician would be wise to take steps to neuter the military so that
    he (Putin) will not face an internal threat sort of a la Yeltsin.
    As a famous American politician once pointed out, “all politics is local politics,” something we tend to forget.
    In spite of the many actions supposedly taken by Serdyukov, he and his actions are more reminiscent of an old American saying, “it is like a Russians in a Chinese fire drill.” With apologies to my Chinese friends (who are far ahead of the Russians in most military related fields), I think we are now seeing a case of the blind leading the blind, while the political elite is perfectly happy.

    Mahalo,

    dale herspring

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