Monthly Archives: April 2011

The Good, the Bad, Etc.

PR firm Р. И. М. Porter Novelli has just completed the first-ever rating of government ministers using comments from Russian-language blogs, social networking sites, and discussion forums.  Gazeta.ru and Argumenty i fakty covered this electronic beauty contest.  However, the firm’s press-release on its work wasn’t posted for first-hand examination.

The rating puts Finance Minister Kudrin, Emergency Situations Minister Shoygu, and Transport Minister Levitin at 1-2-3 in “popularity,” while Kudrin, Foreign Minister Lavrov, and Interior Minister Nurgaliyev are said to be tops in sheer mentions.

The firm also generated a rating of “good” and “bad” ministers.  Defense Minister Anatoliy Serdyukov, Economic Development Minister Nabiullina, and Nurgaliyev head the so-called “white” list.

However, Nurgaliyev, Serdyukov, and Kudrin are also 1-2-3 on the “black” list of those most vilified on Ru.net.  Health and Social Development Minister Golikova and Education Minister Fursenko are No. 6 and 7 on the “black” list.

For a traditional monthly opinion poll on what Russians think about top members of the government, check out VTsIOM’s monthly poll.  You get a different picture here.  For example, routinely about a quarter of the people are up on Serdyukov, a quarter are down, and half are unchanged.  You can compare Nurgaliyev’s one-third, one-third, and one-third, or look at unpopular Fursenko’s generally negative rating.

Of course, the polling is very different from the PR firm’s rating.  Internet penetration in Russia continues to grow; maybe 50 percent of Russians under 35 use the Internet every day or almost every day. 

All this is just more data in the mix on how Russians (in this case, ones connected to and savvy about the Internet) regard Serdyukov and his military reforms.

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Smiling, But Not About Mistral

Anatoliy Isaykin

FGUP Rosoboroneksport General Director Anatoliy Isaykin is smiling, but not about Mistral.

In fact, Isaykin’s poured cold water on thoughts of quickly resolving the Russo-French impasse over these helicopter carriers.

As if to answer anyone looking for a date when negotiations will be completed,  Voyenno-promyshlennyy kuryer quotes Isaykin:

“Dates are guesses.  Such contracts, when we’re talking hundreds of millions of euros, — this is years and years of negotiations.  It’s simply funny to expect we’ll conclude such a contract over several months.”

Of the complex and lengthy contracting process, VPK says don’t expect a detailed contract to be signed earlier than next year.  The political agreement on the acquisition was one thing, but now there’s routine pre-contract work which takes months, if not years, agreeing step-by-step on hundreds of points and compromises.

Recall early this year Isaykin was very reserved about the political agreement on Mistral, reminding the press it contained nothing about costs or timeframes.

RVSN’s Fourth Generation ASBU Being Introduced

The press this morning says a fourth generation automated command and control system for Russia’s land-based strategic missiles is being fielded.  It describes a more net-centric, skip-echelon capability with a central commander able to communicate directly with launchers in the field.

It’s not clear, however, how much in the fourth generation system is different from its immediate predecessor.

RIA Novosti writes . . .

MOSCOW, 27 Apr — RIA Novosti.  The fourth generation automated combat command and control system (ASBU) has started introduction into Russia’s Missile Troops of Strategic Designation (RVSN), official RVSN representative Vadim Koval told RIA Novosti on Wednesday.”

“‘In the RVSN and jointly in cooperation with industry, work continues on improving the system of combat troop command and control.  In particular, presently, development is complete and introduction of the fourth generation ASBU into troop echelons has begun,’ Colonel Koval said.”

“The new system supports automated exchange of employment plans and operational retargeting of missiles, along with the resolution of traditional missions of transmitting orders, gathering reports and monitoring the combat readiness of launchers.”

“‘And the transmission of combat command and control orders directly to launchers, without intermediate echelons, is supported, including under nuclear effects and radioelectronic suppression,’ Koval noted.”

“He noted that each of the system’s stations, which are made using a new domestic component base, is provided with triple reserve communications and data transmission systems and malfunction scanning which precisely identifies the individual element needing replacement.”

“Further improvement of the ASBU is connected, first and foremost, with improving the RF Armed Forces command and control system as a whole, and also with the command and control requirements of new generation nuclear missile weaponry.”

“From 2010, rearmament with the new missile system ‘Yars’ has been conducted in the RVSN.  Rearming of the Tatishchevo division with the silo-based ‘Topol-M’ missile system is also occurring.”

To RIA Novosti’s account, ITAR-TASS adds only that:

“The system’s paths for transmitting orders and gathering reports are established by land-line, radio, and satellite communications channels and possess the required survivability and jam-resistance.”

“Earlier orders issued by one of the central command posts came to launchers through army, division, regiment (battalion for mobile launchers) command posts.”

The new ASBU’s capabilities aren’t described much beyond what former RVSN Commander Solovtsov outlined in 2009.  See also RIA Novosti.

However, in late 2007, Solovtsov told Rossiyskoye voyennoye obozreniye (p. 21) that the RVSN was completing introduction of the third generation ASBU, and he described capabilities that sound much like what’s being advertised as fourth generation today.

So the issue may be, is this really something new, or the continuation of an earlier upgrade presented like major progress on an important modernization front?

Pavel Baev on Politics and the Military

Last week BFM.ru interviewed Pavel Baev of Peace Research Institute Oslo about Russia’s military reforms.  Baev’s view of the reality of ongoing reforms is captured in one word — catastrophic. 

Now Baev doesn’t get everything exactly.  Some military policy changes — like the one-year draft and a new, higher military pay system — were made some time ago, not necessarily for the 2012 presidential election. 

But he’s right about lots of other things.  Some decisions made in Defense Minister Serdyukov’s reforms haven’t meshed, or even been antithetical.  Decisions like higher pay have become, like it or not, part of the electoral picture, and the leadership has to follow through.

Baev believes the army might not be combat capable due to personnel cuts.  He allows for the possibility that Serdyukov might be sacrificed by his political masters.  The Kremlin and White House are using pay and apartments to keep serving officers politically quiescent.  But Baev thinks these aren’t enough; at some point, the army will insist on having its combat capability restored.  He hints later that the state and inclinations of the army were factors in the recent Arab revolutions that overturned long-time rulers.

The interviewer asks Baev to reconcile Prime Minister Putin’s Duma session last week in which he emphasized using the defense budget at home to create good, high technology jobs in Russia with President Medvedev’s [and Putin’s] statements about the failure of the state defense order:

“It seems to me that on the whole in the realm of military reform, and the Gosoboronzakaz in particular, there are very many concealed problems which Putin generally didn’t talk about.  The speech [Putin’s Duma speech], in large measure, on the whole was very unproblematic.  Somehow everything was more about achievements, future developments, very little about problems.  In the military arena, many problems have accumulated, and in the course of military reform not a few new ones were created.  The situation is very complicated, and attempts to correct the situation somehow largely lead to problems becoming even more acute, particularly problems with personnel.”

Baev went on to say that the Gosoboronzakaz and the problems of buying new military equipment have reached a critical point because of the aging of current weapons systems.  There is, he says, an undercover battle over what to buy and, especially, what should be bought abroad.  The situation around Mistral has become so complicated and political that it’s now more a “special operation” than an export contract.

Baev says the Russian Navy didn’t really want such ships, but went with the idea when it was foisted on them.  The real struggle and lobbying over Mistral concerns which shipyard in Russia will build units 3 and 4, according to Baev.  He suggests the whole deal might have been French President Sarkozy’s way of placing a bet on President Medvedev to be Russia’s future leader, and organizing the “political climate” in Europe toward this end.  But right now, of course, the Mistral deal looks very uncertain.

BFM.ru asked Baev for his interim assessment of the military reforms begun in late 2008:

“Purely catastrophic.  In every reform, there’s such a moment when the old thing is no longer working, and the new one isn’t working yet.  At this critical moment for any reform, we have a situation when nothing is working; where to move — either forward along the path of reforms or to try to work back, — is in large measure a political question.  Just in the area of Armed Forces personnel policy, an unknown number of things have been botched.  The initiatives advanced, — cutting the officer corps, contract service, sergeant training, cutting the conscription term — each of them has its own basis, but they’re absolutely mismatched.  That is, we now have a situation with military personnel when the army is in fact not combat capable.”

Asked about military pay raises planned for next year, Baev says:

“I think the main sense of this initiative is still to lift the officer corps’ very obvious dissatisfaction with all these reforms.  Great potential dissatisfaction has built up in the army, it is focused more or less on the minister, which, they most likely will sacrifice.  But this isn’t enough to lift this dissatisfaction, but the promised money plus the long ago promised apartments, and they are still gradually giving them out, — this is somewhat capable of  damping down this dissatisfaction.  And the fact that they are promising lieutenants, — for young officers it sounds completely improbable, and, most likely, they are prepared to wait for such money.”

“It’s perfectly obvious that very many political initiatives are aimed at this critical electoral sector — to lift the tension now, to make so that the army sits quietly in its barracks, not speaking out, waiting for its money and apartments, — and everything.  These are purely short-term things, which can help get through a complex electoral period.  It seems no one particularly looks after this [military] sector, inasmuch as, generally, for officers money is money, but they are people of service.  If even in addition they pay the money, service doesn’t go because they aren’t succeeding in reforming the Armed Forces so that they become combat capable, then this is a more serious source of dissatisfaction than simply a lack of money.”

“. . . the Armed Forces are the only area where genuinely serious and deep reforms are going on.  But with reforms, problems always take on a new character, change.  Here some kind of forward dynamic is occurring, it isn’t going in circles.  But the lack of resolution of these problems in the absence of political will is very evident, and all political will is going now to electoral projects which aren’t clear how they will be implemented because it’s not clear to anyone who in the end will be Supreme CINC, that is also a question of no small importance for the Armed Forces.”

Baev sees a lesson for Russia and the Russian Army in the Arab revolutions:

“But it’s clear that several conclusion flow from the Arab revolutions, and not just in relation to missile systems, but in the fact that the army is a serious political force.  This is more the conclusion of events not in Libya, but of the situation in Egypt.  And attempts somehow to neutralize the politicization of the army grow more from here [Egypt], than from Libya, where the army was in a pitiful condition, from here [Libya] also, in large measure, there is a civil war.  If there were a powerful army there, such a thing [civil war] wouldn’t have occurred.”

He finishes by talking about obsession with ultra-modern weapons when existing systems are perfect for today’s armed warfare.  His discussion leads to an open question about the fit between Russia’s military doctrine and its future armament plans:

“Therefore, the conversation about how we realistically need to outfit the Russian Armed Forces depends largely on whom we intend to fight, where we intend to employ these Armed Forces, against what kind of potential enemies, — answers to all these questions don’t exist, the doctrine doesn’t provide these answers.  It’s essential to replace weapons systems which have already outlived their time, but whether it’s necessary to replace them with the most super modern systems, — this is still a question.”

Could Serdyukov Go?

Svpressa.ru asked yesterday if it’s possible Defense Minister Anatoliy Serdyukov might be dismissed in the runup to the presidential election.

It asked political analyst Aleksey Makarkin if any ministers might be dismissed to appease angry voters.  Svpressa noted the Kremlin has something of a tradition of firing some high-ranking officials to garner the electorate’s good will.  The media outlet asked him which current ministers might be sacrificed.

Makarkin answered:

“Society is pretty calmly inclined toward the current ministers.  But the people and the elite have different irritants.  If, let’s say, in the elite, great attention is given the role of Deputy Prime Minister Igor Sechin, then the populace is poorly informed about what he’s doing.  It happens that there’s what they write in the business press, and there’s what they show on television.  And the public, on the whole, watches television.”

“I think if ministerial dismissals happen, they will be connected not with an allegeric reaction among the people.  There are ministers that have complicated relations with the bureaucratic structures they direct.  These relations have formed in the course not of decades, but of centuries.  Now problems are notable in two such bureaucracies.”

“The first is the Defense Ministry which from the very beginning was very critical of Anatoliy Serdyukov — a strictly civilian person without a general’s rank.  The second is the Ministry of Health and Social Development.  It’s true the situation there is somewhat different.  It wasn’t initially negative for Tatyana Golikova.  But she isn’t a doctor, and she’s running up against a sufficiently cohesive medical community.”

“The difference [between Serdyukov’s and Golikova’s situations] is that Serdyukov has military men as his subordinates.  They aren’t inclined toward opposition demonstrations, and military retirees don’t have real influence on army processes.  There was the situation when Serdyukov had a conflict with the VDV Academy in Ryazan.  But General-Lieutenant Vladimir Shamanov, a well-known army figure, thought it best not to exacerbate the affair — the brakes were quickly put on the conflict.”

“Of course, internal dissatisfaction with Serdyukov is strong in the military.  Whereas at first this was dissatisfaction with the minister’s persona itself, the details of his biography (Serdyukov was once in the furniture business), but later with his activity in seriously reforming the army (that is the work to which they assigned Serdyukov).”

“Yes, it’s possible to recall the army reform under Aleksandr II — one of the greatest reforms of that time, together with freeing the serfs.  Then Milyutin’s military reform was also met very critically by a significant part of the military corporation.  They accused him of being a professor who didn’t have sufficient military experience.  And his accusers were famous combat generals . . .”

“Serdyukov’s situation is more complex, because he’s an outsider.  Naturally, the reforms he’s conducting — cutting the army as a whole, cutting generals, restructuring the military district system, taking the shoulderboards off some representatives of the military corporation, whose duties civilians can fulfill — are causing serious disapproval.”

It’s interesting to hear a purely political perspective on where Serdyukov and the Defense Ministry stand.  But it seems unlikely the Defense Minister would be cut loose when this would be a more public admission of failure than the recent reversal of several of his policies.  Serdyukov is more likely to be moved aside under cover of an ostensible elevation.

Makarkin’s right when he points out that army problems almost exclusively concern and affect the military caste.  They are routinely low on the list of worries of average Russians.   

But Makarkin shouldn’t dismiss the significance of unhappiness among military veterans and retirees.  True, they don’t necessarily have influence.  Their attitudes toward defense policymaking roughly mirror the moods of active duty military men who can’t attend political demonstrations or speak out in public.  Most Moscow commentators, like Makarkin, have probably gotten used to not pausing long to ponder what Russian military men think about politics.

Russia’s Fading Army Fights Losing Battle to Reform Itself

A very good article by the Wall Street Journal’s Richard Boudreaux . . . though missing a few of the most up-to-date pieces of the story, his report captures important aspects of the Russian contract service experiment that even so-called specialists overlook.

“VOLGOGRAD, Russia—Sergei Fetisov, a 23-year-old welder, signed on for one of the most ambitious projects in Vladimir Putin’s Russia: rebuilding the remains of the once-mighty Soviet Red Army.”

“A cornerstone of that effort was the creation of special combat-ready units staffed entirely by professional soldiers, not conscripts.  Mr. Fetisov volunteered to be one of them.  He enlisted for a renewable three-year stint, enticed by higher pay and the chance to learn new skills.”

“One of his first tasks, he recalls, was toiling past midnight shoveling snow and ice from a football-field-size parade ground.  The work that followed was menial, humiliating and of little practical use, he says.  Combat training consisted of two firing exercises a year, he says, and a chunk of his paycheck was routinely withheld by corrupt officers.”

“‘When I realized that being a professional soldier was just the same as serving as a conscript, I wanted to tear up my contract and get out of there,’ he says.  He quit when his commitment ended in July, he says, ‘but we had guys who simply ran away.’”

“With volunteers like Mr. Fetisov leaving in droves, the Defense Ministry has abandoned the initiative altogether.  The program’s failure shows the limits of Mr. Putin’s grand plan to transform the army from a cumbersome machine designed for European land war into a lithe force capable of fighting regional wars and terrorism.”

“Russia’s struggle to rebuild its armed forces comes as the world’s military balance is in flux.”

“Two decades after the Cold War ended, China is engaged in a military buildup that has many of its neighbors, including Russia, scrambling to bolster their defenses.  The U.S., still the world’s dominant military power, is trying to rein in defense spending—while simultaneously keeping a wary eye on China, projecting power in the volatile Middle East and dealing with the North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s persistent concerns about Moscow.”

“Currently, Russia is at odds with NATO’s air assault in Libya. Moscow has stayed out of the military conflict, despite its stakes in weapons deals and oil-exploration ventures with Col. Moammar Gadhafi’s regime.  But Mr. Putin said last month that the bombing in Libya is part of a ‘steady trend’ of U.S. military intervention around the world and ‘a timely indicator that our efforts to strengthen [Russia’s] defense are justified.’”

“In February, Russia outlined a $650 billion plan to acquire new warplanes, ships, missiles and other arms over the next decade, the Kremlin’s biggest spending spree since the Cold War.”

“Mr. Fetisov’s account of poor morale in the army’s ranks, however, raises questions about Russia’s long-term ability to assert power abroad.”

“The Defense Ministry declined to comment on Mr. Fetisov’s complaints, but has acknowledged that widespread discontent among volunteers undermined its enlistment campaign.  Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov has said that the program had been poorly managed and would cost too much to fix.”

“‘We cannot afford to create a fully professional army,’ he said in October.  ‘If we save funds elsewhere, we will certainly go back to this idea, but well prepared.’”

“The setback has the Kremlin in a bind.  Counting on volunteers to make up nearly half of all soldiers, Mr. Putin had bowed to public sentiment and shortened the draft from two years to one.  Now, the dearth of volunteers and a drop in Russia’s draft-age population have prompted the Defense Ministry to cancel some deferments and step up conscription of men 18 and older, risking discontent over a twice-yearly ritual that began anew on April 1 and is widely evaded.”

“Russia relies mainly on its nuclear arsenal to project power and protect its territory.  Tensions with the West have eased, but Mr. Putin sought a revival of conventional forces, which had been weakened by budget cuts, to put muscle behind his push for influence in former Soviet republics that are now independent.”

“The army’s decline became evident in the mid-1990s with its battering by separatist rebels in Chechnya.  The land, air and naval forces Mr. Putin inherited when he became president in 2000 were a pale shadow of the Red Army, five million strong at the time of the Soviet Union’s breakup in 1991.  They stand at one-fifth that size today.”

“Under the enlistment program, launched in 2004, officers were to train volunteers as career specialists and make the new combat-ready units fully operational by 2010.  The shift to professional soldiers was supposed to better enable the army to operate the high-tech weaponry Russia plans to acquire.”

“The U.S. abolished the draft in 1973, attracting volunteers through advertising, pay increases, educational benefits and re-enlistment bonuses.  By the time of the Persian Gulf War of 1991, the move was widely viewed as a success.”

“Russia’s campaign to attract volunteers, by contrast, was not as well funded or advertised.  By 2008, the army said it had signed up 99,000 volunteers for the new units, about 40,000 short of the goal.”

“Then the number began a sharp decline as most of them chose not to re-enlist or went AWOL.  That trend was evident during Russia’s clumsy but ultimately successful invasion that year of neighboring Georgia.  Conscripts were sent to fight and die there, despite Mr. Putin’s promise that only professionals would serve in hot spots.”

“Despite the shortage of volunteers, Mr. Serdyukov, the defense minister, announced at the end of 2009 that Russia’s ground forces had been reorganized into 85 brigades of ‘permanent combat readiness,’ doing away with bulkier divisions and making the army more mobile.  Only later did officials acknowledge that the brigades were made up mostly of one-year conscripts, men with few combat skills.”

“The enlistment drive’s failure puts constraints on Russia’s reach.  When ethnic rioting in June threatened to tear Kyrgyzstan apart, its president appealed for Russian peacekeepers, the kind of force Moscow once deployed routinely as a political tool.  This time the Kremlin demurred—in part, defense analysts say, because the army couldn’t spare a full brigade of professional soldiers.”

“Democratic reformers have lobbied for years to end the draft, arguing that a smaller, professionalized force could better defend the nation’s interests.  Opinion polls show majority support for the idea, and Mr. Putin endorsed it early in his presidency.”

“But tradition-bound generals favored keeping a large conscript army. Mr. Putin opted in 2003 for a compromise:  The Defense Ministry would continue to draft, but also would start recruiting for the combat units.  The government budgeted $3.3 billion for higher pay and better housing for volunteers.”

“By the time Mr. Fetisov received a draft notice four years later, the plan was faltering.  Recruiting stations, unaccustomed to any task other than rounding up draft-age men, were given no blueprint for luring volunteers.”

“The army was a tough sell, too.  Salaries for contract soldiers averaged $270 per month at the end of 2007, about half the average salary for civilians.  Housing construction at bases fell behind schedule.  Residential buildings paid for by the military were turned over without running water, plumbing or electrical wiring, government auditors reported.”

“Mr. Fetisov, who has dyed-blond hair and a passion for video games, had no interest in leaving his $370-a-month welding job.  He lived with his mother and two brothers in Volgograd, a ‘hero city’ once named Stalingrad and famed for resisting the Nazis in World War II, but he wasn’t attracted to military life.”

“Once he was drafted, however, an army contract seemed to offer advantages.  Draftees at the time served 18 months, earning next to nothing.  But they had the option to go professional six months after induction.  Mr. Fetisov, who says he was offered $400 a month, thought a contract would raise his status in the army and enable him to master new skills.”

“He reported to the 99th Artillery Regiment’s base near Nizhny Novgorod in November 2007.”

“His disillusionment began with midnight snow-shoveling duty.  ‘We worked in cleaning, construction, regular things, not serving as soldiers,’ he says.  ‘We didn’t do anything that would help us in a combat situation.’”

“Mr. Fetisov and others who served in recent years say the army’s search for contract servicemen centered exclusively on draftees already under its control.”

“The 99th Artillery, for example, had 600 volunteers on three-year contracts, including Mr. Fetisov, and 300 draftees.  Officers were under instruction to recruit as many new volunteers as possible.”

“Mr. Fetisov says they resorted to an unusual recruiting technique:  Nearly every night at 11 that first winter, conscripts were mustered on the parade ground and made to stand in formation for hours, facing superiors who sometimes were drunk.”

“‘Finally an officer would say, ‘Those willing to sign contracts, you’re dismissed.  The rest of you, stay at attention,’‘ Mr. Fetisov recalls.  ‘A personnel officer would tell stories about the great treatment contract soldiers get.’”

“‘They had to stand there in the cold until at least two or three men agreed to sign,’ Mr. Fetisov says.  ‘This went on for weeks, but they never got 100%’ of the regiment on contract.”

“Volunteers under contract lived three to a room in new barracks with televisions and DVD players.  Conscripts slept in bunk beds, 20 to a room.”

“Beyond that, the distinction seemed to blur.  Volunteers and conscripts alike were treated harshly, Mr. Fetisov says.  Sometimes a soldier who broke disciplinary rules was ordered to dig a deep pit and stay inside for days, he says.”

“His accounts were corroborated by two other contract soldiers, Artyom Pugach and Denis Pushkin, who served at the base and were interviewed separately.”

“The three soldiers say they experienced arbitrary deductions from their paychecks of $20 to $135 a month for what they say an officer described as ‘needs of the regiment.’  Some contract soldiers had to forfeit their final month’s pay in exchange for discharge papers, says Mr. Pushkin.”

“A 2008 study by Citizen and Army, a Russian human-rights group, said such deductions were widespread, amounting to large-scale misappropriation.  Mr. Fetisov says his commander had leeway with payroll money because his contract, like many others, didn’t state the salary he was promised.  He says the commander threatened to punish anyone who challenged the cuts.”

“‘We were told there were some financial difficulties with the military reform,’ he says.  ‘But we could see that the commanders got new cars.…We saw what they were driving, and it was clear what was being spent on what.’”

“Crime and coercion plagued other volunteer units.  Police in Russia’s Far East broke up gangs that extorted cash from soldiers on paydays at three bases.”

“In Kaliningrad, a military prosecutor’s inquiry led to the annulment in 2006 of 83 contracts signed under pressure, according to that city’s chapter of the Soldiers’ Mothers Committee, an advocacy group.  Elsewhere, commanders of soldiers who went AWOL kept them on the roster, pocketing their salaries, says Alexander Golts, a military specialist and deputy editor of Yezhedevny Zhurnal, an online Russian publication.”

“In 2009, Mr. Fetisov was among 160 soldiers sent to form the all-volunteer artillery battalion of the new 6th Specialized Tank Brigade.  There, he says, he injured his hand badly while cleaning the artillery barrel of a tank, and army doctors neglected it.  When his three-year contract came up for renewal, Mr. Fetisov bailed out.  At the time, he says, only 10 volunteers remained of the 160.  The rest had been replaced by draftees.”

“‘The army ran out of fools,’ his mother, Tatyana Fetisova, said recently as she listened to her son tell his story.”

“And so it went at bases across Russia.  The exodus left a handful of all-volunteer units, staffed by a few thousand contract soldiers, in an army made up overwhelmingly of conscripts, say defense officials and independent observers.”

“‘It’s no secret how the contract service was implemented,’ Mr. Serdyukov, the defense minister, told news magazine Odnako.  ‘Active duty soldiers were induced to sign contracts by all means.  Their [low] monthly salary and standard barracks life made them quit the armed forces as early as possible.  There was no systematic preparation of military specialists.’”

“Mr. Serdyukov, a former business executive close to Mr. Putin, was appointed during the enlistment effort and felt cheated by officers who resisted or mismanaged it, says Vitaly Shlykov, a retired colonel who advises him.  The minister, he says, concluded that Russia must change the culture of its officer corps before trying to switch to a professional army.”

“Backed by Mr. Putin and the current president, Dmitry Medvedev, Mr. Serdyukov is slashing the number of officers and changing the way new ones are educated.  He is training Russia’s first corps of career sergeants since the czarist era, starting with a class of 300.”

“But those leaders will take a generation to develop, Mr. Shlykov says, and meanwhile ‘Russia will have a conscription army for years to come.’”

“That is bad news for Russia, says Mr. Fetisov, the former enlistee, but at least those who serve will do so with fewer illusions.”

“‘Now everybody knows you just put up with a year of hell,’ he says, ‘and then you’re free.’”

More Mistral Negotiations

Mistral in Piter (photo: RIA Novosti / Aleksey Danichev)

Might as well start the week with Mistral news.  An informed RIA Novosti source in the OPK suggests this week could be decisive for negotiations on the sale of Mistral to Russia.  But can anything really be decisive in a drawn-out process like this?

The news agency’s interlocutor, much like Anatoliy Antonov, says:

“The situation is not very simple, the negotiating process is going with difficulty.”

“The stumbling block remains the ship’s outfitting, disagreement concerns two NATO standard command and control systems — combat information-command system Senit 9 and battle group (fleet) command and control system SIC-21.”

“The French agreed to transfer Senit 9 to Russia without a production license, they don’t want to transfer SIC-21 with the ship at all.”

RIA Novosti reminds that Russia has insisted on Mistral’s transfer with all  its systems and equipment.

Ruslan Pukhov bravely tells RIA Novosti, when it comes to amphibious command ships, it’s a buyer’s market, so Russia will find another country to sell it if France declines.  That’s at least half true, but it’s also true that France is something of a special case.  The Dutch, Spanish, or South Koreans might not be willing to give everything Moscow wants either.