Korotchenko’s Spin on Military Reform

Igor Korotchenko

Yesterday Radio Svoboda’s Andrey Shariy interviewed Igor Korotchenko about the course of military reform against the backdrop of two huge ammo depot explosions, a major corruption scandal involving the chief of Russian military medicine, and Major Matveyev’s video address alleging MVD VV troops are being fed dog food.

First, Korotchenko gives his take on the backdrop:

“First and foremost, we have to sort out the facts you mentioned.  First on the explosions.  This is really a quite large-scale problem.  Unfortunately, we are encountering the fact that arsenal fires and explosions repeat again and again.  The munition storage and dismantlement system in the RF doesn’t withstand criticism.  Fundamental decisions are essential.”

“Now – about the arrest of the Chief of the Main Military-Medical Directorate.  I propose this fact shows again that they are fighting corruption in the Armed Forces.  In today’s Defense Ministry, these issues are resolved on a fundamentally different level than before:  there are no untouchables.  Stars and broad stripes notwithstanding, any official in the Defense Ministry system, for whom there is concrete evidence indicating corruptibility, is being held to account.  Of course, the ministry is conducting this work jointly with the FSB’s military counterintelligence department.”

“Finally, as concerns feeding soldiers dog food.  This fact doesn’t have a connection to the Defense Ministry since we’re talking about the MVD’s internal troops units.  This is Rashid Nurgaliyev’s jurisdiction.”

Then, specifically regarding progress on military reform, Korotchenko points to the four unified strategic commands (OSKs).  They will have operational control over forces in wartime, and this conforms to modern military principles, including in the West.

The task of building a modern army and C2 system, he says, is being fulfilled.  He repeats the usual words on how fully manned and equipped brigades have replaced the Soviet mobilization army, and a focus on low intensity, irregular warfare has replaced preparations for “mythical wars with NATO.”

But, he admits, the low level of modern arms and equipment is an obstacle.  Hence, Korotchenko continues, the new GPV is supposed to bring the amount of new weaponry in Russia’s forces close to 70 percent over the next ten years.  And he claims today’s soldiers have more rights and no longer function like a slave labor force.

He sums his view up this way:

“Of course, there are many problems with military reform, but the trend is important.  Movement toward qualitatively changing the Russian Army is noticeable.”

Shariy asks Korotchenko if we can say that military reform is going successfully: 

“We can say that in a number of areas there are substantial results.  But reform is going in a complicated way.”

And how does he square the successes he sees with unpleasant news that attracts society’s attention:

“There are successes, and there are problems.  There’s a lot negative.  We need to overcome it.  The army isn’t located in a sterile environment.  If there’s corruption in the country which has a systemic, large-scale character, of course, all this also comes into the Armed Forces.  If there’s crime in the streets, then young men coming to the barracks bring a certain mentality – from here comes nonregulation relations, fighting, sometimes more serious military crimes.”

Korotchenko rejects suggestions that the army’s on the verge of collapse, and military reform is a failure:

“. . . the Armed Forces are changing, it’s important to see this.”

Korotchenko’s a fairly articulate and dogged proponent of Defense Minister Serdyukov’s reforms.  But he typically doesn’t marshal many facts or examples to support his views.  He usually just relies on his own assertions.  But granted, this was a short interview.

A couple things are disturbing though. 

Korotchenko’s argument that ferreting out high-level corruption is a good thing is a tad specious.  It might be a positive trend if there were any evidence that investigators and prosecutors are actually reducing or deterring some military crime.  But thus far, there aren’t any signs of this.

His argument that an army can’t be better than the society from which it draws has been disproven in advance by the armed forces of many countries.  Former Defense Minister Sergey Ivanov is the past master of blaming the army’s ills on prevailing social conditions.  But setting the bar so low inevitably devolves into a justification for a state of affairs in the military that never improves.  But Korotchenko himself says it is changing for the better.  So which is it really?

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