Some Cracks in Air Forces’ Stonewall (Part II)

Returning to the latest on Igor Sulim . . . in a late July Nezavisimoye voyennoye obozreniye article, Oleg Vladykin summarized the GVP’s various recent press releases about rising crime in the Armed Forces.  He provided insight into how senior officers view Sulim and premium pay extortion at Lipetsk.

A colonel, a deputy formation commander speaking anonymously told Vladykin:

“Almost the entire service of many senior officers came to twenty years in which they constantly humiliated, deprived the army whenever possible, and generally kept it in a miserable state.  But at the same time they used it regularly.  Senior officers carried all this gloom on their shoulders.  And here now, as if in gratitude, they promise to raise their pay three times!  Colonels will receive the same as junior managers in some public company, whose peaceful labor the army successfully defended in spite of everything.  Many have only a year or two left to serve, then dismissal in connection with reaching the age limit.  And what then?  And then also an increased, but still laughable pension.  It will be two times less than a lieutenant’s pay.  Therefore, senior comrades confidently tell younger officers:  ‘Boys, you still have everything ahead of you.  Somehow, you’ll manage to make a more or less decent living.  We here won’t…’  You know the majority understand this.  And those like Senior Lieutenant Sulim from the Lipetsk Center are the exceptions.  I’m not judging them, no, but I’m sure that after 1 January the prosecutors won’t easily locate those who’ll agree to talk about their contributions to their senior colleagues.”

Vladykin says he can’t agree with this argument, but it’s impossible not to note some logic in it.  He concludes:

“The psychology of men in shoulderboards has changed very powerfully in the course of recent Armed Forces transformations.”

In his Moskovskiy komsomolets blog Friday, Sulim highlighted an article posted on Lipetsk’s Gorod48.ru.  The article reviewed the shady, semi-criminal past of Hero of the Russian Federation, General-Major Aleksandr Kharchevskiy.

Then Sulim asks (rhetorically) how Kharchevskiy can be silent, and how could he not know about the criminal activities of his deputy, of his cousin, or of his subordinates who extorted money from their subordinates.  He sums it up:

“It’s shameful and disgusting that in the space of twenty years they’ve turned an elite flying unit into an elite business for stuffing pockets, hiding all this under a mask of love for the Motherland and swearing on officer’s honor.”

Perhaps there’s some kind of behind-the-scenes three-way struggle between the Defense Ministry, Air Forces, and military prosecutors over premium pay extortion.  Or maybe it’s a negotiation to agree on how, and how far, to pursue the Lipetsk case and ones like it.

But the Defense Ministry seems paralyzed.  The unit checks ordered by Serdyukov rather improbably failed to turn up similar crimes in services or branches besides the Air Forces.  As the colonel quoted above says, the Defense Ministry may believe the scandal will die down after the new, higher military pay system goes into effect.

The cracks in the Air Forces’ stonewall on the Sulim case are only tiny fissures.  Those immediately involved in extorting money and pressuring officers at Lipetsk are finally in trouble with the law, but no one above that immediate level.  As an institution, the VVS appears unworried for now.

The prosecutors apparently can’t even name the officers they “hold accountable” in the VVS Glavkomat.  This isn’t to belittle Sergey Fridinskiy, his organization, and their efforts.  He and his prosecutors sometimes seem to be the only people looking honestly at the state of the Russian military.  There are clearly only so many battles they can fight. 

And preoccupied as they are with their own positions, skirmishes, and the fast-approaching election season, Russia’s political and government leaders aren’t likely to devote more time or attention to untangling what’s happened at Lipetsk.

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