Monthly Archives: November 2013

Wind Blows Hard Across Iturup

Recently saw a compelling piece in Smartnews.ru.

Had not heard of the site, but its text and photos vividly convey the plight of the inhabitants of Russia’s unneeded military towns.

Military Settlement Gornyy on Iturup (photo: ovsiasha.livejournal.com)

Military Settlement Gornyy on Iturup (photo: ovsiasha.livejournal.com)

Five hundred residents of Gornyy, a military settlement on Iturup in the Kuril chain, have appealed for help to resettle them or fix their broken down homes.  Iturup is the northernmost of the four southern Kuril islands which Japan  claims as its Northern Territories.

Gornyy on Iturup Island

Gornyy on Iturup Island

Smartnews writes that the Ministry of Defense still controls Gornyy, but only in a formal sense.  In reality, it has “thrown away” these former colleagues.

Local authorities want to help, but don’t have a legal right.  They can’t spend money on territory still belonging to the MOD.  They aren’t allowed to replace drafty old windows in buildings under a regional initiative called “Warm Windows.”  The Sakhalin Oblast Duma has appealed to Defense Minister Sergey Shoygu on Gornyy’s behalf.

Forces deployed here, units of the 18th Machine Gun-Artillery Division, were withdrawn from the area, but residents remained with no one to maintain their apartment buildings.

A Building in Gornyy (photo:  ovsiasha.livejournal.com)

A Building in Gornyy (photo: ovsiasha.livejournal.com)

Those who could left.  Those not expecting an apartment elsewhere from the MOD, or with nowhere to go otherwise, mostly military pensioners and their families, stayed behind.  Those with jobs work mainly at nearby Burevestnik airfield, built when the Japanese still controlled Iturup.  They will probably become unemployed when a new airport opens on the Sea of Okhotsk side of the island in the not-too-distant future.

One retiree says the once thriving settlement is now like a cemetery.  Some buildings are completely empty.  Their broken windows look like eyes.  The wind blows through neighboring apartments.  He continues:

“. . . we don’t have street cleaning or trash collection.  But mainly, there’s no future.  It’s hard on the morale, it’s simply dying — the feeling that you served at the very edge of the country, protected it, and now no one needs you.”

Officials don’t even come to Gornyy because you can’t pass through it.  It’s the most remote populated place on Iturup.  It’s 50 km to the rayon center (Kurilsk) and the MOD owns the road and isn’t in a hurry to maintain it.

An oblast Duma deputy says:

“It’s not easy living there for the military, I have complaints from several:  the boys have left, there is no one to register them [as legal residents in internal passports], no one can get medical insurance, or even vote in elections.  So people live, although there is some infrastructure there — a school, kindergarten, stores, but they don’t want to live there.”

Local authorities do what they can, arranging traveling medical care for people in Gornyy.

But ultimately, Smartnews writes, neither Gornyy nor Sakhalin can decide anything, the MOD needs to make a final determination on its property and clarify the fate of those living in the settlement.

Some former military in Gornyy, however, still hope the MOD will deploy an S-400 unit near their settlement and revitalize it.

Gornyy is an extreme case, but still similar to that of thousands of other military towns as well as many neglected and forgotten civilian settlements.

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Long Road from Witness to Accused

Serdyukov in a Contemplative Moment

Serdyukov in a Contemplative Moment

It’s time to update the legal situation of former Defense Minister, military reformer, and “witness” to enormous corruption right under his nose, Anatoliy Serdyukov.

On these pages, it’s been said there’s no way Serdyukov can escape the prosecutors and jail.  That assessment may have been hasty. 

It reflects a vain hope that even Russia, with it’s unbelievable corruption and light regard for the rule of law, will indict and convict someone too smart and too financially savvy not to know what his “women’s battalion” was doing with MOD property and shares in the quasi-military companies of Oboronservis.

Someone who clearly knew how various schemes involving his brother-in-law and military property would look if unearthed.

In Vladimir Putin’s Russia, politics and clan membership trumps law and everything else.  Serdyukov betrayed one of his benefactors by jilting his wife, Viktor Zubkov’s daughter, but remains free.  It must be Putin’s political calculation that keeps him out of prison.

Still, Serdyukov hasn’t been a cooperative witness; he’s practically been a suspect if we take the tone of what GVSU SKR investigators have told the media.

Last week Kommersant reviewed the facts regarding Serdyukov in an article on the GVSU SKR’s decision to prolong its investigation surrounding Zhitnoye until January 17.

The Oboronservis corruption investigations swirl around Serdyukov, but haven’t been directly connected to him.  They will continue until March.

The Zhitnoye case bears the most direct involvement by Serdyukov, according to Kommersant.  The paper believes it’s still fully possible he could turn from witness to accused in this case.

Zhitnoye in Winter

Zhitnoye in Winter

The affair might have ended in September when Serdyukov’s brother-in-law Valeriy Puzikov and one of his partners returned this property worth 150 million rubles to two “autonomous departments” of the MOD.  The MOD would have thus suffered no injury.  But investigators in the case argued Zhitnoye didn’t go directly back to the MOD whose budget paid for improvements at the Volga resort.  Road and bridge construction and landscaping at Zhitnoye cost the MOD 15.5 million rubles.

Serdyukov's Brother-in-Law Valeriy Puzikov

Serdyukov’s Brother-in-Law Valeriy Puzikov

Puzikov fled Russia in February, so we may never hear what he would say if questioned.

GVSU investigators say Serdyukov’s former deputies and his other underlings say he personally supervised work on Zhitnoye, but the GVSU’s case is still directed against “unidentified MOD officials.”  Serdyukov signed paperwork about Zhitnoye, and visited 17 times, but doesn’t recall other circumstances about the property, so he remains a witness.

On Serdyukov’s personal involvement, Kommersant writes:

“That fact is obvious because the beneficiary of the former official’s [Serdyukov’s] malfeasance was his close relative Valeriy Puzikov.”

“So it’s early to say that Anatoliy Serdyukov is no longer of interest in the military investigation. Moreover, sources close to the investigation led us to believe that evidence gathered on the case could completely influence a change in the ex-minister’s procedural status.  However, a political decision is required for this.”

For his part, Serdyukov’s lawyer says the MOD suffered no damages, and he calls the entire investigation a waste of time and resources.

The other two “Serdyukov dacha” cases weren’t mentioned in this latest round of news.

However, Rossiyskaya gazeta wrote last week about a St. Petersburg property that reportedly long interested Serdyukov — the gardener’s house on the grounds of the Tauride Palace.  Apparently, unknown persons acquired it for the MOD in 2008, then it was sold by Yevgeniya Vasilyeva’s people to a shadowy firm formed just months earlier for 384 million rubles.  There is suspicion the buyer was under Puzikov’s control.

Gardener's House on Grounds of Tauride Palace (photo: Kommersant / Sergey Semenov)

Gardener’s House on Grounds of Tauride Palace (photo: Kommersant / Sergey Semenov)

Izvestiya reported that “power” ministry representatives (i.e. primarily of course the SKR) were called to the PA and ordered to stop broadcasting PR about investigations like those involving Serdyukov and Oboronservis, “which don’t have a chance of being cracked.”

The paper’s source in the PA said unwinding these scandals creates a “negative image” of the authorities in the public’s mind.  This official continued:

“While high-profile corruption cases will not be brought to court, they shouldn’t be so zealously publicized in the media.  No one has yet been punished, investigative actions go on, and the common man is already getting an impression about the impunity of criminals and powerlessness of the law enforcement organs.”

This conversation was conducted, first and foremost (but not exclusively), about Oboronservis, although not Serdyukov by name.

Another PA source said siloviki shouldn’t “air” criminal cases featuring highly-placed officials and serious damage to the nation’s budget.

Commenting on the Oboronservis scandals, MGU criminal law professor Vladimir Kommissarov describes not just criminal conspiracies but an entire “organized community” of corruption:

“There are surely forces not interested in the development of this criminal case — any criminal case of such a scale can attract other criminal cases.  It’s possible for one person to steal a million, but when we talk about dozens and hundreds of millions, then obviously not simply an organized group is at work, but an organized community.”

Izvestiya concludes that the state’s anti-corruption policy [such as it is] is based on the inevitability of punishment for offenders.  And this is what law enforcement is demanding from the PA.  Correspondingly, it should be possible to expect that all big corruption cases could end with real terms for all suspects.

But Serdyukov remains at most a suspect.  Perhaps investigators are starting to close in on him.  He didn’t really talk to them until March when confronted with property documents he had signed.

It still appears Serdyukov’s fate is controlled at the highest level.  Putin apparently told SKR chief Aleksandr Bastrykin early on that he didn’t want to send the former Defense Minister to jail.  But investigators are pressing forward.  If they change Serdyukov’s status from witness to accused, then perhaps Putin isn’t the complete master of this game.

New Deputy Defense Minister

General-Colonel Pavel Popov

General-Colonel Pavel Popov

On 7 November, President Vladimir Putin appointed General-Colonel Pavel Anatolyevich Popov to be a Deputy Minister of Defense.  Popov had been an assistant to Defense Minister Sergey Shoygu.

Popov’s the latest in a series of Ministry of Emergency Situations (MChS) generals to come to the Defense Ministry.  They all served alongside Shoygu for many years.

Popov’s page is up on Mil.ru.  But his bio is better on the MChS site.  The 56-year-old Popov was commissioned an army lieutenant in 1978.  He served in the GSFG and the Far East MD before switching to Civil Defense in 1990.  He headed a couple MChS regional centers as well as the Civil Defense Academy before becoming a deputy to Shoygu at MChS in 2008.

Popov specialized in C2 and developed the crisis command and control center at MChS, according to Izvestiya.  He’ll replace departed Dmitriy Chushkin, who had responsibility for C2 issues.

As Shoygu’s assistant, Popov was already responsible for standing up the new National Command and Control Center for State Defense (NTsUOG).

Overall, Shoygu now has two first deputies and eight deputies.

New SSBNs Won’t Serve as Multipurpose Submarines

Failed Bulava Launch on 6 September (photo: Northern Fleet Press Service)

Failed Bulava Launch on 6 September (photo: Northern Fleet Press Service)

The Russian Navy doesn’t intend to use its two newest Borey-class nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarines (SSBNs) without their Bulava missiles in a multipurpose role.  Not even temporarily.  At least according to one source.

On 1 November, a Navy Main Staff source told ITAR-TASS that operating the new SSBNs without 16 Bulava (SS-NX-30) submarine-launched ballistic missiles would be analogous to employing Tu-160 strategic bombers like fighter aircraft.

Earlier, however, RIA Novosti reported the Navy might accept the two Borey SSBNs for “experimental” use without Bulava missiles, citing a highly-placed General Staff source.

A submarine in such a status would not technically be in the order-of-battle.  Russia’s first Lada-class (proyekt 677) diesel submarine Sankt-Peterburg currently operates “experimentally” in the Northern Fleet.

The General Staff source said, without their primary armament, Borey hull 2 Aleksandr Nevskiy and hull 3 Vladimir Monomakh could serve temporarily as multipurpose submarines. Their crews could fulfill non-strategic combat training missions until problems with Bulava are resolved.

Both new SSBNs were ready for fleet acceptance before the end of 2013.  Vladimir Monomakh just completed sea trials in early October.

On 6 September, Defense Minister Shoygu stopped the acceptance process for both submarines after an unsuccessful Bulava test launch from Aleksandr Nevskiy. Before that failure, the missile had five consecutive successful launches in 2010-2011.

The Navy accepted the first Borey-class submarine, Yuriy Dolgorukiy, in early 2013.

Air Forces Half Out-of-Order

"OAK-Service" Initial Corporate Structure (photo: Kommersant)

“OAK-Servis” Initial Corporate Structure (photo: Kommersant)

Kommersant’s Ivan Safronov and Yelena Kiseleva wrote Monday (28 October) on the status of devolving Oboronservis’ Aviaremont into a subsidiary of the United Aircraft Corporation (OAK).  In the process, they indicated less than half of Russia’s combat airplanes are serviceable.

Aviaremont enterprises will become OAK-Servis subholdings.  The factories will repair aircraft for the Defense Ministry, and for other power ministries and agencies.  OAK and the MOD already have an 84-billion-ruble contract for repairs in place.  Meanwhile, Aviaremont owes the MOD 115 billion, which OAK has promised to make good.

OAK-Servis is supposed to provide life-cycle support for MOD (mainly VVS) airplanes.  And it will “correct an unfavorable situation in the condition of the current inventory of the Air Forces, which still aren’t guaranteeing the necessary level of technical combat readiness,” Kommersant writes.

OAK-Servis will establish service centers and 24-7 mobile repair teams, then, in 2015-2018, modernize capital equipment in its repair plants.  It will also grapple with a problem it can’t solve in the short-term, “the cessation of industrial output of components and systems used in the repair of old aircraft models and the rising price of spares and parts.”

But OAK believes it can ensure a profit for plants that once belonged to Aviaremont.  Ruslan Pukhov tells Kommersant less money in the next GPV means less procurement and more repairs and modernization after 2020.

Now for the interesting part . . .

In a sidebar, the authors describe the parlous state of technical readiness in the Air Forces.

All VVS units are supposed to be in “permanent readiness,” with not less than 80 percent of the airplanes in their established composition in a serviceable state.

But Safronov and Kiseleva report only 42 percent of VVS airplanes overall, and 49 percent of its combat airplanes, are serviceable.

The most serious situation with fitness for flying is found in Tu-160 and Tu-22 [Tu-22M3] bombers, the MiG-29 and MiG-25, An-22 transports, L-39 trainers, and others for which serviceability hovers around 20-25 percent.

In 2013, the VVS had 696 airplanes in need of repair, but as (or if) new ones reach the inventory toward 2020, the number in need of repair will reportedly decline to just 49.

The sidebar says, along with repairing MVD, FSB, and MChS platforms, OAK repair plants will also have to maintain and overhaul exported airplanes.

Recall for a moment the MOD’s Action Plan to 2020 . . . the section on equipping the armed forces indicated year-end VVS aircraft serviceability rates will be 55 percent in 2013, 75 percent in 2014, and 80 percent in 2015.

These numbers require pretty fast improvement.