Tag Archives: Dmitriy Medvedev

Off With Their Pogonies!

Friday's Security Council Session

Dmitriy Medvedev’s asked again for the heads (or pogonies) of the guilty.  A couple weeks after his government delivered several of those allegedly responsible for breaking the GOZ, he’s ordered Defense Minister Serdyukov to tear the pogonies (officer’s shoulderboards or погоны) off those to blame for massive munitions depot explosions in Udmurtia and Bashkortostan.

It is, of course, quite a presidential thing to do.

Let’s look at how the fairly one-sided conversation went.

In the published opening moments of Friday’s Security Council session at Gorki, Medvedev had to forego mentioning anything about the G8, missile defense, and Libya in order to focus instead on the depot explosions:

“. . . I would like to turn the Defense Minister’s attention to the fact that we are for the second time recently experiencing ‘doomsday’:  shells exploding, there are injured, missing.  We conducted a special meeting on this issue the year before last I think.”

“Afterwards the situation was on the whole, in my view, under control:  we succeeded in arranging the work of supervisory structures, naturally, after dismissing a whole row of Defense Ministry colleagues.  But everything’s come loose again, some problems have arisen again.”

“Two times — this is already systemic, Anatoliy Eduardovich.  Prepare a proposal for me on who should answer for this and how.  They still don’t understand well — for two years everything was OK, — this means we have to take somebody’s shoulderboards off again.”

“Conduct an investigation.  Naturally, the Investigative Committee [under the General Prosecutor] and other units [FSB] are conducting an independent investigation, and together present me with proposals and organizational conclusions.”

For its part, the Defense Ministry insists it’s not being hasty.  Its spokesman told ITAR-TASS:

“Aiming for a full and objective investigation of the circumstances which have occurred in the TsVO, a Defense Ministry commission under the leadership of Deputy Chief of the RF VS General Staff, General-Colonel Valeriy Gerasimov has been sent.” 

“Based on the results of the conduct of the entire complex of verification measures by the military department’s commission jointly with investigative organ representatives and the military prosecutor, the causes of what happened will be established and the responsibility of officials will be determined.  Only after the checks are finished will concrete decisions, including personnel ones, regarding the guilty be adopted.”

Explosions at the 102nd Arsenal (photo: NTV)

Of course, today’s papers were full of speculation about who might get the blame and the boot for these disasters.  But, as usual, it’s not likely any dismissals will reach highly-placed officers and officials who are truly responsible for the sloppy, breakneck campaign to destroy Russia’s massive stockpiles of old shells and ammunition.

There’s lots more interesting commentary relevant to these most recent arsenal explosions.  Unfortunately, your patience will be required.

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Kicking the Defense Ministry and OPK

President's Meeting on the OPK

President Medvedev is irritated as ever that the Defense Ministry and OPK aren’t moving out smartly to rearm and reequip the Armed Forces.  He’s trying to kick them into gear, but can he get results where his predecessors either didn’t care or simply failed?

According to Kremlin.ru, Medvedev met this afternoon in Gorki with a host of government officials and industrial chiefs.  They included, inter alia, Sergey Ivanov, Anatoliy Serdyukov, Vladimir Popovkin, Nikolay Makarov, Denis Manturov, Yuriy Borisov, Sergey Chemezov, Sergey Nikulin, Mikhail Pogosyan, and Roman Trotsenko.

Medvedev’s opening monologue enumerated what’s been done for defense industry — providing a full state defense order and financial support, creating integrated development and production structures [OSK, OAK], etc..

Then the President says:

“However, despite all adopted measures, the state of defense production cannot be called good, all attending understand this.  There are objective reasons:  the deterioration of enterprises’ basic capital is nearly 70 percent (on average), in some enterprises it’s all much worse.  We still have not even managed to establish effective mechanisms to attract innovation and off-budget resources to the defense-industrial complex.”

Medvedev goes on to say that all relevant documents, including the GPV 2011-2020, have been signed, but the assembled group still needs to think about how to implement the GPV.  He reviews how he talked at the Defense Ministry Collegium in March about balancing producer and buyer interests, about justifiable and understandable prices.

But in many areas, says Medvedev, this has already become moot, and he intends to increase responsibility for the fulfillment of these obligations.

First, he wants a Federal Goal Program for OPK Development in 2011-2020.  Its focus is to be “real readiness” of the OPK to produce actual weapons and equipment.

Second, he wants the Defense Ministry to finish placing GOZ-2011 completely by the end of May, and advance payments issued to producers in accordance with the 2011 and 2012-2013 plans.

Work to date, he says, is going poorly and slowly.  He reminds the assembled that he told them about the failure of previous state armament programs:

“Today I want to hear from all present why this happened:  both from government leaders, and from industry leaders, who was punished for this and how.  Report proposals to me, if they still aren’t implemented, with positions, with the types of responsibility, completely concretely.  If such  proposals aren’t reported, it means [industrial] sector leaders and government leaders have to answer for it.”

It’s unacceptable, he says, that high-level decisions have been made, money allocated, but a product isn’t supplied.  He recalls his late 2009 Poslaniye in which he said 30 land- and sea-based ballistic missiles, 5 Iskander missile systems, nearly 300 armored vehicles, 30 helicopters, 28 combat aircraft, 3 nuclear submarines, one corvette, and 11 satellites would be delivered in 2010.  

Everyone here, says Medvedev, agreed with this, so why wasn’t it done.  He is, he says, waiting for an answer, and:

“. . . we have to answer for the duties we’ve taken on ourselves, we look simply in this sense absolutely unacceptable.”

Medvedev finishes by saying he knows military production is profitable, and it’s possible to attract strategic investors.  He says he wants to talk about how to stimulate investment.  The goal for the day is concrete reports on what’s been done on the level of those responsible for organizing work and correcting the situation in defense industry.

Where’s this leave things?

Not exactly throwing down the gauntlet, just another warning that he’s getting serious.  But it’s doubtful the government or defense industry will take Medvedev seriously until he fires a minister, other high-ranking official, or an important enterprise director.  And it’ll probably take more than a couple dismissals to get anyone’s attention.  Medvedev is running out of time on this account (as well as others).  Those he’d like to make responsible or punish will just take the tongue-lashings and wait him out.

Popovkin to Roskosmos?

Vladimir Popovkin (photo: Sobakidendy-news.ru)

Friday Marker.ru reported rumors from its sources saying First Deputy Defense Minister, and GPV 2011-2020 architect, Vladimir Popovkin will relieve Anatoliy Perminov as Director of Roskosmos.  This is interesting because it supposedly features a little tandem tension between President Medvedev and Prime Minister Putin.

Marker.ru’s Ivan Cheberko writes that Perminov will resign at “his own request,” and become a presidential adviser for space issues.  For his part, Popovkin had hoped to replace Sergey Ivanov as Deputy Prime Minister with responsibility for the defense-industrial sector.  But Medvedev and Putin couldn’t agree on Ivanov’s fate, according to Cheberko’s report, and they proposed that Popovkin should head Roskosmos.

A source close to Perminov told Cheberko the Popovkin decision was made last week:

“The president and prime minister couldn’t determine Ivanov’s future, and they proposed Popovkin to head Roskosmos.  The Defense Minister has already signed the corresponding paperwork.”

Cheberko’s two independent missile-space sector sources say there have been three candidates for the Roskosmos job — Popovkin, Popovkin ally and deputy General-Lieutenant Oleg Frolov, and Roskosmos Deputy Director Vitaliy Davydov.  Frolov reportedly would have gotten the job if Popovkin took Ivanov’s spot.  Roskosmos rank-and-file lobbied for Davydov in hopes of avoiding changes Popovkin would make.  His views diverge from those of the agency’s current leadership, and he’s expected to make many personnel and organizational changes.  Among other things, Cheberko highlights Popovkin’s strong support for a new liquid-fueled heavy ICBM versus missile designer Yuriy Solomonov’s vocal public opposition to such a plan.

Unfortunately, Mr. Cheberko only dug so deep.  There’s a bit more to this story.

On the eve of the 18 March expanded collegium, Sergey Ivanov told the Federation Council the Defense Ministry was to blame for late placement of the State Defense Order (Гособоронзаказ, ГОЗ, or GOZ) this year.  Even prior, he had lots of sharp public criticism for Perminov, Roskosmos, and their failures.  Of course, Ivanov himself has long suffered at Putin’s hands over GLONASS, so he’s just letting stuff roll downhill, so to speak.

In his collegium speech, President Medvedev railed about problems with the GOZ last year, and demanded a “post-flight debriefing” to identify which industry and state officials are to blame.

Prime Minister Putin followed the collegium with a March 21 government session on the defense order at the Votkinsk missile plant.  Ivanov and Perminov were there, and probably Popovkin too.  The latter was very much on the defensive afterwards, asserting that GOZ-2010 was fulfilled “on the whole.”  And he blamed last summer’s heat wave and forest fires for disrupting defense production.

So where’s it leave us?

As Marker.ru implies, it appears Popovkin’s position isn’t too strong, and he could be headed out of the Defense Ministry after only 8 months on the job.  This would take away one of the louder proponents of buying arms and equipment abroad if necessary.  It begs the question who replaces Popovkin, and what does it mean.  Possibly someone closer to Serdyukov.  Never known for his skill as a political infighter, Sergey Ivanov actually comes out of this looking like a semi-adept bureaucratic warrior.  It’s interesting to imagine Medvedev and Putin discussing Ivanov’s fate when he was once thought the frontrunner in Operation Successor 2008.

Would the Army Oppose Siloviki Loyal to Putin?

Medvedev and Putin (photo: Reuters)

An unnamed FSB veteran thinks it would.

Monday New Times published a piece on the state of the tandem and political prospects over the next year leading up to the elections which will determine who will be Russia’s president until 2018.

The article’s authors ask whether Medvedev and Putin, frightened by North African events, might be determined to preserve the status quo by any means.  Or perhaps the president and prime minister face an inevitable clash.  The authors have consulted unnamed experts and present their findings.  Scenario No. 2 is Apocalypse Tomorrow.  The mood of the siloviki – in this case, rank-and-file men with uniforms, ranks, and guns – is key to Scenario No. 2 – the tandem blown up.  The authors ask “how would the siloviki conduct themselves if Medvedev decided to fire the premier and his entire government?  On whom would the experts bet?”

The authors asked former USSR intelligence and special service veterans of coup d’etats to sketch out what we’d see in the event of Apocalypse Tomorrow.  They sketch out some of the things Putin and the government would do in addition to calling for the support of the siloviki.

In the end, the article examines the possibility that Putin might agree to go, with the right personal and financial guarantees in place.  His situation is not, after all, exactly like Mubarak’s or Qaddafi’s.

The article ends like this:

“’Putin can hardly count on the silovik bloc if the matter gets to mass bloodshed,’ even a highly placed employee of the FSB’s Spetsnaz Center, which today joins in its structure Directorate A (formerly Group A) and Directorate V (formerly Group Vympel).  ‘His sole full-blooded reserve capable of entering the fray is the Internal Troops [VV], and mainly the VV Spetsnaz’ – the so-called maroon berets.  ‘They are the ones in 1993, after one of the Vympel groups refused to participate in suppressing the civilian population, who fulfilled the given mission’ (this means preventing the storming of the Ostankino television center – New Times).  ‘As far as the FSB Spetsnaz goes, after so many years of ‘reforming’ silovik sub-units, officers will scarcely be zealous in putting down civilians.  Quite the opposite.  It wasn’t for this that they risked their lives in the Caucasus.’  The weakest link, in the opinion of the same expert, is the army:  ‘Among the troops there’s a lot of negative information and dissatisfaction with the reforms that are being introduced.  Promises that a lieutenant will soon receive 50 thousand rubles just remain promises, the apartment issue isn’t resolved.  After the mass dismissal of officers – just in the past year 140 thousand completely young ‘reservists’ were put out in the streets – they will easily return to the ranks [i.e. Serdyukov’s reversal increasing the officer ranks by 70,000], but now they know who their enemy is.  Plus the disbanding of the GRU Spetsnaz.  As a result, the opposition will have something to oppose the Internal Troops.  So the generals will think a thousand times before giving the order to open fire, and if there is the slightest suspicion about the illegitimacy of the mission received, they’ll do everything to sabotage it.’”

“The experts polled by New Times come together on one thing:  a bloody scenario has a greater than 50% probability in one case:  if the premier and his closest silovik circle seriously fear for their lives and property and don’t get a security guarantee.  And now before their eyes there’s even a living example:  going peacefully into retirement Mubarak has a chance to preserve part of his billions frozen in Switzerland, Qaddafi shooting at his own people no longer has such a chance.”

Interesting scenarios, but there are a couple things your present author isn’t so sure about.  Firstly, two things not factored in that could be significant are:  the mood of the average militiaman [i.e. cop] who are very numerous and are also being ‘reformed,’ and the unhappiness among military retirees and older vets demonstrated recently in their Moscow assembly and last year on Poklonnaya gora.  One’s not sure, though, if they’re more supportive of Medvedev or Putin.  Given the choice, they’d probably shoot both.  Secondly, is Medvedev really the type to enter that kind of standoff (or any standoff actually) while holding very few, if any, good cards to play?  At the same time, one is cautious about assuming rational actors.  It’s perfectly conceivable the Russians could blunder and miscalculate their way into Apocalypse Tomorrow.

Meanwhile, Ancentr.ru was following a similar tack earlier this week . . . it looked at the recent personnel decisions regarding General-Lieutenant Valeriy Yevnevich which moved him from the GUBP to Deputy Chief of the General Staff and then to Assistant to the Defense Minister (ostensibly, to advise on peacekeeping activities).  The website thinks this interesting since Yevnevich is a ‘political’ general who as Taman division commander supported President Yeltsin in the 1993 battle with his opponents.  And, it says, such a decisive and staunch supporter of ‘democracy’ as Yevnevich could be useful to vlasti in a responsible post given the general growth in political tension in society, including also a “rise in disloyalty in the army.”  For example, he could command special VDV or other sub-units in an emergency to ensure their loyalty to the regime.  Ancentr.ru goes on to detail other reports from NVO’s Vladimir Mukhin about the level of discontent in the army’s ranks as well as ex-General Staff Chief and Security Council staff member Yuriy Baluyevskiy’s possible role as leader of a military backlash against Defense Minister Serdyukov’s reforms.

Walking Back Serdyukov’s Personnel Policies (Part I)

And so it’s begun. 

The first of Defense Minister Serdyukov’s major reform planks – cutting the officer corps from 355,000 to 150,000, or no more than 15 percent of the million-man army – has been reversed.

The Armed Forces’ officer manning level was apparently one topic in yesterday’s meeting between President Medvedev and his “power” ministers about plans to raise pay for servicemen in 2012.

Serdyukov told the media about the decision to increase officers in the Armed Forces by 70,000:

“A decision’s been taken to increase officer personnel by 70 thousand.  This is connected with the fact that we’re deploying additional military units, establishing military-space defense, that is, an entire service (of troops), and the increase is happening in connection with this.”

First, this raised some interesting questions about VKO.  Is it really going to become a service (vid or вид).  After all, the Space Troops are only a service branch (род войск) right now.  That’s quite a promotion.  And are we really supposed to believe the expansion of VKO or the Space Troops will require 70,000 additional officers? 

Of course not, it’s a convenient excuse to walk back a large part of the 50 percent cut in army officers Serdyukov announced when he launched his reforms in October 2008.

Most media outlets were pretty confused on what this means for officer numbers.  They assumed the Russian Army’s at 150,000 officers right now, just add 70,000 for a total of 220,000.  But it’s not so simple.

When Serdyukov started cutting officers, there were 305,000 occupied officer billets.  Krasnaya zvezda said the Armed Forces had 181,000 officers at the end of last year.  So a grand total of 124,000 officers were either discharged, placed outside the “org-shtat” at their commander’s “disposition,” or forced to accept an NCO billet between late 2008 and the end of 2010.  Returning 70,000 to the ranks might leave us wondering only about what happened to the other 54,000.  And 181,000 plus 70,000 takes the officer corps basically back to 250,000, or fully one-quarter of the million-man army.

The army officer corps has endured considerable sturm und drang in a little over two years all for the sake of shedding just 55,000 officers.

More on this tomorrow.

Serdyukov’s Two Presidents

One can’t avoid Wikileaks forever . . . you’ve already read about “alpha dog” Putin, and Medvedev who plays Robin to Putin’s Batman.  But not many media outlets picked up on Defense Minister Serdyukov’s story, but Argumenty nedeli did.

In early 2009, the Azeri Defense Minister reportedly shared details of his meeting with Serdyukov with the U.S. Ambassador in Baku.  Sufficiently lubricated after sharing two bottles of vodka, Serdyukov allegedly asked his Azeri counterpart:

“Do you follow the orders of your President?”

Then Serdyukov volunteered:

“Well, I follow the orders of two Presidents.”

This is really no more than anecdotal confirmation of what’s been known all along — Serdyukov was put in place by Putin, and he’s part of Team Putin.  While appropriately deferential and respectful of President Medvedev, Serdyukov is very unlikely to get in a situation where he might have to cross his mentors from Team Putin.  Medvedev himself is part of the Team writ large, but he’s from a different, and less influential branch.  So, the ruling tandem has a senior and junior member and everyone knows it.

Not exactly a revelation, but Serdyukov’s admission makes for a funny story, and no small embarrassment for him now in dealing with Dmitriy Anatolyevich.

Scapegoat Biront Wins in Court, for Now

Lieutenant Colonel Biront (photo: http://www.odnoklassniki.ru)

Last Tuesday, the Lyubertsy Garrison Military Court held President Medvedev’s dismissal of Lieutenant Colonel Viktor Biront to be illegal.  Recall Biront was the President’s and the Defense Ministry’s scapegoat when the 2512th Central Aviation-Technical Base of Naval Aviation burned in this summer’s infernos near Moscow.

A criminal case for negligence was also raised against Biront, but, according to Moskovskiy komsomolets, they punished him by dismissing him “in connection with nonfulfillment of contract.”  Biront fought back, and an inquiry revealed that, as of 1 February, the base’s firefighting unit had been disbanded, a 50-meter fire break hadn’t been established, and firefighting supplies were absent.  Biront had informed his leadership, but was ignored.  Biront’s lawyer also argued that his client had an impeccable 26-year service record, and had only been in charge of the Kolomna base for 3 months and 25 days.

The lawyer said Biront was left with 70 sailors to dig a fire safety zone around an 8-kilometer perimeter.  And Biront’s predecessor was fined for trying to dig this zone on his own.  The lawyer says the Defense Ministry plans to appeal the overturning of Biront’s dismissal.

In its coverage, Kommersant said Biront’s lawyer pointed out that every due process was violated in his client’s case: 

“First an investigation is performed regarding the disciplinary violation which served as the basis for dismissal, then the serviceman should be familiarized with its results and guaranteed the right to present his objections.  None of this was done.”

The lawyer continues, “The president gave the order to sort it all out and dismiss the guilty, but they didn’t sort it out and found a scapegoat among the unit’s officers.”

In Kommersant’s version, Biront and 30 sailors fought the fires armed with nothing but axes. 

One officer told the paper a chain reaction following Biront’s victory was likely, as others dismissed make similar appeals based on the lack of due process.

So, one can conclude that Medvedev’s ‘tough guy’ on-the-spot firing in the 4 August special Sovbez session was really nothing more than feelgood PR at best, or stupid at worst.  But, if they want to get Biront, they will, especially for being impudent enough to fight the system, and not being a quiet, cooperative victim. 

Biront is one of those allegedly superfluous officers denigrated by the victors in Serdyukov’s ‘new profile’ reforms for being a ‘housekeeper,’ uninterested or unprepared to conduct combat training.

The news about the Biront case has received very little media attention.