Tag Archives: Federation Council

Military Medicine Gets an Unsat

Valentina Matviyenko

We’ve seen reports of what reforms have done to Russian military medicine, but what follows is the first comprehensive review of its condition.  Cuts and reorganizations are on Defense Minister Serdyukov, but, to be fair, infrastructure deficiencies long predated him.  Military medicine is an area where he deserves some criticism.  But it’s unclear why it was the weak point chosen for an attack on his management, or why Valentina Matviyenko was the one to deliver it.  In any event, with the most recent chief of military medicine now in prison awaiting trial, it’s easy to conclude there are some pretty significant systemic problems.

Nezavisimaya gazeta reported Monday that a Federation Council panel on the social defense of servicemen has, not surprisingly, given military medicine an unsatisfactory evaluation.  It came despite a positive self-assessment from the Main Military-Medical Directorate (GVMU).  NG’s Sergey Konovalov said Federation Council Speaker Valentina Matviyenko, who conducted the session, repeated everything critical about military medicine heard recently from social organizations, parties, and the media.

Responding to the main report given by acting GVMU Chief, Colonel Anatoliy Kalmykov, Matviyenko said:

“You gave a positive assessment, you said that military medicine is coping with its missions.  And at the same time your own slide shows a growth in illnesses among servicemen . . . .  It’s higher than illnesses in the civilian population . . . .   Is it forbidden to evaluate yourself more critically?  Stop with this nonsense, comrade Colonel . . . .”

Konovalov notes for readers that Kalmykov’s only been at his temporary post for three weeks.  He’s taking the spot of General-Major Aleksandr Belevitin who’s in jail awaiting trial on corruption charges as well for an alleged attempt to arrange the murder of a witness.

He continues with Matviyenko’s remarks:

“. . . today we face an imbalance between the state’s obligations in the military medical sphere and the real financial resources allocated for this purpose.  Cuts in military hospitals, polyclinics have created problems in giving medical assistance.  In 17 regions, military-medical departments are lacking, in 30 military units, they are deployed very remotely from them, and the great distance is becoming an insurmountable obstacle to treating military service veterans.”

Matviyenko expressed concern about cutting officers and replacing them with civilian workers in military medicine.

An Audit Chamber auditor told the FC panel more than 1,000 Defense Ministry medical units and departments (38 percent of the total) occupy buildings and spaces which don’t meet technical and sanitary norms.  And 735 medical facilities (27 percent) need capital repair.  New medical equipment the Defense Ministry languishes because there aren’t medical buildings and centers in which it’s possible to treat patients.

The military’s representatives apparently claimed a lack of money.  But the Finance Ministry’s Director of the Department for Budget Policy in Military and Law Enforcement Services and State Defense Order, Aleksey Kaulbars rejected this:

“Just purely for health care, on the order of 39 billion rubles are allocated for the Defense Ministry.   A little more than 60% has been expended according to the situation as of today.  And what kind of grievances that it is insufficiently financed are possible in connection with this?  For health care facility construction, the assimilation is 30%.  Colleagues, what are we talking about?”

First Deputy GVP Andrey Nikulishchin is afraid unfinished construction and other military medical problems are connected with corruption.  He suggests that military medical units get only 20-50 percent of the medicines they require.  He blames elevated prices and “nontransparent” trade in them (presumably in addition to corruption).

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33,000 Unfinished or Unwanted Military Apartments

General-Major Chvarkov

Candor is a quirky thing.  It has a way of showing up in places you expect it least.  So it was yesterday when RIA Novosti covered General-Major Sergey Chvarkov’s meeting with members of the Federation Council’s Defense and Security Committee.

Chvarkov is the relatively new head of the relatively new Main Directorate for Personnel Work.  The new name replaced an old one — Main Directorate for Socialization Work, GUVR for short.  Chvarkov and his charges are inheritors of the long tradition of zampolits and the Main Political Directorate.

According to Chvarkov, over the past year, military investigators have initiated 20 criminal cases involving the construction of thousands of unfinished and unwanted apartments intended for Defense Ministry servicemen.  But he declined to give specific details about the cases.

Deputy Committee Chairman Nikolay Sidoryak, however, said at present there are 33,000 apartments in various regions which are unwanted by servicemen.  He called this a “nightmarish figure.”  He wants those who ordered these apartments and financed their construction brought to account.  It’ll be interesting to see when or if this happens.

Early this year, a figure of only 20,000 was cited.

RIA Novosti gives a couple clipped Chvarkov phrases — the housing “isn’t fully ready,” and “a great number of refusals are happening.”  Then:

“I’ve personally seen buildings which stand in an empty field with absolutely no infrastructure.  Servicemen getting notifications that they’ve been granted housing go there, say the housing’s magnificent, good, but we don’t want to live there — we’re tired of garrisons.”

Committee Chairman Viktor Ozerov, for his part, says it’s all just a misunderstanding, and the Defense Ministry’s requirements for builders are just too tough.

RIA Novosti notes former Deputy Defense Minister Grigoriy Naginskiy claimed nearly two years ago that apartment construction was following detailed information on where servicemen want to live.

It would be easy to see the military housing issue as all but over and done with if one listened only to official political or military pronouncements, but reality just keeps coming back.  It smacks of a Soviet approach – fulfilling the plan and meeting the quota is what matters, how [i.e. quality] is secondary.  It makes one ask if this is more broadly indicative of how other decisions and policies are implemented.

Now permanent military apartments are supposed to be provided in 2013 (three years later than Putin’s original deadline).  And Putin himself said not long ago that there are only 77,000 apartments remaining to be built.

These unwanted apartments are exactly why some veterans have gone out for public demonstrations lately.  

It’s been clear for some time that the Defense Ministry builds apartments where it wants to, not where former servicemen want to live.  And it wants to build where it’s less expensive.  Paperwork problems have kept half of new military apartments empty each year.  And the problem of incomplete construction has also been around.  Not much about this situation’s changed in recent years.  But here’s one more recent article detailing the problems of permanent apartments built for the military.

There Will Be Professionals, But Later

In Thursday’s Vedomosti, Aleksey Nikolskiy wrote about Defense Minister Serdyukov’s remarks on contract service to the Federation Council.  Serdyukov and General Staff Chief Makarov have cited different figures on the current number of contractees (150,000 vs. 190,000), but agree they’ll be cut.  Professionals will come not only later, but in a smaller numbers.  And contractees will occupy only certain duties.

Nikolskiy cites a figure of only 50,000 contractees signed on during Russia’s failed 2003-2007 attempt to set up a professional enlisted force.

A future smaller number of contract NCOs could receive pay equivalent to that of junior officers.  Except that junior officer pay is supposed to increase dramatically toward 2012 under the new pay system.

According to Nikolskiy’s interlocutors, a new table of organization will soon spell out exactly where contractees will serve, i.e. there will reportedly be few driver-mechanic contractees, while the number of senior NCO billets will increase.

While contract soldiers decrease, how will Moscow manage its commitment to keep conscripts out of ‘hot spots’ (i.e. potential combat zones)?  As recently as April, the Defense Ministry had to reassure the public it had no intention of stationing draftees in Chechnya.

Here’s Nikolskiy verbatim:

“In the long run, contractees in the army will increase from 150,000 to 250,000, but first they will cut them to pick the best and pay them more.”

“Defense Minister Anatoliy Serdyukov told reporters in the Federation Council yesterday there are no plans to abandon contractee servicemen and their number in the future will increase to 200,000-250,000. The day before in the defense committee of the upper chamber, the Genshtab chief Nikolay Makarov said the number of contractees will be significantly reduced compared with the current 190,000.  According to him, contractees will occupy only duties in the Navy, Air Forces and Air Defense requiring good professional training, and also in permanent readiness units.  Only conscript soldiers will serve in the remaining posts.”

“An officer from the Defense Ministry central apparatus explains that Serdyukov’s and Makarov’s statements don’t contradict one another.  In the long run, depending on developing financial conditions, the number of contractees will grow, but first they will reduce them to get rid of ballast which got into these posts during the first attempt at professionalization of the army.”

“In 2003 the FTsP “Transition to Manning with Soldiers Conducting Military Service on Contract in Some Formations and Military Units” was adopted at a cost of more than 20 billion rubles.  According to it, by 2007, the number of contractees in soldier and sergeant duties in permanent readiness units should have gotten to 150,000.  However, they began to fulfill this program from the wrong end, said an officer, having simply mechanically increased the number of contractees in posts not worrying about their training or paying a normal wage.  As a result, they took less than 50,000 and the program collapsed, as the Defense Ministry’s leaders confirmed this year.  Now, after their reduction, the number of contractees will be increased carefully, take well trained people into posts and pay them wages equivalent to salaries of junior officers, said Vedomosti’s source.  At President Dmitriy Medvedev’s meeting on Monday [7 June], increasing wages was discussed and a figure was named—from 25,000 rubles [monthly].”
 
“In the words of an officer from one of the Ground Troops’ motorized rifle brigades, the latest order about contractees came to the unit at the beginning of the year and it indicated there should be no more than 5 percent of them among the number of soldiers and sergeants in driver duties, though more posts for contract sergeants as company and battery sergeant-majors were introduced.”
 
“According to him, you can’t judge where exactly contractees will serve until the introduction of new tables of organization which they’ve promised to do in coming months.”

Sharp Cut in Contract Soldiers Coming

In the wake of General Staff Chief Makarov’s February admission that professional contract service had failed, a Defense Ministry source told Interfaks last week that contractees in noncombat positions will be sharply cut.  According to Newsru.com:

“It’s planned that by 1 July of this year only those specialists affecting combat readiness of military sub-units will remain in contract positions.”

He said this means combat vehicle commanders, driver-mechanics, gunner-operators, and other specialists, and civilians or conscripts will fill other contractee posts.  Lenta.ua noted the source didn’t specify how many contractees would be released or how many would remain.

Some of data cited referred back to a Vedomosti editorial about two weeks ago.  It said, under the 2003 Federal Targeted Program “Transition to Manning by Servicemen Conducting Military Service on Contract in Some Formations and Military Units” for 2004-2007, professional contract soldiers in permanent readiness units were to increase from 22,000 to 147,000 by 2008, and from 80,000 to 400,000 in the armed forces overall.  But in reality, there were only 100,000 in permanent readiness units by 2008, and only 200,000 in the Defense Ministry overall.  Meanwhile, the effort cost 84 billion rubles.  Vedomosti concluded:

“It seems the generals could not fulfill (or sabotaged) the directives of the country’s highest political leadership in peacetime.  Who will guarantee that the generals’ disobedience won’t be repeated in an emergency situation?”

“The Defense Ministry could not organize or make professional service in the army attractive and it sees as a way out stuffing the developing hole with a growing number of conscripts.  It’s understandable that the quality of these one-year draftee soldiers will be lower than that of contractees.”

“The abandonment of the move to a professional army promises many dismal consequences for Russia’s future.  Drafting 27-29-year-old higher educational institution graduates, who are in professional demand, could deliver significant damage to the economy and scratch the country’s modernization.”

So what is to be done?

This spring the Defense Ministry floated several trial balloons to answer its manpower problems.  As Parlamentskaya gazeta reported, the chief of the Genshtab’s GOMU, Vasiliy Smirnov told the Federation Council last month that he wants to increase his conscription base by reducing student deferments, raising the upper limit of the call-up age from 27 to 30, lengthening the semiannual callup until it becomes almost perpetual, and requiring young men to report to voyenkomaty without a summons.  Reportedly, the Kremlin has approved some or all of these proposals.

The Genshtab has proposed cutting the number of VUZy with the right to provide students deferments.  Even though deferments were trimmed in the recent past, Russians still have 21 legal ways to postpone their military service.  Smirnov claimed over 2 million draftees, more than 60 percent of the overall number, legally ‘dodge’ the army with deferments, the vast majority of which are educational deferments.  He continued:

“The number of higher educational institutions in which study is a basis for the right to a draft deferment from military service has to be reduced in stages.  Already this year it would be advisable to cut the number of VUZy having the right to a deferment in half or even by 70 percent, keeping that right only for educational institutions having a state order.  An alternative option could be having students perform conscripted service after the first or second year of studies.  The Education Ministry made this study and sees no negative consequences.”

Noting that voyenkomaty have been unable to notify 200,000 men to report, Smirnov concluded:

“Thus, the existing system of holding citizens liable who for some reason are not fulfilling military service obligation is ineffective today.  We have to change the system of notifying citizens.  In case a person does not receive the notice from the military commissariat, it is proposed that he go to the induction center on his own on the date indicated in the certificate of a citizen subject to call-up for military service.  This procedure functions in many states.”

Summing up, Smirnov said:

“A General Staff analysis of capabilities for manning the state’s military organization with conscripted servicemen showed that the needs of the state’s military organization for a draft contingent will not be supported as early as the end of 2010.”

In other words, the ‘demographic hole’ created by the sharp reduction in male births during the early 1990s is beginning to have its inevitable effect.

Deputy Defense Minister, State Secretary Nikolay Pankov and Main Directorate for Socialization Work Chief Yuriy Dashkin appeared at a Duma roundtable on 31 May to discuss conscription and conscript life.  According to RIA Novosti, Dashkin told Duma members, “Today the armed forces, dealing with a large number of tasks, are forced by the state’s economic condition, by resource provision, to rely still on a conscript army.”  Pankov said he could not give percentage figures on the future mix of conscripts and contractees in the Russian Army.  Soldiers’ Mothers Committee chair Svetlana Kuznetsova expressed doubt that the army will be able to induct 270,000 men as planned this spring.

Trud recently published a number of open letters to President Dmitriy Medvedev, one of which came from Soldiers’ Mothers’ founder Valentina Melnikova.  She asked Medvedev to end conscription, writing:

“Dear Dmitriy Anatolyevich, explain, please, why the Defense Ministry buried the idea of creating a professional army in Russia.   Back in 2003 the government adopted a special Federal Targeted Program on the full manning of all permanent readiness units with contractees.  All together, it was proposed by 2008 to bring into the forces 147,000 professional sergeants, for this 79 billion rubles was allocated.  The Defense Ministry reported that it was managing the task, and promised to increase the number of contractees in the army, and reduce the share of conscripts.  But in the end everything turned out exactly opposite.  At the beginning of this year the military officially stated that the task of building a professional army is being put off for indefinite long term.  As regards conscription into army units, the Defense Ministry intends to take it to 700,000 per year.  It’s simply impossible in Russia to find so many boys fit for military service according to the state of their health.  Almost a third of all conscripts that end up in the army have serious illnesses.  They’ll make just as many young citizens serve who have parents who can’t work.  End conscription and force the generals to create an army not of boys, but of professionals.  And don’t believe the generals when they say Russia doesn’t have the money for a professional army.  Independent experts believe that the state, if all expenditures are considered (pay for voyenkomat doctors, medical evaluation in hospitals, transporting conscripts to their service locations, assistance to soldiers’ wives, etc.), spends 150 billion rubles every year on conscription.  It seems to me that for this money it would be fully possible to maintain a fully contract army in a worthy condition.”