Tag Archives: Igor Sulim

The Military’s Most Authoritative

Russkiy reporter published its 2011 list of the 100 “most authoritative” Russian people — ten each in society, business, bureaucracy, academe, education, medicine, law, military, culture, and sports.

Avtoritetnyy, of course, isn’t just a cognate; it can mean influential, competent, trusted, reputable, respected, expert, etc.

You can read about last year’s picks in the military field here.  This year’s military list includes:

  • Deputy Defense Minister Anatoliy Antonov, for knowing how to talk to foreigners.
  • Western MD Commander, General-Colonel Arkadiy Bakhin, for housing officers.
  • Sukhoy test pilot Sergey Bogdan, for testing the fifth generation fighter.
  • General Staff Chief, Army General Nikolay Makarov, for disbanding the “Arbat Military District.”
  • State Secretary, Deputy Defense Minister Nikolay Pankov, for reforming military education.
  • President, General Director of RSK MiG, Chairman of the Board of Sukhoy, Mikhail Pogosyan, for developing the latest Russian weaponry.
  • Head of the Veteran-Military Chiefs Club, Marshal of the Soviet Union Sergey Sokolov, for 100 years in the ranks.
  • General Director, “Tactical Missile Armaments” Corporation, Boris Obnosov, for fast, accurate missiles.
  • Air Forces Senior Lieutenant Igor Sulim, for courage.
  • President, Academy of Military Sciences, Army General Makhmut Gareyev, for asserting the results of the Second World War.

It’s an interesting and eclectic list.  Clearly, many would dispute the names.  Some would say Pankov wrecked the military education system; others would say he implemented unavoidable reductions and consolidations.  Picking Makarov for breaking up the “Arbat Military District,” and sending more officers out to serve with the troops is also controversial, but he’s done something essential and long overdue.

Sokolov’s honored for his longevity. 

Obnosov’s interviewed in the lead article.  He talks about attracting and retaining young scientists and engineers in the defense sector, and about the OPK’s attempt to reach an understanding with the Defense Ministry on price formation.

Sulim’s a surprise, and a rather bold choice.

Only Makarov, Pogosyan, and Gareyev repeat from last year’s list.

RR picked Deputy Defense Minister, Army General Dmitriy Bulgakov as its goat of the year for the spate of deadly army arsenal explosions. 

The big “loser” Bulgakov’s in the same boat as some of the “winners.” 

He found himself in charge of a long-neglected and untenable situation, and he’s tried to fix it.  But many people will object and argue about his methods, the results, and consequences.

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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.

Some Cracks in Air Forces’ Stonewall (Part I)

An update on the Igor Sulim case . . . on Tuesday, Moskovskiy komsomolets’ Olga Bozhyeva reported there may finally be some pressure on the alleged extortionists.  Colonel Kovalskiy and one Captain Artemyev decided (in fine Russian tradition) to go the hospital to avoid arrest, but a former 4th squadron chief of staff and Kovalskiy relative, Mikhail Zakurdayev was arrested on July 30. 

Bozhyeva wrote about related crimes at Lipetsk including forgery and extortion from civilian workers receiving premiums to the tune of 10 million rubles.

She reported that, despite the Defense Ministry’s promise to check all units, systemic extortion of premium pay was only found in Lipetsk, Sevastopol, Syzran, and Michurinsk.

The case at the Syzran generated some media attention starting on July 29.  The press reported the chief of the helicopter pilot training center, Colonel Nikolay Yartsev, and a former training regiment commander have allegedly been “taxing” pilots five percent of their premium pay, taking a total of four million rubles from 43 officers last year.  The Saratov garrison commander has opened a criminal case against them.

According to Bozhyeva, military prosecutors say the command in Lipetsk is still creating obstacles instead of establishing order in the ranks.  It transferred a primary witness and Sulim ally — Major Anton Smirnov — to Chelyabinsk.  Another officer whose wife complained in a letter to the president was removed from flight duty for “poor morale.” 

Bozhyeva ends with an excerpt from Sulim’s blog where he says officers are quizzed several times a day on the most obscure military topics.  Failing the tests justifies not paying their premium pay.

According to RIA Novosti, on Wednesday, Sergey Fridinskiy announced that unnamed VVS Glavkomat officers have been held to account for violating the rights of Lipetsk pilots facing extortion from their own commanders. 

The Main Military Prosecutor apparently responded to queries from Duma deputies interceding on behalf of Senior Lieutenant Sulim.  Fridinskiy indicated his prosecutors checked on Sulim’s complaint that his rights were violated during the initial [Air Forces] investigation. 

The head prosecutor claimed, as a result of these checks, several criminal cases were launched, and steps were taken to prevent further violations.  The GVP also announced that:

“The officials, including those in the VVS Glavkomat, who committed them have been brought to account on the GVP’s demand.”

The GVP found that, in the investigation, no active steps were taken, and conditions were created for continued illegal activity by dishonest officers.  They obstructed the investigation, and pressured officers prepared to cooperate with investigators.

According to RIA Novosti, Sulim’s main antagonists, Colonels Kovalskiy and Sidorenko, were removed from duty, but continued to have regular, unfettered access to the base.  But the pilots and navigators who gave evidence were removed from flight duty and given menial duties.  Several times the command’s given Sulim tasks without informing him to provide the basis for reprimands for not fulfilling assigned duties.

The Duma deputies who went to Fridinskiy think the Lipetsk command’s dragging out the case and using “administrative resources” to pressure those who spoke out.  The deputies believe the Tambov garrison military prosecutor isn’t interested in closing the case, and to them, this means higher-ranking officials will have to be made accountable.

More tomorrow.

Latest on Sulim and Premium Pay Extortion

The Tambov military garrison prosecutor has told Kommersant charges have been lodged against Sergey Sidorenko, deputy commander of a unit at the elite Lipetsk pilot training center.  Sidorenko and others allegedly extorted 3 million rubles of premium pay from other officers at Lipetsk since the beginning of 2010.

According to Senior Lieutentant Igor Sulim, who wrote about the situation at Lipetsk in his blog in May, the training center’s chief of staff, Colonel Eduard Kovalskiy and his deputy Sergey Tereshin organized the scheme, and Sidorenko carried it out.  Sulim maintains the entire leadership of the unit [center?] and local law enforcement knew about the extortion racket.

After Sulim went public, investigators substantiated his accusations, and the Defense Ministry reportedly began to check premium pay distribution in other military units.

Last week, Main Military Prosecutor Sergey Fridinskiy acknowledged that extortion in the distribution of supplementary pay in army units is ubiquitous, “beginning in company sub-units and ending with higher staffs.”  He continued:

“Criminal cases on the facts of extortion are being investigated in practically every district and fleet.”  

He also criticized the Air Forces for pressuring the victims:

“Instead of conducting rapid checks and adopting severe measures toward bribe-takers, VVS Glavkomat officials, essentially, began pressuring the personnel for bringing situation out of the shadows.”

For his part, Sulim says:

“The center’s leadership headed by General Aleksandr Kharchevskiy is trying to dissociate itself from this story.  Kharchevskiy, for example, announces he didn’t know anything about extortion from pilots.  At the same time, he tries to sully me, publicly calling me first deranged, then a homosexual.  Meanwhile, they’ve hardly let me fly since May 14, and this means soon essentially I’ll have to learn to fly again.”

During the Defense Ministry’s check for similar problems elsewhere, the only other situation to receive press attention was a case involving some Black Sea Fleet aviation units.  See Komsomolskaya pravda and Novyy region.

Cadre Changes

In decrees published today, President Medvedev accepted the retirement of EW Directorate Chief, General-Major Oleg Ivanov.  Part of the “troyka” of retiring generals, he reportedly requested retirement for health reasons.  No official documents yet on the other two (Andrey Tretyak and Sergey Skokov). 

The press covered the news on General-Major Ivanov, but didn’t note the promotion of General-Major Bondarev to be Chief of the Main Staff, First Deputy CINC of the VVS.  

Bondarev was the Main Staff’s investigating officer in the case of Senior Lieutenant Sulim and the Lipetsk premium pay kickbacks.  The VVS and Defense Ministry must not be unhappy with his work, which consisted mainly of berating and pressuring the officers forced to pay tribute to their superiors.

In any event, the decrees . . .

Appoint:

  • General-Major Vladimir Aleksandrovich Filatov, Deputy Commander, 2nd Army.
  • General-Major Sergey Vasilyevich Chvarkov, Chief, Main Directorate for Personnel Work, RF Armed Forces, relieved as Deputy Chief, Military Art Department, Military Academy of the General Staff, RF Armed Forces.

Relieve and dismiss from service:

  • General-Major Oleg Anatolyevich Ivanov, Chief, Radioelectronic Warfare Troops, RF Armed Forces.
  • General-Major Aleksey Ivanovich Nesterov, Chief, 3rd Directorate, Main Organization-Mobilization Directorate, General Staff, RF Armed Forces.
  • General-Major Anatoliy Grigoryevich Predius, Chief of Military-Space Academy named for A. F. Mozhayskiy Branch (Cherepovets, Vologda Oblast).

Dismiss from service:

  • General-Major Yuriy Yuryevich Perminov.

* * *

Appoint:

  • General-Major Viktor Nikolayevich Bondarev, Chief of Main Staff, First Deputy CINC, Air Forces, relieved as Deputy CINC, Air Forces.
  • Colonel Vladislav Yevgenyevich Kharchenko, Chief, Radioelectronic Warfare Service, Eastern MD.

Dismiss from service:

  • General-Major of Justice Sergey Vladimirovich Devyatov
  • General-Major Vladimir Slavich Kostyuchenko.

Soviet Fathers and Russian Sons

The story of Igor Sulim and the premium pay scandal is like the 19th century one about Russian society’s generation gap.  With liberals and nihilists reversed.

In Sulim’s story, the fathers are old senior and mid-grade officers who span Soviet and Russian worlds.  They have no problem taking whatever’s not nailed down.  The sons are post-Soviet junior officers, reared on the Internet, familiar with Western-style justice and rule-of-law, and ready to demand an end to corruption (that costs them money).

Perhaps your author reads too much into this.  Or just maybe there’s some truth in this description.  Let’s review some new details first.

The investigation into Senior Lieutenant Sulim’s accusations is a very slow roll.  Rolling the victims.  Here’s an update on the action (or inaction?).

Sulim posted his first video on May 31.  Gorod48.ru wrote about it.

Sulim explained why he felt he had to complain to Defense Minister Serdyukov and go public about corruption in his unit despite the military’s “corporate ethic” against it.  He said he exhausted other avenues and had no other resource at his disposal.  He didn’t intend to be a one-man campaign against corruption but he’s getting support, and hearing similar stories, from others.  And he thanks his fellow officers supporting him despite the difficulties and pressure they face.

He concludes speaking out is his civic duty.  Russians should unite around one idea and struggle together so Russia doesn’t lose its greatness and remains a great power.  And so the next generation doesn’t hate the current one for being silent and patient, believing nothing will ever change.  It’s not revolution or spilled blood he wants, but the path of civilized development.

On June 2, Moskovskiye novosti wrote that Sulim predicted a disciplinary reprimand and deprivation of his premium pay would come his way for going over his superior officers (and, in fact, both came pretty quickly).  The “army Navalnyy” and other officers are being pressured in every way by the authorities, and the entire Lipetsk center’s been deprived of premium pay to turn other officers against Sulim.  He was removed from flight status.  Public Chamber member Anatoliy Kucherena reported over half of 150 personnel he met said they were aware of the corrupt pay scheme at the base.

On June 3, Nezavisimoye voyennoye obozreniye addressed the basic flaw in Serdyukov’s Order 400 and premium pay:

“Here is the misfortune — the essentially socialist army was not ready for these market relations.  Indoctrinated on the principle that everyone in the line is equal before the commander and in battle, before life and death, everyone to an equal degree responsible for his country and its security, officers became accustomed to distinguishing one from another only by stars on the shoulderboards and by position, where the difference in pay between lieutenant and colonel, a general even, was minimal:  a couple — four thousand rubles.  And here suddenly it became colossal — several times.  And, of course, when not everyone started receiving such premiums for the very same service-work, but just those chosen by still incomprehensible principles, a Bolshevist idea immediately arose — take it and divide it up.”

“But it was impossible not to understand to what the revolutionary introduction of market relations and big money for different categories of  servicemen could lead.  But has pay become a schism in combat units?  There’s no unambiguous answer.”

“What’s the result?  To what is the Senior Lieutenant Sulim phenomenon leading?  Most likely just to changes in the various fates of various officers and various military units.  But over some kind of time everything will remain as before.  If Orders No. 400, 400A and 155 aren’t be suspended and changed.  If from 1 January next year, the difference in pay and premiums for the very same service-work aren’t so monstrously striking.  It’s not worth destroying the monolithic army line with the almighty ruble.  This could bring serious consequences in a real battle.”

Sulim gave Ogonek an interview.  Sulim said his father was not happy about him going public, but Sulim stressed it was his own personal decision.  General-Major Sulim’s being pressed to keep his son’s mouth shut.

Ogonek asked Sulim if he isn’t afraid of sharing MVD Major Dymovskiy’s fate:

“His colleagues, as I understand it, didn’t support Dymovskiy.  There are more and more of us now.  If I had been alone, perhaps, I would have repeated his fate.  But my colleagues are supporting me so, everyone is ready to go only forward.”

By mid-June, Sulim’s antagonists — Colonels Kovalskiy and Sidorenko — were both relieved of duty, but his supporters — Majors Kubarev and Smirnov — had been hauled before an Air Forces attestation commission in Moscow, called cowards for not refusing to pay kickbacks, and all but told they would be transferred from their elite Lipetsk duty, according to Komsomolskaya pravda.  The paper points out Kubarev is a Su-34 pilot qualified for aerial refueling, and Smirnov was regiment’s top pilot last year.

In Moskovskiy komsomolets, Olga Bozhyeva wrote that Sulim’s reprimand was for violating the law’s prohibition on “discussing and criticizing the orders of a commander.”  The authorities apparently didn’t go after him for revealing some of the stupid things said and written by Deputy VVS CINC General-Major Viktor Bondarev.  Instead, they focused on his criticism of the Defense Ministry’s anticorruption orders posted on his blog.  For its part, MK posted new audio clips indicating that the even the local FSB is in on getting kickbacks at Lipetsk, and this didn’t happen just in the 3rd Squadron, but all over the center.  Bozhyeva asks, if this happens in an elite formation like Lipetsk, what happens in less prestigious units?

Senior Lieutenant Igor Sulim

There is lots on Sulim’s blog.  Most recently, he wrote about meeting with VVS Deputy CINC, General-Lieutenant Sadofyev, who asked him why he had to “create a scandal.”  Of course, Sulim’s made the point many times that he tried to go through the chain, through channels, and to do it without blood, and quietly.  But Sadofyev and the older generation really don’t get it. 

The new Russian generation of sons might make even congenitally pessimistic observers of Russia a little hopeful.  The authorities could be playing an ultimately futile game of whack a mole with an entire generation of  Dymovskiys and Matveyevs and Sulims.

Loss of Fear or Loss of Faith?

Senior Lieutenant Sulim

Olga Bozhyeva has a great interview with the protagonists of the Lipetsk premium pay extortion scandal.  Essentially, Major Smirnov and Senior Lieutenant Sulim detail a farcical investigation, and what looks like a wider-ranging criminal conspiracy.  The entire Air Forces, not just the Lipetsk center, are in serious damage-control mode.

Bozhyeva introduces the piece as showing that even elite units suffer from corruption, and points out the center’s chief, General-Major Aleksandr Kharchevskiy, gave Vladimir Putin a test flight, and led combat aircraft that overflew Red Square on Victory Day 2010.  The two young aviators told her they had to talk immediately because time is against them.

Smirnov described his experience with the extortion scheme.  He said those refusing to pay got reprimands that could be used to force them out, and, with many officers being cut already, this threat was especially serious.  Or, he says, higher-ups would simply take away their “400” pay, and give it to someone willing to pay tribute.  Smirnov says the extortionists also collected as much as 240,000 rubles a year from conscripts.  He also recalled seeing Sulim’s draft complaint about corruption, and agreeing to support the younger officer.  Their ex-squadron commander, Major Yevgeniy Kubarev, joined them.

The VVS sent Deputy CINC, General-Major Viktor Bondarev to investigate, but, as Smirnov says, everyone who wanted to see him had to talk to the center’s Chief of Staff, Colonel Eduard Kovalskiy (the scheme’s ostensible organizer), Kharchevskiy, the new squadron commander (a Kovalskiy crony), zampolit (and bag man) Colonel Sergey Sidorenko, and FSB man Major Zatsepin first.  Afterwards, Kovalskiy already knew all details of what they told the VVS investigator.  Kovalskiy apparently talked to the father of one officer in an attempt to pressure him against supporting Sulim and Smirnov.  The squadron CO reportedly told one officer, if he talked openly, he’d be the first dismissed.

Sulim confirmed that his father is a VVS one-star general.  Bondarenko asked Sulim, don’t you think they’ll dismiss your father after this?  Then Sulim sums it up:

“So it’s hardly possible to talk about any real observance of legality.  Now you understand why we came to you [Bozhyeva].”

Sulim and Smirnov don’t accuse Kharchevskiy, but Smirnov says he’s afraid the extortion scheme goes higher, up to the VVS Glavkomat, because, if this involved just one colonel and one air group, it would’ve been cleared up quickly.

Smirnov says he and Kubarev have sent their families away from Lipetsk, as a precaution.

At the end, Bozhyeva asks Sulim and Smirnov what results they want from the interview.

Smirnov says:

“Our goal is for a fair, independent commission, a fair prosecutor to come.”

Sulim adds:

“Not from Tambov, but from Moscow.  That is, those people to whom I, in essence, wrote on the Internet.  Otherwise, they’ll choke all of us here with these kinds of investigations.  We’re standing before such a precedent now!”

Smirnov then says, “All the Armed Forces are watching us.”

Then with the wisdom of someone twice his age, Sulim concludes:

“If they manage to strangle us now, then those men that rob officers will lose their fear completely, and those they rob, — they will finally lose their faith in their commanders.  The consequences will be terrible.”