Tag Archives: Military Towns

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Forces deployed here, units of the 18th Machine Gun-Artillery Division, were withdrawn from the area, but residents remained with no one to maintain their apartment buildings.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

A good friend asked for a reaction to Pavel Felgengauer’s latest piece.

This author agrees with many of Felgengauer’s views, though not all of them.  In particular, this observer is unable to declare, like Felgengauer, that Russia’s military reform is failing abjectly, despite its uneven results.

Let’s look at his article.

Mr. Felgengauer presented the essence of Defense Minister Serdyukov’s dustup with Prime Minister Medvedev last week.  Serdyukov said outright, if the PM wanted to fire someone for failing to prepare semi-abandoned military towns for handover to regional authorities, he should fire him.

You may have read on these pages, the problem of no-longer-needed military towns is an enormous one.  There’s a veritable archipelago of hundreds of voyengorodki throughout Russia.  They’ve long since lost their purpose and support from the Defense Ministry.  Fixing them to transfer to civilian control is an enormous task, probably beyond the Defense Ministry’s current financing and capabilities.

One Putin campaign pledge for 2012 was not to foist broken down military infrastructure on Russia’s regions and localities.  And, though left unsaid, the problems of voyengorodki are connected to the military housing woes.  If more apartments were ready for occupancy, there might be fewer ex-servicemen living in the archipelago of former military towns.

Felgengauer could have written about how the Serdyukov-Medvedev flap reflects wider tensions in Russia’s ruling elite.  Between Putin’s people and Medvedev’s.  He did say the scandal showed the latter’s relative powerlessness.

Felgengauer might have clarified for some folks that, under the constitution, the Defense Minister answers to the President first, and the PM second.  Not so for most ministers.

He mentioned the situation harked back to Serdyukov’s reported ambivalence about continuing in his job.  There was also pre-election talk that Serdyukov might be replaced at the start of Putin’s third term.  But Felgengauer concludes Putin wanted to keep him in the post regardless.

Felgengauer suggests Serdyukov might suffer a “mental meltdown.”  He could have reacquainted readers with the temper and frustration Serdyukov showed the VDV in Ryazan in late 2010.

Turning to strictly military issues, Felgengauer concludes, “. . . the actual capabilities of the military after almost four years of Serdyukov’s reforms are questionable.”

Despite efforts to move away from reliance on hollow units, and increase permanently ready units, woeful undermanning (Vedomosti, June 9) leaves newly formed army brigades crippled, “with most of them not ready to be used in combat as full units in any circumstances.”

He continues:

“Most of the soldiers are one-year serving conscripts, called up two times a year, so half of them at any moment have been serving less than 6 months — not yet trained to be battle-ready at all.”

Let’s examine all this a bit.

Undermanning certainly exists.  The lack of detail on the strength of Russia’s new brigades make things somewhat sketchy.  If (a very big if) the brigades aren’t large, 300,000 conscripts might stretch to cover them, barely.

If the 45 maneuver units have only 3,000 draftees each, that’s 135,000.  Add maybe 60,000 (40 x 1,500) in other brigades, and Russia uses 200,000, or two-thirds, of its conscripts for the Ground Troops.

If these brigades are fully equipped and can depart garrison in an hour or two, they’re technically permanently ready.  But, as Felgengauer points out, six months is not adequate time for combat training, so it’s not clear what missions they can accomplish.  The issue is more combat capability than readiness.  Permanent readiness is a starting point, not an end in itself.

Felgengauer rightly notes that Serdyukov’s reform has lacked a strategic objective and defined doctrine.  One might say it’s failed to prioritize goals, problems, and threats.  Felgengauer says “attempts to meet all other possible threats [besides the U.S. / NATO] resulted in thinly spreading out limited resources.”

This author agrees completely.

Felgengauer ends, weakly, saying military food service was outsourced to make conscript service more attractive, and Putin might abandon it.  He views it as a failed military reform.  It may be, but outsourcing was really introduced to keep draftees in training 100 percent of the time rather than in non-military duties like KP.

We’ll return to the issue of whether military reform is succeeding or failing another time.

Serdyukov on Contract Service

Wednesday Defense Minister Anatoliy Serdyukov appeared before a closed session of the Federation Council’s ‘government hour,’ and answered 30 prepared questions. 

ITAR-TASS reported the upper legislative chamber’s Speaker Sergey Mironov summarized Serdyukov’s presentation as follows:

“Objectively speaking, we received exhaustive explanations on several positions, some answers explained the situation which had called forth serious questions from the senators.”

Mironov added that Serdyukov’s answers:

“. . . did not completely satisfy FC members.  Personally I and many of my colleagues remained with our own opinions about what is happening in the armed forces.”

Defense and Security Committee Chairman Viktor Ozerov delivered the gist of Serdyukov’s answers to the Russian media, although Serdyukov answered some direct press questions after his session with the legislators.

According to RIA Novosti, Serdyukov said:

“We talked about the transition to the new profile, the numerical composition of the armed forces, the new structure, military units which are being created, draft legislation on pay and proposals concerning the provision of housing to servicemen.”

The major news out of Serdyukov’s parliamentary appearance was the report that he denied Russia is abandoning professional contract service or returning to Soviet-style, all-conscript armed forces.  This contrasted with the recent Newsru.com report saying contractees will soon be drastically cut everywhere except in permanent readiness units, as well as with General Staff Chief Makarov’s February admission that contract service has failed. 

Several media sources reported that Serdyukov indicated contractees would increase 50 percent from a current level of 150,000 to between 200,000 and 250,000.  ITAR-TASS reported his words as:

“In the future it [the number of contractees] will grow, there is potential for this.  In the future the number of contractees will grow to 200-250 thousand, such conditions will be created for them so that they can fulfill their duties as real professionals.”

However, BFM.ru and Regions.ru heard it quite differently.  They reported:

“The Russian Army has not abandoned contract service.  Now in the Armed Forces of Russia there are 150 thousand contractees.  At minimum, this number will be preserved.  If the financial potential of the government allows, we will broaden this component.  Ideally, according to our calculations, the quantity of contractees should be about 200-250 thousand.  They should occupy duties demanding good training and knowledge, service experience.”

According to Ozerov and press sources, Serdyukov addressed other miscellany.

The Defense Minister said the LDPR’s recent draft law proposing to allow young men to buy their way out of the draft for 1 million rubles “raises a whole series of issues.”  He claimed this would interfere with the country’s mobilization potential.  He apparently didn’t say how many guys he thought could afford that much, but he must think a lot can, if it could affect Russia’s human mobilization resources.

Despite recent press indicating a strong presumption that Serdyukov is ready to euthanize premilitary Suvorov and Nakhimov schools (much as VVUZy have been paired back), he told the Federation Council that Suvorov schools will be preserved and strengthened.

Serdyukov demurred from the possibility of more Russian bases abroad, calling them an “expensive pleasure.”

He said the military’s 8,000 plus military towns will be reduced and consolidated into only 184, and those cut would be turned over to the oblasts and republics in which they are located.  The Defense Ministry will discuss with RF subjects and local governments the transfer of housing and other social infrastructure in military towns to their jurisdiction. 

This harks back to the late April announcement about constructing new, large ‘core military towns.’  The smaller number of garrisons sounds more appropriate for a million-man army than 8,000, but taking care of those left stranded without utilities and other services in former garrisons is much more troublesome than simply transferring them to the control of oblasts or local governments.

Serdyukov said the Defense Ministry will acquire 51,000, rather than 45,000 permament apartments for servicemen this year.  He doesn’t see any problem with providing service apartments to every military man by the end of 2012.

He regrets that the Defense Ministry’s request for indexing military pay and pensions has not been approved, but he said this issue is not decided yet.

On the Black Sea Fleet, Ozerov said Serdyukov said the fleet’s personnel will be less than the 24,000 stationed there earlier.  He said Serdyukov said he expects the new Ukrainian government to be much more amenable to discussing deliveries of new weapons and equipment of the Russian fleet.