RF President Vladimir Putin last week held the first meeting of his third term to discuss military priorities with senior uniformed officers.
He looked less impressive, and less in command of his brief in the video of his introductory remarks than on similar past occasions.
But he clearly laid out his main concerns for Russia’s top Armed Forces leaders: training, Aerospace Defense Troops, rearmament, contract manning, pay, and housing.
He seemed confounded by the Defense Ministry’s failure to pay new, higher military salaries on time, and by the continuing lag in providing housing to servicemen. He said his Control Directorate is investigating both situations.
Taking it from the top, Putin said the state of military training and exercises today is completely changed from past years when the Armed Forces were rarely active. The president twice emphasized conducting joint exercises with Russia’s allies in the CSTO, CIS, and SCO.
His second priority is developing the newly created and reformed Aerospace Defense Troops.
His third is rearmament. He repeated the familiar goal of replacing 30 percent of weapons and equipment with new generation systems over the next three years (2015), and 70, or in some cases 100, percent five years after that (2020). And he added:
“I ask you to report promptly about all instances of breakdowns or incomplete deliveries, if you identify them. Everyone participating in Gosoboronzakaz work must bear personal responsibility.”
The fourth priority is manning, and the earlier announced effort to increase professional soldiers in the ranks to 425,000. This, he says, would increase their numbers two and a half times, reportedly from 170,000 today. Putin made the customary comments about carefully screening and selecting enlisted troops, and giving them incentives to serve well.
Fifth and finally, Putin emphasized efforts to provide better social support for servicemen, specifically, this year’s increase raising military pay by up to three times, and his attempt to provide all military men permanent housing in 2013 and service housing by 2014. He said:
“Sufficient resources have been allocated for this, the necessary amount has been reserved.”
“But I have to note that, to this point, there are many problems in the provision of housing and calculation of pay, unacceptable breakdowns and procrastination, open professional negligence by officials. And even if on paper and in reports everything is normal, in fact in real life servicemen and their families at times encounter various kinds of bureaucratic procrastination, often with a formalistic indifferent approach.”
“I’ve directed the Russian Federation President’s Control Directorate to conduct a corresponding check in all these areas. Unacceptable facts are being encountered, already in the first stages of this check this is clear: this is both delays in the transmission of pay, and the impossibility of normally finalizing the paperwork for an apartment. Fitting conclusions will be drawn according to the results of the check, and instructions will be formulated. But today already I’m asking Defense Ministry representatives to report what measures are being adopted to correct the situation. May is ending, and normal work with pay still hasn’t been smoothed out. We already talked about these issues more than once.”
Where are outside observers left?
- Training and exercises have increased as a function of more budget and fuel, but this didn’t happen until the late 2000s.
- Aerospace Defense Troops are another structural reorganization, potentially a good one, not unlike other reorganizations since the 1990s.
- Rearmament is a serious downfall. Despite the Putin factor, nothing really happened on this score until late 2009. It’s complicated by the difficulties of fixing a dilapidated OPK. And, although there may be some favorable signs, success here remains to be seen.
- Contract service is a second serious downfall. Putin’s first effort to professionalize the army started in 2002. The General Staff Chief declared it a dismal failure eight years later. The Defense Minister revived it on an enlarged scale one year after that. Demographic reality and draft problems leave Moscow no other choice.
- Low military pay is a downfall. It became more of a realistic priority with Serdyukov’s arrival in the Defense Ministry, but it was still five long years before the new, higher pay system was implemented. And Putin admits how poorly it’s functioning.
- Housing is also a downfall. Despite progress since Putin first really addressed the issue in 2005, it’s still problematic. And the president publicly moved back his timetable for a solution.
The downfall areas are problems requiring a long-term, sustained commitment to resolve. Putin 2.0 is wrestling with the same military issues he identified back in 2000. It’s still far from certain he can or will bring them to a successful conclusion.
This author believes there’s been progress on Russia’s military issues during the 12 years of Putin’s time as national leader. But future economic or political challenges could derail progress toward rebuilding the country as a full-scope military power.
Is Putin resetting or rebooting defense policy? Yes, at least jumpstarting it on key issues. But a restarted or jumpstarted computer, car, or policy usually works (or doesn’t work) the same way it did before it stalled. So this isn’t necessarily the path to a successful finish. But no one ever said making and implementing policy was easy.