Tag Archives: United Russia

Power Couple

Putin Congratulates Knyazeva

No, not newly-minted General-Major Yelena Knyazeva and President Putin.  The couple is Knyazeva and her husband, Deputy Chairman of the Moscow City Duma, Andrey Metelskiy.

It’s not surprising Kremlin.ru published this picture of the Supreme Glavk shaking Knyazeva’s hand instead of some run-of-the-mill male general’s.

When Putin elevated the fiftyish Knyazeva to one-star rank last month, the Russian press noted his decree gave the Armed Forces a female general for the first time in a number of years.

The last one was the world’s first woman in space, Valentina Tereshkova, who reached general-major in the 1990s.  Media reports added that several women currently hold general officer ranks in the MVD and other uniformed federal services.

This year the Russian Armed Forces indicated having 3,000 female officers in the ranks, a 50 percent increase over 2011.  There were 28 (now 27, of course) women colonels.  There were only 12 female O-6s in 2011, according to RIA Novosti.

Yelena Georgiyevna is Deputy Chief of the Defense Ministry’s Main Directorate for International Military Cooperation.  Before that, she headed the English Department at Moscow’s Military University.  That university now encompasses the Military Institute of Foreign Languages (VIIYa) where she graduated and taught for many years.

She became chief of VIIYa’s English faculty in 1995.  Her participation in international projects during the heyday of Russia-NATO cooperation provided a logical segue to her current duties.  But her timing was fortuitous too.

Under Serdyukov, women emerged in various top Defense Ministry posts, although Knyazeva’s case was somewhat different because she rose inside the military department.

At VIIYa, Knyazeva met her future husband, Andrey Metelskiy, according to Krasnaya zvezda.  Some eight or nine years her junior, Metelskiy studied Farsi and French at the military institute.

Andrey Metelskiy (photo: Volgorad.er.ru)

Metelskiy’s an interesting figure.  In a Bratishka.ru interview, he indicates he was an 18-year-old lieutenant (!?) serving in Afghanistan when he was wounded in 1986.

After finishing VIIYa and leaving the army, Metelskiy was a businessman with a somewhat confusing political biography.  One observer claims he was a Derzhava supporter who only emerged in the youth section of Unity in early 2000.

But Metelskiy’s mainline biography says he was a deputy chairman of the Moscow city branch of Unity before the December 1999 State Duma elections.  He went on to be first deputy of the Moscow regional branch of Unity’s successor, United Russia.

Metelskiy was elected to the Moscow City Duma in 2001, and is currently in his third term.  He has been a Duma Deputy Chairman since 2004, and heads the United Russia faction which holds an overwhelming 32 of 35 seats in the municipal legislature.  Metelskiy represents the Izmaylovo area in northeastern Moscow.

The observer above recounts a legal dustup in late 2005 between Metelskiy and Rodina’s Dmitriy Rogozin who accused him of sporting military awards he didn’t earn.  But Metelskiy won a defamation case against today’s deputy prime minister for the OPK.

On Medvedevu.ru, a man tells his version of a 2009 car accident with Knyazeva, Metelskiy, and their Lexus.  According to him, Metelskiy denied causing the crash, threatened him, and advised him to forget the whole incident.  Nor did the victim get satisfaction after wending his way through the court system for a couple years.

Knyazeva and Metelskiy are an interesting and well-connected Moscow power couple.  Putin was probably just renewing his acquaintance with Knyazeva since it’s more than likely they’d already met given her husband’s position.

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Perspective on the Military Vote

Carrying the Ballot Box

A little context for Kommersant’s report on Defense Minister Serdyukov informing the once-and-future president that 97 percent of servicemen voted in the December 4 Duma election, and United Russia garnered 80 percent of those votes.

The Defense Minister allegedly told Prime Minister Vladimir Putin 80 percent of servicemen and their family members picked United Russia (against 67 percent in 2007).  Some remote units reportedly even delivered 99 percent for Putin’s party. 

For the official opposition, the LDPR got 8.6, KPRF 6.3, and Just Russia 3.4 percent.  Their shares dropped from four years ago.

The TsIK says it doesn’t know how the Defense Ministry comes by such figures since most officers and soldiers vote in normal precincts.  And the military department hasn’t commented on any voting report by Serdyukov.

If this is accurate, we can conclude that Serdyukov delivered the military vote. 

Nezavisimaya gazeta’s Vladimir Mukhin wrote that United Russia had very similar results in the 2007 Duma election.

In 2003, NG’s Mukhin said the Defense Ministry put the “military electorate” at 5-6 million voters.  It’s probably less today.

United Russia reportedly got only 52 percent of the military vote in 2003, and Rodina 12, LDPR 11, and KPRF 6 percent each.

In 1999, UR’s precursor Unity (or Medved) took 48 percent, KPRF 18, the Zhirinovskiy (LDPR) bloc 14, and Fatherland-All Russia 7 percent.

What are we to conclude?  The process of nailing down the military vote has gotten smoother over time, coinciding with Putin’s and United Russia’s dominance of Russian politics.  It looks like the army has a habit of supporting whoever’s in power.  But now it looks just a little out of step with society — voting 80 percent for the party of power versus 49 percent countrywide.  But how the army votes and what it thinks may also be two different things.

Its Own Duma Election

A site dedicated to all things Russian Navy called Flot.com has an interesting Internet poll.

The site asks visitors to vote for the party they feel will provide the greatest assistance in developing the Russian Navy.  Click the image below to see the results as of today.

Looking for the Pro-Navy Party

Pardon one for concluding this is pretty compelling.
 
Sixty percent of those responding say the KPRF will be most supportive of the Navy’s development.
 
Bucking Russia’s electoral law, Flot.com still permits an “against all” option.  So 18 percent say no party will provide the greatest assistance in the development of the VMF.
 
United Russia comes in third at about 10 percent.
 
And to think the “party of power” organized a GPV in which the largest portion will go to the Navy.
 
A pretty damning indictment.
 
Yes, it’s an Internet poll, and it’s influenced by its clientele.
 
No offense to a good site is intended, but Flot.com’s visitors could be older, and still more Soviet than Russian.  Who knows?  But they’re also knowledgable and interested in their subject.  Hence, they represent an elite, tough, and skeptical audience. 
 
The GPV notwithstanding, the yedinorossy have failed to convince them they’ll fix the Navy’s problems.
 

General Staff Chief Makarov’s Retirement Rumored

On Thursday, Argumenty nedeli said its source claims Defense Minister Serdyukov will soon send some well-known generals into retirement.  The Defense Ministry press service, of course, denies it.

AN’s source says the departure of these generals isn’t due to conflict between them and Serdyukov, but rather to the latter’s policy of “rejuvenating” Russia’s high command.  Among those who will allegedly be retired:

  • General Staff Chief, Army General Nikolay Makarov (61).
  • Deputy Defense Minister for Rear Services, General-Colonel Dmitriy Bulgakov (56).
  • Air Forces CINC, General-Colonel Aleksandr Zelin (57).
  • Navy CINC, Admiral Vladimir Vysotskiy (56).
  • Space Troops Commander, General-Lieutenant Oleg Ostapenko (53).

It’s interesting because none of them is really up against the legal age limit for leaving military service.  And Makarov apparently already has a service term extension from President Medvedev. 

One presumes, according to AN’s information, that the Ground Troops CINC, and RVSN and VDV Commanders are safe for now.

AN also expects some of the newly appointed MD commanders to be dismissed or moved to new posts.

There are other angles to AN’s story besides more rotation in cadres.

First, it repeats earlier press on trouble in finding a replacement for “key military department figure,” former Deputy Defense Minister for Finance-Economic Work Vera Chistova who left her post three months ago. 

An AN source in the Finance-Economic Service claims the lack of a replacement puts in doubt Prime Minister Putin’s promise to deliver a 6.5 percent increase in military pensions on 1 April.  Budget resources weren’t allocated for this.  And there’s still no candidate to replace Chistova.  And without one such issues simply won’t be resolved. 

AN doesn’t mention also that as active duty officer pay is reformed this year, the Defense Ministry will have to figure what to do about retiree pay.  If, as expected, they break the long-standing link between active pay and military pensions, the vets aren’t going to be very happy just before the 2011 and 2012 elections.  Putin just courted representatives of veterans’ organizations about a week ago.

According to AN, the Defense Minister has offered the military finance portfolio to more than one official at different levels in the Finance and Economic Development Ministries, but all of them declined.

The military department’s officers are also talking loudly about the coming appointment of a new Serdyukov deputy who will be called in to “correctly”  track the military’s political preferences ahead of the fast-approaching legislative and presidential elections.  

A high-ranking but unnamed military man tells AN

“He will be an important civilian and definitely a member of ‘United Russia.’  It goes without saying this is connected with the upcoming parliamentary and presidential elections.  The negative mood of officers is great, it is directed against the minister, his assistants and the party of power which is conducting the reforms without considering the human costs.”

Serdyukov’s Duma Session

ITAR-TASS reported a few tidbits from Defense Minister Serdyukov’s closed session before the Duma yesterday.  Not surprisingly, Serdyukov told Duma deputies:

“We fulfilled those tasks which the President gave to conduct the Armed Forces to a new profile in 2010.  The Armed Forces’ combat readiness increased 1.5 times.  We believe that the combat readiness of the army and navy will grow 3-3.5 times toward 2020.”

RIA Novosti reported that Serdyukov said combat capability, not combat readiness.  Combat capability seems to make more sense.

ITAR-TASS says Serdyukov familiarized deputies with the basic tasks of transitioning to the new profile, and the completion of reforms planned for 2010.  Attention was given mainly to implementing the State Program of Armaments and social issues for servicemen.  He said:

“I familiarized deputies with the transformation of the military districts, changes in army corps and brigades, and military command and control at all levels.”

Corps?  Did he really say that?

Answering a question about housing for servicemen, Serdyukov said the Defense Ministry has fulfilled the government’s order about this:

“In 2009, we obtained 45,500, and in 2010 55,000 apartments from all sources.  This attests to the fact that the government’s order has been fulfilled and is being fulfilled.”

As usual, the official news sources turned to Duma Defense Committee Chairman Viktor Zavarzin for comment, and he said:

“I give high marks to today’s meeting of the chief of the defense department and deputies.  We have established tight coordination with the Defense Ministry on legislative support of military reform, and bringing the Armed Forces to a new profile. “

“We are certain we will decide all issues concerning the rearmament of the army and navy, and social support of servicemen with the Defense Ministry leadership.  I say that we need to preserve this pace which exists in the Defense Ministry and with us next year to take the work to the intended results.”

Regarding rearmament, Zavarzin said:

“Besides, in ten years, the share of modern weapons in the army should be not less than 70 percent, for which unprecedented sums have been allocated.  For this, not only a principled position of the Defense Ministry, but also readiness by OPK enterprises for serial deliveries of modern types of armaments is required.”   

Zavarzin said Serdyukov didn’t have much to say on the Mistral purchase, but Zavarzin said:

“In our view, we don’t need to acquire a hunk of metal, but we need the documentation and understanding of those ideas and developments abroad which will enable us to realize the possibilities of our industry.”

Is Russian shipbuilding really going to learn that much from Mistral?

Zavarzin expressed the opinion of the deputies who think:

“We need to give the Defense Minister great credit because he is deeply involved in these issues and, as the one ordering, aiming to supply the army and navy modern armaments and military equipment. Our convictions are that we should create a competitive environment and competitive structures which would push Russia’s defense-industrial complex to the development and creation of the newest weapons systems, including for the Navy.”

At the same time, Zavarzin credited the Defense Ministry for understanding that military social issues deserve special attention too:

“We are talking about creating attractive conditions for those who are serving, but also providing all stipulated benefits to those who are dismissed from military service.  And this is the guarantee of permanent and service housing for servicemen and their family members, but also increasing pay to servicemen and military pensioners.  By 2012, the new pay system for servicemen should be functioning.”

“It’s understood that the level of pay and military pensions today is far from what’s really needed.  Here it’s necessary to change the situation in a cardinal way.”

ITAR-TASS also talked to members of the three other factions in the Duma. 

The KPRF’s Gennadiy Zyuganov negatively evaluated the army’s combat capability saying:

“The state of preconscription training is zero, and mobilization reserves have disappeared.  The general condition is such that today the army is not in a state to defend the country reliably in the event of a small conflict.”

Zyuganov claimed that defense is spending every third RF ruble, and “spending it absolutely ineffectively.”

He complained that outsourcing support functions to civilian companies has doubled the cost of maintaining each soldier.  Zyuganov also said that, “Switching to expensive cars is a luxury in hard times.”

The Just Russia spokesman supported Serdyukov’s formation of a single queue for military apartments, saying:

“We all know that earlier this was a very corrupt sphere where there was a great deal of injustice and complaints.”

Just Russia supported publishing the apartment queue on the Internet, as well as Serdyukov’s ‘humanization’ of conscript service (an extra day off, ability to communicate with family, service near home, and weekend passes), though nothing was said about the extent to which any of these have been implemented in units.

But the Just Russia faction leader also said:

“Today we raised the issue of material support for civilian workers serving the RF Armed Forces.  Today their wages are so low that a whole row of military commanders complains that they can’t fill vacant positions:  simply no one comes for such pay.”

According to RIA Novosti, Just Russia also supports giving military retirees the option of civilianizing their pensions, a move also advocated by the Defense Ministry, but opposed by the Finance Ministry.  The move would spare the Defense Ministry from choosing between paying more in pensions as active pay rises, or breaking the sacred link between active pay and pensions.  For its part, the Finance Ministry doesn’t want pay out for more expensive civilian pensions.

The LDPR was skeptical of Serdyukov.  Its spokesman said:

“We didn’t hear any news that would surprise us.  And the points of this endless reforming, they are all mainly well-known.  It feels like the man [Serdyukov] is in the flow of what’s happening, but our faction doesn’t always share those methods with which this is happening, particularly cuts, civilianization.”

Sounds like he’s tired of sound bytes too.

Igor Barinov, Deputy Chairman of the Defense Committee from United Russia, expressed concern that Serdyukov’s VVUZ reductions have cut military education to the bone:

“Of course, optimization on this level was essential.  But I think it was clearly a mistaken decision to stop induction [of new cadets] into military VUZy altogether this year and next.”

Mikhail Grishankov, also from United Russia, said there have been failures in the program of providing housing to servicemen.