One retired Colonel A. A. Karasev, deputy of the Saratov city duma and chairman of the Saratov branch of the Union of Soviet Officers, has written in KPRF.ru about communists and former servicemen picketing Prime Minister Putin’s reception office in Saratov on 17 February.
According to him, they demonstrated their concern about ruinous army reforms and carried signs saying “Putin! Return Serdyukov to the Furniture Store.” And, of course, they addressed an open letter to Putin.
Their letter said they’d taken to the streets before what used to be Soviet Army and Navy Day to make their woes, pains, and demands known to the head of government, and to defend the army, OPK, veterans, and their families from the outrages committed by bureaucrats and Duma deputies.
Their particulars included:
- The U.S.-Russian balance of strategic forces is broken. The leadership’s rush to a new strategic arms agreement is only reducing Russia’s security.
- The OPK continues to be destroyed. Defense factories in Saratov have closed. Remaining plants get financing only in late spring or summer each year.
- The Defense Ministry has not thought out its reforms of the army in the American mold. The combat possibilities of Russia’s brigades are less than those of the formations and units of the ‘probable enemy’ [they really think the U.S. and Russia will go head-to-head?].
- ‘Sergeantization’ [i.e. officer cuts and efforts to create professional NCOs] of the army means its enfeeblement. There isn’t a sergeant with an intermediate specialized education [i.e. vocational high school diploma] who can replace an officer from a higher command or engineering school. Promising contract-sergeants 20-30,000 ruble pay after training only adds extra tension to their relations with officers.
- Military pensions have fallen to the level of pay for the least qualified workers, and below the subsistence minimum in many cases.
- Military wives have not received social guarantees to compensate for their inability to work in many garrisons.
They want all these problems rectified, of course, but want to start with firing Serdyukov and his team.
The tension over what they’ve termed ‘sergeantization’ is interesting.
In the Defense Ministry’s view, officers who’ve been cut, or turned into sergeants themselves, either weren’t needed or weren’t performing officer work or supervising troops. So officers have been cut, and those that remain will really be officers with real units to command. Some of them will get premium pay to reward them for now, and, from 2012, much higher base pay, for example, maybe 60,000 rubles for a lieutenant. Meanwhile, as the Defense Ministry sees it, there won’t be any problem with newly-minted professional sergeants entering the ranks and earning higher pay [which still won’t approach that of officers].
The KPRF has an alternate scenario for the future. It sees many officers, who were needed, put out of the service and replaced by some poorly trained contract sergeants who will earn more than before. Two-thirds of officers don’t get premium pay for now, and the KPRF is probably skeptical that greatly increased pay for all remaining officers will be actually be delivered in 2012. The future it sees has a mass of officers and sergeants, not differentiated by much of anything, including pay. While the officer-NCO interaction was long ago worked out in Western armies, it’s still a troubling vision for an army in the throes of major structural changes and lacking a professional NCO tradition.