Larger Significance of the Serdyukov Flap

Pavel Felgengauer

You’ll find bits of the following by Pavel Felgengauer in various English language articles, but not his full argument as laid out here.

Writing in Novaya gazeta this week, military commentator Pavel Felgengauer concludes that Defense Minister Anatoliy Serdyukov remains in place, but the army’s problems are growing.  He says:

“Today a dangerous situation of general decay in discipline and order is taking shape which could lead to a loss of control over the armed forces.”

The slow disintegration of the Soviet Armed Forces required Serdyukov to take immediate, radical, and often not well thought out reforms, according to Felgengauer.  Mass officer and warrant officer dismissals have put 70 thousand outside the TO&E “at the command’s disposition,” essentially just waiting for dismissal.  Only 10,000 are junior officers whom the Defense Ministry owes little by way of benefits.

A bit of explanation that Felgengauer doesn’t give you.  We haven’t had any independent observer put this number so high.  These 70,000 are waiting for housing because, by law, surplus officers can’t be discharged until they get permanent apartments.  But they aren’t living on much while they wait.  Because they don’t have duty posts, they get only rank pay, not various monthly supplements that officers in active positions get.  Rank pay might be only 30 percent of what they received when they were in the TO&E.

But back to Felgengauer.  He turns next to NCOs.  He says experts say, with a million-man army and 150,000 officers, the Russian Armed Forces need 200,000 or 300,000 sergeants.  But in Serdyukov’s ‘new profile’ TO&E, there are billets for only 90,000 contractee-specialists and NCOs together.

And these are the guys who’re supposed to help the shrunken officer corps keep order in the ranks.

Felgengauer then recites the Main Military Prosecutor’s announcement that barracks violence is up 50 percent in 2010.  He says incidents of open ‘hooliganism,’ criminal violence, and inter-ethnic conflict are all rising.  And only a declining number of officers is there to hold all this together – with the help of an inadequate NCO corps.  This is why, says Felgengauer, the Soviet officer corps relied on dedovshchina as a lever to keep order among the troops.  He may be suggesting Russian officers are doing the same thing now.

He concludes many are dissatisfied with this state of affairs, and they all focus blame on Serdyukov, somewhat unfairly, according to Felgengauer.  Criticism is focused on the man who actually tried to fix Russia’s decaying defense department, and not his predecessors who drove it to ruin.

Of course, one could ask Felgengauer isn’t this the fate of all reformers?  Maybe those being reformed were happy with the decaying and ineffective bureaucracy and forces that were comfortable, and perhaps profitable, for them.

Felgengauer returns to the issue of attempts to train NCOs.  Instead of officers, military schools are supposed to prepare sergeants instead.  But only the erstwhile Ryazan Higher Airborne Command School is actually doing it, and, ironically, this is where the storm over Serdyukov arose.

Felgengauer concludes that Putin and Medvedev agreed with Serdyukov’s reforms, and so they aren’t ready to dismiss him now.  But the problems and tensions surrounding the Defense Ministry are growing.

In a kind of postscript, Felgengauer sees the decision for military police as something of a ridiculous answer to disorder in the army.  First, they will be selected from the ranks of the most disgruntled – the dismissed officers.  The concept behind using some ‘dissatisfied-dismissed’ to keep order among other dissatisfied is just a little inscrutable.  And, in the best case, it’ll take over a year to change all the laws and regulations to allow military police to operate.  Will Serdyukov and his reforms remain intact by then?

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