Daily Archives: November 3, 2010

Vox Populi

How did readers react to the Vedomosti editorial supporting Defense Minister Serdyukov and his reforms?  Basically, two ways — perhaps about 30 percent expressed qualified agreement, and 70 percent believed it was paid PR written, if not by Serdyukov himself, then by one of his minions.

None of this is scientific, of course.  It’s just an attempt to make sense of 84 posted comments on the article.  Vedomosti is a mainstream, semi-liberal paper (certainly neither far left nor far right) with an educated readership.  Take it for granted that those disagreeing with the editorial were more likely to comment.

With that said . . . let’s look at opponents of the piece.

The thrust of their comments, if it’s even possible to summarize them, boils down to this: 

  • The editorial is part of a ‘special operation’ to rehabilitate Serdyukov and reforms after the Seltsy dust-up (was it really that serious or damaging?), and to head off Achalov’s 10,000-man meeting (which Achalov now says will be more like 5,000).
  • The editorial fails to recognize how demoralized the army is by reforms and a reformer like Serdyukov.  One reader even suggested that, after buying arms abroad, Russia might once again hire foreign officers too.
  • The editorial’s opponents say it’s Serdyukov who’s destroyed the army, and one argued you can only reform the army if you were commissioned a lieutenant and fought in a ‘hot spot.’
  • Finally, less polemical types argued Vedomosti didn’t address the state of the Russian Army’s combat capability under Serdyukov.  One said cutting is not reform, and the division-to-brigade transformation was really no more than a recognition of the true state of affairs in most formations.  Another suggested going to Siberia or the Far East and sounding the combat alarm in a motorized rifle brigade to observe directly how combat readiness has collapsed (of course, maybe that’s why this year’s training is to focus on small units).

The comments of those who agree with the editorial actually mesh up kind of nicely (at least for purposes of contrast) with those above:

  • The army was destroyed in the 1990s by its own bloated cadre officer corps that turned into a band of uniformed profiteers (but were they any different from other Russians at that time?).  This generals’ mafia was capable neither of defending the country nor returning conscript sons home safely to their mothers.  One reader said the near-disaster in South Ossetia only confirmed the correctness of Serdyukov’s direction.
  • These readers said the right civilian makes a good Defense Minister.  One compared Serdyukov (once again) to Robert McNamara.
  • Another reader said he supports Serdyukov, but he still can’t tell if Russia’s combat readiness or the effectiveness of its defense expenditures is higher under him or not.
  • A final reader wants to give Serdyukov a chance and more time to see if he can improve the country’s defense capability.  He says he was a conscript in 2000-02 and only fired his weapon three times during that period.

Serdyukov’s Carte Blanche

In an editorial Monday, Vedomosti supported the carte blanche President Dmitriy Medvedev has apparently given Defense Minister Anatoliy Serdyukov and his military reforms.  The paper likes the reforms enough that it wants the President to think about the possible effectiveness of the ‘army method’ in reforming the MVD.  Here’s what Vedomosti had to say:

“Renaming the Army”

“Dmitriy Medvedev’s and Anatoliy Serdykov’s joint trip to a model Moscow suburban military unit went beyond the protocol of the visit.  The President’s speech in awarding outstanding military men became a new signal to officers, the army, and society:  ‘Despite the fact that all changes are difficult, they are necessary…  Everything that is now being done is directed at establishing modern and effective armed forces.  Here there are both problems and good decisions, I am following this personally as Supreme CINC.’  The Kremlin demonstrated that, despite the recent media scandal, it trusts the civilian Defense Minister, won’t bow to the generals’ and veterans’ opposition, and intends to continue its planned military reform.”

“The new carte blanche for Serdyukov for further transformation is important for many reasons.  The current minister is not the first civilian director of the military department.  However, he specifically replaced a campaign of reforming with systematic transformations.  In his inheritance from Sergey Ivanov, Serdyukov received a much truncated army of the Soviet type, not answering modern requirements.  Dedovshchina, obsolete armaments (modern equipment is not much more than 10% of the general inventory) and command and control, and manning were its main problems.  Add to this corruption among the generals which prevented equipping the army with new types of armaments and communications.  The victorious August war of 2008 showed that the victors couldn’t suppress the enemy’s aviation and artillery and were inferior to the vanquished in modern communications and reconnaissance means.”

“Serdyukov’s attempts to establish control over expenditures on purchases for the army met severe resistance from rear services officers and generals.  Not long ago he acknowledged to journalists:  ‘When I came to the Defense Ministry, speaking plainly, I was surrounded by large amounts of thievery.  Financial licentiousness, the impunity of people whom no one had checked out (…) was so deeply ingrained that it had already become a way of thinking.’  The minister confirms that the transparency of the defense order is a ways off.  The unnecessary secrecy of the military budget is interfering with this.  Meanwhile, progress in the struggle against traders in shoulderboards is obvious.  In 2006, corruption cases were started against seven generals, in 2007, when Serdyukov became minister, — against 16, in 2008 — against 20, in the first half of this year — against eight more.”

“Besides this, the Defense Ministry put up for sale unneeded property and facilities which were being illegally rented out to enrich a few people, and didn’t allow for building apartment blocks for officers needing housing on these grounds.”

“On the whole, it’s possible also to consider organizational transformations a success:  the transition to a more modern system of command and control and the reduction in the excess number of generals and higher officers.  In 2008, of 249 generals and admirals who underwent certification [аттестация], 50 were dismissed, and 130 sent to new places of service.  One can’t avoid mistakes in cutting and dismissing officers, but those deprived of a sinecure cried loudest of all about the collapse of the army and treason.”

“The struggle with barracks hooliganism goes on with varying success.  According to the Main Military Prosecutor’s data, in 2006, more than 5,800 people suffered beatings from fellow servicemen, in 2009 — 3,000.  And for the first five months of 2010, 1,167 soldiers suffered from dedovshchina — 1.5 times more than the analogous period of 2009, of them, four died.  The cause is not only in the growth — because of the cut in the service term — the number of new conscripts went from 123,000 in the fall of 2006 to the current 270,600.  Generals, having botched the program costing 84 billion rubles to transfer to contract, now are forced to call up those with criminal records.  Military police will remain a paper tiger for ‘dedy’ and ethnic clans.  We note that Serdyukov hasn’t forsaken a professional army, but put off its creation until the time when the Defense Ministry will be able to select and not collect contractees through deception and duress.”

“Nevertheless, it’s notable that over 3 and 1/2 years, the reform, being conducted by independent managers without legal changes and loud renamings, has really moved forward.  It’s possible it’s worth the President considering the effectiveness of the army method in reforming the MVD.”