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This one could have been entitled, The Army’s Great Scourge or Reform Isn’t Utopia or We Straightened Them Out. Great quotes, but you’ll have to read to the bottom.
Defense Minister Anatoliy Serdyukov’s year-ending interview in Monday’s Izvestiya is a good read. The paper asked some harder-hitting questions than Serdyukov normally gets. And, though they aren’t necessarily new, his answers are pretty direct and revealing. There are problems with a lot of them though.
Let’s look first at what Serdyukov said, then we’ll look at the deeper meaning of his answers.
Asked about this year’s command and control changes, the Defense Minister says:
“The most important thing is that we already changed the entire troop command and control system. From one side, we tried to minimize the command and control levels; from the other side, to equip them technically. Now the next task is before us – to tie it all into a single system so that every district commander answers not just for the ground, but also for the air, and air defense, and naval component. The next step is we are trying to conduct exercises in such coordination between districts. I think 2011 is key for us on this plane.”
On the decision to move to four unified strategic commands (OSKs) and cutting levels of command, Serdyukov said:
“This is the General Staff’s idea. Before going to the president with such a proposal, we discussed this initiative since the end of 2007. At the same time, we had conferences at various levels, consulted with experts, important military leaders, and studied international experience again – both American and NATO. We tried to analyze the situation from every angle and arrived at the fact that this is really useful for various reasons.”
“First and foremost, the transition to the OSK should be reflected in the controllability of the army. A simple example: at the beginning of the transformations, an order from me to a battalion commander had to go through 17 levels. So you understand this influenced the speed of their transmission, and the content of the information itself. Now we have three levels in all. If one wanted, it would be possible to calculate how much was saved both on communications nodes, and on communications systems themselves, and in speed. And as a result – the army’s combat capability rose 50 percent.”
Asked about what will happen in combat situations now that more civilians occupy military support jobs, the Defense Minister says:
“Several factors converge into one point here, therefore, we came to the conclusion that we could and should divide directions of responsibilities – operational and support. It’s not an accident that the Defense Minister has a first deputy – the Chief of the General Staff and a first deputy – a civilian who handles the direction connected with supporting the operational component. Everything’s been thought out, and there won’t be any kind of failures. Neither peacetime, nor wartime frightens us.”
On General Staff Chief Makarov’s assessment that the commander’s slovenliness caused 150 conscripts to get ill in Kemerovo, Serdyukov takes the opportunity to describe the pains he’s taken in establishing systems to monitor the implementation of military reform:
“Unfortunately, we are getting started. Actually, when we launch any process, we try to organize the monitoring system and incentive system in the final result. But this doesn’t always work. We’ve established a series of structures for monitoring. They are, for example, the financial inspectorate, which checks the use of budget resources. Then the personnel inspectorate – occupied with the activity of every officer and civilian specialist. There is the military inspectorate, which checks those measures which should go on in this or any military institution. There is an organizational-inspector directorate occupied with checking fulfillment of all directives, orders, decrees, laws, etc. This is that system of monitoring which gives the capability to influence internal army processes, and to move them. Naturally, an entire system of regulations exists where the duties of every colleague, every sub-unit are strictly prescribed as is the corresponding period for fulfilling the orders.”
Asked about indicators of the fulfillment rate for Defense Ministry orders:
“All orders are being fulfilled. The question is different: are they on schedule? And for the last half year, the picture generally doesn’t look bad. The schedules we are establishing are holding on the whole. Inside the ministry, we changed our entire workflow, accordingly this entailed a cut in signatories on this or that issue or project. We are introducing electronic workflow which allows us at any stage to check how this or that directive or order is being fulfilled.”
“But there are also breakdowns. Recently we had a collegium in Khabarovsk. We listened to the report of an army commander who should have implemented 87 different measures, but implemented all of two. What kind of combat readiness and discipline can you speak of if an officer doesn’t fulfill his own duties?”
“When we embarked on reform, both I personally, and many of my colleagues strove to understand: what kind of problems really could be blocking the army’s development – housing, lack of money, lack of equipment, of soldiers? Now there’s everything. If you serve, then according to order 400 the money is very respectable. We are providing housing. There’s one hundred percent in equipment. Almost one hundred percent – give or take one-two percent – in servicemen. There you have it: if you chose this profession, then serve. But here we are stumbling over weak managerial discipline – the army’s great scourge. And even here we’re trying, from one side, to stimulate work, and from the other – to severely demand fulfillment of service duties.”
Is Russia buying weapons abroad because the systems are really needed or is it being done out of political considerations:
“There is a certain requirement for foreign military equipment, because in a series of types of armaments, we, unfortunately, will fall behind. Our models don’t meet the demands presented by the times. It’s important also to understand how to formulate the tactical-technical tasks and characteristics of this or that essential production. Therefore, we’re also trying to familiarize ourselves with those modern models of equipment and armaments which our partners have. For this, in fact, we are buying equipment in small amounts – as in the case of UAVs.”
“However, besides equipment, it’s also necessary to have trained personnel, and a command and control system. We don’t have many models of armaments, but to work on their development, spend time and money on their adoption is simply irrational, it’s simpler to buy, to study, and later begin to develop our own production. Those Israeli drones gave a serious impetus to developing domestic industry. Not long ago, the president was at the test range and there we showed him Russian models that are sufficiently reliable. They are fully suited to us.”
“We don’t have ships like the Mistral. We never built them. But to try to catch up now is senseless. We plan to buy the license and technical documentation for their production. Moreover, there’s an agreement that, starting with the third ship, we’ll build the helicopter carriers in Russia.”
Doesn’t such an approach hurt Russia’s defense industry? Wouldn’t it be better to finance and support our own enterprises:
“In the new state program of armaments, for four years, we laid out 600 billion rubles which will be allocated according to a new credit system for enterprises under a government guarantee. Now discussion is going quite actively on the subject of how this should happen, with what credit requirements and conditions. This is one of the forms of financing which has a relationship not so much to support of enterprises as to the system of paying the state defense order itself. It allows for transferring the load from the second half of the GPV to the first and vice versa. Or to take off the peak load, meanwhile working out forms of active participation in financing by the Ministry of Finance and the banking system. Incidentally, the reaction is fully positive, we already have trials with the largest banks – with Sberbank and VTB.”
On inter-ethnic conflicts in units and the possibility of creating nationality-based units:
“This isn’t today’s or yesterday’s problem. If the commander fulfills his duties completely, then time and energy for conflicts simply won’t remain. If they’re occupied with physical training for a minimum of four hours a day in every unit , and the remaining time is combat training, as it’s stipulated, then no kind of misunderstandings will arise. It’s not important where you’re from, which nationality, and religion, if you just fall in your rack after exercises. The problem again is in the commanders. Some of them are simply estranged from working with personnel – they see that there are many physically strong, willful guys in the unit, and give over control of the barracks to them. But those ones become abusers.”
What happens with commanders like these:
“We’ll dismiss them, get others. An officer must be physically and morally very well prepared and engender only respect.”
Has the army rid itself of dedovshchina with the move to one-year service:
“We now are trying to get away from this term. There is no longer such a phenomenon. There is simply hooliganism, crude violation of the law. If a man served three months, what kind of ‘ded’ is he? The roots of dedovshchina are much deeper than commonly believed. In Soviet times, when people served three-five years, then it was the rule: a man just called up, and a man looking at demob in six months, have different training. Here then is this phenomenon, really, and its origin. Now this is pure hooliganism, legally punishable crime which we have fought and will fight without compromise. Here it’s important that the commander in the sub-unit should fulfill his duties completely. Then there can’t be any kind of conflicts by definition.”
Asked about accidents with munitions dismantlement over the last year, and how is the problem being resolved now, Serdyukov says:
“The problem is very serious. For long years, munitions were stockpiled to excess, calculated for a multimillion-man army. Besides, in the last twenty years, virtually no attention was given to combat training and firings, but the norms of munitions stockpiling remained as before. As a result, so much ended up in excess that we have work for several years. To dismantle them by industrial methods is quite complex – there aren’t enough enterprises. Besides, this is very expensive and not safer than destruction.”
“Therefore, we’re now preparing special teams, certifying equipment, and selecting officers. They mainly need to be combat engineers. We’re picking ranges. We’ve figured where, in what volume, and what we need to blow up, and worked out safe techniques. We need at a minimum two, maybe three years of such work. Yes, this will create some temporary discomfort and difficulties. But it’s impossible to not do this. If the entire arsenal at Ulyanovsk had blown up, the trouble would have been much more serious.”
Asked about demographic problems, a potential shortage of conscripts, and possibly cutting more deferments, the Defense Minister answered:
“We won’t revoke anything. As far as demographic problems go, it goes without saying that they exist and we will take them into account. How do we solve this problem? I think if the country’s financial situation allows, then we will still try to return the issue of a contract army. No one has revoked this program, we didn’t realize it because of a lack of resources. We haven’t rejected the idea itself.”
Serdyukov tells his interviewers flat out, there’s no longer opposition to his reforms in the army. What happened to his opponents:
“We straightened them out. Of course, this was difficult, especially at first. Now a team of like-minded people has been laid down which itself is generating reform ideas. Something’s already started to come from it. People see this and understand: reform is not utopia, but completely concrete matters.”
After four difficult years in the Defense Ministry, where does Serdyukov see himself:
“I still haven’t finished my service, so I can’t begin to talk about what’s been achieved and what hasn’t. We’re now in a transitional phase. There’s not a single direction of the ministry’s activity that modernization, the transition to a new profile wouldn’t affect. We are working everywhere – in all spheres: armaments, scientific-research activity, education, organization of daily service, military-technical cooperation. I can’t say now what we’ll succeed in, and in which direction we’ll lag. It seems to me that everything’s going pretty well. We’re on schedule, there’s no deviating.”
Let’s deconstruct some of this shall we?
Serdyukov and company seem to be obsessed with eliminating layers. You know sometimes redundancy is good, and prevents making mistakes. In a net-centric army, every layer sees the picture, but doesn’t necessarily have it for action. It’s very hard to believe Serdyukov’s claim that just cutting command levels increased combat capability 50 percent when you look at everything that’s factored into the Russian definition of combat capability.
Yes, we know operational and support stovepipes have been created. But Serdyukov completely dodges the question of what happens when the combat tooth depends on a civilian tail. There are obviously answers to this, but the Russians aren’t accustomed to this. He brushes it off saying there just simply won’t be any failures. That’s reassuring.
On the soldiers in Kemerovo and slovenliness, Serdyukov goes a bit non-sequitur. It’s great hearing about his monitoring system and the implementation of orders, etc. One wonders, however, if electronic workflow in the Defense Ministry was as important as many things that needed to happen in the troops this year. But then it gets really interesting. We start to hear in Serdyukov’s words some of the animus he has for officers. Why did he ever have such an army commander as the one he vilifies? He really lays into officers, saying he’s given them everything they need now, they just need to do their jobs.
Serdyukov really avoids the question on buying arms abroad and hurting domestic producers. He monologues about some convoluted credit provision scheme for paying out the GOZ. This issue of real money for producers to make weapons and equipment is significant. Even with the GOZ and a new GPV in place, all anyone can talk about is extending credit to the OPK in 2011. Hmmm, interesting.
He blames commanders again for inter-ethnic conflicts in the army. If they were doing their jobs, it couldn’t happen. If they just wore the boys out properly, it wouldn’t occur. There is some truth in this, yes, but it’s more complex than just that. But saying any more might have taken the Defense Minister into a social and political minefield.
On dedovshchina, again Serdyukov blames officers for not taking care of the problem. Serdyukov’s insistence on just talking about hooliganism makes some sense, yes, but there is still dedovshchina going on. And, by the way, dedovshchina was never just purely hazing, making the juniors do the crappy jobs; it always had more violence, abuse, and crime in it than Serdyukov is willing to allow.
Serdyukov doesn’t say how he’s addressing the real civil-military relations problem he’s got in Chelyabinsk with regard to the explosions at Chebarkul. But at least it’s a little like the problems his counterparts face in normal countries, and one has to credit him for taking on a lingering military problem all his predecessors simply ignored.
Wow, is Serdyukov cocky on vanquishing his opponents in the military! He ought to watch it, it could come back on him. But as we’ve seen, large-scale, public political demonstrations are going to come from other sources (i.e. the soccer fan bunt or pogrom). The purely military ones (i.e. the Russian Airborne Union, etc.) tend to be more farcical. But veterans and even serving officers could provide critical mass in a bigger social protest. And there’s always the chance that some disaffected Kvachkov could fire a grenade at the Defense Minister’s limo. Yes, yes, I can hear you — this is just by way of playing out one scenario on what could happen in the future.
One has to respect Serdyukov’s reticence to judge his legacy right now. It may be possible he’ll leave the big marble building on the Arbat one day thinking how much he’s changed everything, thinking he’s a 21st century Dmitriy Milyutin. And he may be, at least in comparison with any other choice. He is making essential changes, and some progress. More than this analyst thought he would back in early 2007. But, on close inspection of the military, we may discover that less will actually have changed and improved than we think right now.
How much longer will Serdyukov continue in this burn-out job? He’s pretty stoic, but he’s definitely more frayed than 4 years ago. The issue probably comes down to the larger context of the Putin-Medvedev tandem and team — changes in high-level personnel could be more difficult now with every passing day. Perhaps Serdyukov will remain through a fifth year, and the seating of the next Russian president.
It’s a great interview. We got some real insight into the Defense Minister’s thinking. Never could have gotten this 20 or 30 years ago.