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.