Last week BFM.ru interviewed Pavel Baev of Peace Research Institute Oslo about Russia’s military reforms. Baev’s view of the reality of ongoing reforms is captured in one word — catastrophic.
Now Baev doesn’t get everything exactly. Some military policy changes — like the one-year draft and a new, higher military pay system — were made some time ago, not necessarily for the 2012 presidential election.
But he’s right about lots of other things. Some decisions made in Defense Minister Serdyukov’s reforms haven’t meshed, or even been antithetical. Decisions like higher pay have become, like it or not, part of the electoral picture, and the leadership has to follow through.
Baev believes the army might not be combat capable due to personnel cuts. He allows for the possibility that Serdyukov might be sacrificed by his political masters. The Kremlin and White House are using pay and apartments to keep serving officers politically quiescent. But Baev thinks these aren’t enough; at some point, the army will insist on having its combat capability restored. He hints later that the state and inclinations of the army were factors in the recent Arab revolutions that overturned long-time rulers.
The interviewer asks Baev to reconcile Prime Minister Putin’s Duma session last week in which he emphasized using the defense budget at home to create good, high technology jobs in Russia with President Medvedev’s [and Putin’s] statements about the failure of the state defense order:
“It seems to me that on the whole in the realm of military reform, and the Gosoboronzakaz in particular, there are very many concealed problems which Putin generally didn’t talk about. The speech [Putin’s Duma speech], in large measure, on the whole was very unproblematic. Somehow everything was more about achievements, future developments, very little about problems. In the military arena, many problems have accumulated, and in the course of military reform not a few new ones were created. The situation is very complicated, and attempts to correct the situation somehow largely lead to problems becoming even more acute, particularly problems with personnel.”
Baev went on to say that the Gosoboronzakaz and the problems of buying new military equipment have reached a critical point because of the aging of current weapons systems. There is, he says, an undercover battle over what to buy and, especially, what should be bought abroad. The situation around Mistral has become so complicated and political that it’s now more a “special operation” than an export contract.
Baev says the Russian Navy didn’t really want such ships, but went with the idea when it was foisted on them. The real struggle and lobbying over Mistral concerns which shipyard in Russia will build units 3 and 4, according to Baev. He suggests the whole deal might have been French President Sarkozy’s way of placing a bet on President Medvedev to be Russia’s future leader, and organizing the “political climate” in Europe toward this end. But right now, of course, the Mistral deal looks very uncertain.
BFM.ru asked Baev for his interim assessment of the military reforms begun in late 2008:
“Purely catastrophic. In every reform, there’s such a moment when the old thing is no longer working, and the new one isn’t working yet. At this critical moment for any reform, we have a situation when nothing is working; where to move — either forward along the path of reforms or to try to work back, — is in large measure a political question. Just in the area of Armed Forces personnel policy, an unknown number of things have been botched. The initiatives advanced, — cutting the officer corps, contract service, sergeant training, cutting the conscription term — each of them has its own basis, but they’re absolutely mismatched. That is, we now have a situation with military personnel when the army is in fact not combat capable.”
Asked about military pay raises planned for next year, Baev says:
“I think the main sense of this initiative is still to lift the officer corps’ very obvious dissatisfaction with all these reforms. Great potential dissatisfaction has built up in the army, it is focused more or less on the minister, which, they most likely will sacrifice. But this isn’t enough to lift this dissatisfaction, but the promised money plus the long ago promised apartments, and they are still gradually giving them out, — this is somewhat capable of damping down this dissatisfaction. And the fact that they are promising lieutenants, — for young officers it sounds completely improbable, and, most likely, they are prepared to wait for such money.”
“It’s perfectly obvious that very many political initiatives are aimed at this critical electoral sector — to lift the tension now, to make so that the army sits quietly in its barracks, not speaking out, waiting for its money and apartments, — and everything. These are purely short-term things, which can help get through a complex electoral period. It seems no one particularly looks after this [military] sector, inasmuch as, generally, for officers money is money, but they are people of service. If even in addition they pay the money, service doesn’t go because they aren’t succeeding in reforming the Armed Forces so that they become combat capable, then this is a more serious source of dissatisfaction than simply a lack of money.”
“. . . the Armed Forces are the only area where genuinely serious and deep reforms are going on. But with reforms, problems always take on a new character, change. Here some kind of forward dynamic is occurring, it isn’t going in circles. But the lack of resolution of these problems in the absence of political will is very evident, and all political will is going now to electoral projects which aren’t clear how they will be implemented because it’s not clear to anyone who in the end will be Supreme CINC, that is also a question of no small importance for the Armed Forces.”
Baev sees a lesson for Russia and the Russian Army in the Arab revolutions:
“But it’s clear that several conclusion flow from the Arab revolutions, and not just in relation to missile systems, but in the fact that the army is a serious political force. This is more the conclusion of events not in Libya, but of the situation in Egypt. And attempts somehow to neutralize the politicization of the army grow more from here [Egypt], than from Libya, where the army was in a pitiful condition, from here [Libya] also, in large measure, there is a civil war. If there were a powerful army there, such a thing [civil war] wouldn’t have occurred.”
He finishes by talking about obsession with ultra-modern weapons when existing systems are perfect for today’s armed warfare. His discussion leads to an open question about the fit between Russia’s military doctrine and its future armament plans:
“Therefore, the conversation about how we realistically need to outfit the Russian Armed Forces depends largely on whom we intend to fight, where we intend to employ these Armed Forces, against what kind of potential enemies, — answers to all these questions don’t exist, the doctrine doesn’t provide these answers. It’s essential to replace weapons systems which have already outlived their time, but whether it’s necessary to replace them with the most super modern systems, — this is still a question.”