Leonid Ivashov recently talked to Narodnyy politolog on a variety of army topics including reforms, the possibility of a big war, rearmament, president-elect Vladimir Putin, and his military program. Segodnia.ru also printed the interview.
Once Russia’s top military diplomat, now avowed geopolitician, the former three-star thinks Putin fears externally-driven regime change and is improving the army to forestall such an eventuality. Ivashov sees a U.S.-led West depriving Russia of allies before focusing on Russia itself.
Asked about army reforms, Ivashov says they have succeeded in cutting forces, but not in rearming them or improving their social conditions. Reforms have degraded and weakened the army. Military men mock the New Profile reforms saying, “There’s a profile, but not armed forces.” Ivashov calls reforms craziness, and says it’s like servicemen have lived in a house under continuous repair for 25 years.
Following up his comment on mobilization reserves cut to the bare minimum, NP asked the retired general-colonel if a big war is possible today.
Ivashov says yes. Citing how “they” are beating up Russia’s strategic allies (Syria and Iran), he says “What is this if not war?”
Ivashov foresees a large conflict between the U.S. and China and possible spinoff regional and local wars. He cites a Chinese specialist who calls for a Russian-Chinese alliance to deter a big war and curb the appetite of the West and international oligarchs.
Is Russia ready for such an eventuality? Ivashov answers:
“I think Putin understands perfectly how military weakness and the absence of strategic allies can be the end for Russia. Clearly, the Libyan situation ‘helped’ him understand this, just like what is happening now in Syria, and what they are preparing for Iran. If you can’t defend the country, you are subjecting yourself to a great risk personally.”
“Now Putin is making a sharp turn to the side of strengthening defense capability. One can only welcome this. Because today they don’t simply beat the weak, they destroy them.”
Ivashov calls Putin’s military program ambitious, if not systematic. The regime’s been in a “light panic” since Libya.
He intimates that more than 20 percent of the state armaments program will be stolen since the amount of theft cited by the military prosecutor covers only cases under investigation, not all corruption.
Ivashov suggests lobbying has replaced forecasts of future military actions as the driver of arms procurement.
The case of Mistral, which one wonders where it will be built and how it will be used, Ivashov says well-connected lobbyist structures ensure what gets produced is exactly what their enterprises make. He was somewhat encouraged that Putin, at Sarov, entertained turning to specialists and experts to examine the army’s requirements.
On GPV 2020, Ivashov concludes it’ll be a serious step forward if only half of what’s planned gets produced, but it can’t be equipment designed in the 1970s and 1980s. He sees OPK production capacity problems too. He questions whether Votkinsk can produce 400 solid-fueled ballistic missiles by 2020.
Returning to the big war, he questions a focus on defensive operations for Russian conventional forces, saying offensive capabilities are needed to deter potential enemies. He claims reduced force structure and mobilization capability have become a joke in the General Staff:
“The main problem for the Chinese in a conflict with us is not defeating our brigade, but finding it.”
Ivashov’s just a little up in arms over the armor situation. He all but accuses the General Staff Chief of being a paid (or bribed) lobbyist for foreign tank and armored vehicle makers. He suggests that Army General Makarov should be placed in cuffs if he says the Leopard-2 is better than the T-90 [what about Postnikov then?], and the Main Military Prosecutor should investigate him.
So what is to be done first and foremost to strengthen the country’s defense capability today?
Ivashov replies get rid of Serdyukov and Makarov who have done great damage, and strengthen cadres in the OPK and military by replacing “managers” with those who can apply military science (as Ivashov was taught) to the problem of developing new weapons.
The always provocative Ivashov doesn’t venture whether he thinks the current emphasis on defense capability will continue or have the intended results. He seems sincerely to believe in a possible Western intervention in Russia’s internal affairs. But it’d be more interesting to hear him talk about whether the army would fight for Putin’s regime in something less than that maximal contingency. Ivashov, unlike some critics of Russia’s defense policy, shies away from blaming the once-and-future Supreme CINC for at least some of the current military state of affairs.