Category Archives: Military Housing

33,000 Unfinished or Unwanted Military Apartments

General-Major Chvarkov

Candor is a quirky thing.  It has a way of showing up in places you expect it least.  So it was yesterday when RIA Novosti covered General-Major Sergey Chvarkov’s meeting with members of the Federation Council’s Defense and Security Committee.

Chvarkov is the relatively new head of the relatively new Main Directorate for Personnel Work.  The new name replaced an old one — Main Directorate for Socialization Work, GUVR for short.  Chvarkov and his charges are inheritors of the long tradition of zampolits and the Main Political Directorate.

According to Chvarkov, over the past year, military investigators have initiated 20 criminal cases involving the construction of thousands of unfinished and unwanted apartments intended for Defense Ministry servicemen.  But he declined to give specific details about the cases.

Deputy Committee Chairman Nikolay Sidoryak, however, said at present there are 33,000 apartments in various regions which are unwanted by servicemen.  He called this a “nightmarish figure.”  He wants those who ordered these apartments and financed their construction brought to account.  It’ll be interesting to see when or if this happens.

Early this year, a figure of only 20,000 was cited.

RIA Novosti gives a couple clipped Chvarkov phrases — the housing “isn’t fully ready,” and “a great number of refusals are happening.”  Then:

“I’ve personally seen buildings which stand in an empty field with absolutely no infrastructure.  Servicemen getting notifications that they’ve been granted housing go there, say the housing’s magnificent, good, but we don’t want to live there — we’re tired of garrisons.”

Committee Chairman Viktor Ozerov, for his part, says it’s all just a misunderstanding, and the Defense Ministry’s requirements for builders are just too tough.

RIA Novosti notes former Deputy Defense Minister Grigoriy Naginskiy claimed nearly two years ago that apartment construction was following detailed information on where servicemen want to live.

It would be easy to see the military housing issue as all but over and done with if one listened only to official political or military pronouncements, but reality just keeps coming back.  It smacks of a Soviet approach – fulfilling the plan and meeting the quota is what matters, how [i.e. quality] is secondary.  It makes one ask if this is more broadly indicative of how other decisions and policies are implemented.

Now permanent military apartments are supposed to be provided in 2013 (three years later than Putin’s original deadline).  And Putin himself said not long ago that there are only 77,000 apartments remaining to be built.

These unwanted apartments are exactly why some veterans have gone out for public demonstrations lately.  

It’s been clear for some time that the Defense Ministry builds apartments where it wants to, not where former servicemen want to live.  And it wants to build where it’s less expensive.  Paperwork problems have kept half of new military apartments empty each year.  And the problem of incomplete construction has also been around.  Not much about this situation’s changed in recent years.  But here’s one more recent article detailing the problems of permanent apartments built for the military.

Serdyukov and Baranets

Anatoliy Serdyukov (photo: Vladimir Belengurin)

Komsomolskaya pravda’s Viktor Baranets got to prompt Defense Minister Anatoliy Serdyukov for a few statements on various topics in today’s paper.  It doesn’t seem like he really got to ask questions.

Serdyukov claims all but about 3% of GOZ-2011 has been placed, and 100% advances to the defense sector for 2012 will make for a smooth year of orders and production.  He “dodges the bullet” on not ordering Kalashnikovs.  He returns to the possibility of giving serving officers and contractees money to rent their own apartments, but this never worked well in the past.

Serdyukov says the first phase of military reform involved changing the Armed Forces’ org-shtat (TO&E) structure.  Now, he says, the second phase has begun, and it’s connected with rearming the troops.

On the state defense order (GOZ), Serdyukov says:

“During the formation of the Gosoboronzakaz, we had two issues with the defense sector — the price and quality of armaments.  We got them to open up their production “cost history.”  That is, they showed us everything transparently.  We needed to understand what they were getting and from where.  After long arguments, a compromise was found in the end.  We settled on quality criteria.  The Gosoboronzakaz is almost completely placed.  Of 580 billion rubles a little more than 20 billion was left ‘to settle.’  But we’ve also drawn conclusions from the lessons of this year.  Now the next Gosoboronzakaz will be formed in the Defense Ministry before December with such calculation that they will begin to fulfill it in January.  At the same time, we’re trying to make the Gosoboronzakaz 100% paid in advance to the defense sector.  Not another country in the world has such comfortable conditions for its VPK.”

Serdyukov says the Defense Ministry is still working on MPs, their regs, missions, training, structure, and size.  They’ll be responsible for discipline and order in garrisons and investigations.

The Defense Minister opines that Russia’s Israeli UAVs aren’t bad, but they are looking at Italian ones while domestic development continues.

Serdyukov confirmed that two new factories for producing the S-400 system will be built.  They are designed, and, he hopes, will begin production by 2015.

On tanks, the Defense Minister says they’ve taken the position that they can modernize T-72s to the level of a T-90 or better for 38 million rubles.  He believes it’s cost effective.

On the AK-74, Serdyukov claims they aren’t rejecting it, but they have depots overflowing with 17 million automatic rifles.  He says they’ll be used or modernized, some will be sold, and others transferred to other power ministries.

Serdyukov believes the draft military pay law now in the Duma will raise pensions by 50 or 60 percent.  Active military pay will be as advertised:  a lieutenant is supposed to get 50,000 or more rubles a month.  Contract enlisted will start at 25,000 or more depending on their duties.

Serdyukov hopes the problem of housing for retired servicemen will be concluded in 2013.  Then he can focus on service housing for contractees.  He proposes paying contractees to rent apartments while the Defense Ministry acquires or builds service housing.  “Apartment money” is a possibility but it has to be thought out.

Sunday on Pushkin Square

Waiting to Occupy Finished Apartments in Kupavna (photo: Mikhail Pavlenko)

Sunday’s “Army Against Serdyukov” demonstration took place as planned on Pushkin Square.  About 500 people attended, but organizers hoped for as many as 1,500.  The participants were orderly, and the police presence was light and relaxed compared with more overtly political protests.  Novyye izvestiya claimed there were similar meetings in Arkhangelsk, Murmansk, Severodvinsk, Stavropol, and Samara but the press reported only on protests in the latter city.

Dmitriy Gudkov used the occasion to publicize the Public Council for the Defense of Legal Rights of Servicemen’s appeal to President Medvedev.  Besides demanding Defense Minister Serdyukov’s resignation, the appeal calls for an end to violations of servicemen’s housing rights and to the collapse of the military education system and defense industry.

Dmitriy Gudkov (photo: Mikhail Pavlenko)

Gudkov told NI:

“We need to unite servicemen who today are dissatisfied with the state of affairs in the army.  There is a failure of all army reform, collapse of the defense sector . . . .  The breakdown of the military housing program.  Two hundred thousand officers’ families around the country who haven’t received apartments.  Military pensioners who today have a pitiful allowance.”

In remarks to Radio Svoboda, he said deceived servicemen may form their own, alternative list of those officers who are still waiting for their promised apartments.

Gudkov also claimed there were attempts to prevent the gathering:

“On the Internet, information was put out that the meeting would occur on Saturday.  Instructions went to all military units that anyone seen at the meeting would be dismissed.  The Defense Ministry did everything to disrupt this action.  But in vain.”

Hero of the Russian Federation, Cosmonaut Sergey Nefedov gave the introductory speech to the crowd on Pushkin Square.

Gudkov gave an account of Sunday’s event on his ЖЖ in which he said the protestors insist on their legal rights, and refuse to be silent although the authorities want to ignore them completely.  He called military reform not reform, but the collapse of the army.  Gudkov said the meeting wasn’t just against Serdyukov, but against all who don’t know how to manage the state in a professional manner, and those who are not up to their duties.  He concludes:

“Demonstrations, meetings – this is only the tip of the iceberg of the people’s agitation.  The number of those who’re ready to go in December to the polls and express their distrust in this government is growing larger.”

The Public Council is considering establishing a tent camp outside the Defense Ministry during the run-up to the elections, according to Gudkov.

Gudkov said television covered Sunday’s meeting, and cameras and microphones were visible in photos, but there were no TV news reports on the event.  There are, however, lots of videos and photos on Mikhail Pavlenko’s ЖЖ.

Two last items deserve mention.  Radio Svoboda talked to a retired Northern Fleet major, a military lawyer, named Igor Chuykov from Murmansk who spoke at Sunday’s anti-Serdyukov rally.  Chuykov described the situation among military men in his city:

“The movement in Murmansk is very serious.  Thanks just to this movement, those who participated in pickets in Murmansk, in Murmansk Oblast are now really getting apartments –those who were dismissed after 2005.  Those dismissed before 2005 are being given [state housing] certificates.  Somehow on these certificates it’s even possible to buy something.  The Kola Peninsula – this could be the only place where there are considerably more military men than MVD.  The smallest conflict between the military and police would lead simply to an uncontrollable escalation of violence.  The authorities quickly understood what this could lead to.  Therefore, the authorities’ priority task now is to pacify families.  People simply have no recourse.  It’s the fault of the state:  it forced people into open acts of disobedience by its own irresponsible, unprofessional actions.”

Radio Svoboda also quoted Viktor Baranets:

“In the army, there are many professionals who understand that military reform is going, to put it mildly, very badly.  Genshtab chief Makarov even attested to this when he honestly admitted at an officers’ assembly that we began military reform without any kind of scientific basis and calculations.  The most important social problem is housing.  They constantly fool the army, constantly change the rules of the game.  Here we need to observe a single very serious point – military men are beginning to organize.  The government must turn attention to this, but it stubbornly doesn’t want to do it.  I have the impression that they either are afraid of criticizing Serdyukov or afraid of openly recognizing that military reform has failed.  And just people who go to the demonstration, who announce their disagreement with Serdyukov’s methods of conducting reform, — they also want to get through to the Kremlin, to the government, to the state, to the Duma so that, in the end, some kind of decision will be made.”

Military Housing Promises

“By 2010 the question of permanent, and by 2012 of service housing for servicemen must be finally resolved.”

So declared President Vladimir Putin in his Poslaniye on May 10, 2006.

According to RIA Novosti, at United Russia’s interregional conference in Cherepovets today, Prime Minister Putin declared:

“Throughout Russia from 2011 to 2013, servicemen will be presented nearly 77 thousand apartments, that will allow the housing line for the armed forces to be eliminated completely.”

Putin had 5 years, 7 months, and 22 days to keep his original military housing promise.  Even though he admits he failed to keep it, he actually still has 118 days remaining on the original deadline.

He now has 1 year, 3 months, and 27 days to keep his new pledge.

Now many will argue that, when it comes to apartments and housing for Russian military men, the Putin regime’s glass is half, two-thirds, or mostly full, or something like that.

But it can also be argued that this was a pretty straightforward task, and that, with proper management, with adequate funding, and without inordinate corruption, it should have been accomplished pretty easily.

It’s another question altogether whether Russian voters keep track of political pledges and broken promises . . . and whether it means anything when they point them out. 

In any event, the military is a small constituency no politician really worries about offending.

Military Men Refuse Apartments

The military housing story is interesting, but, regrettably, also neglected of late.  And lots has happened on this front in recent weeks and months.  At every turn, the Kremlin, White House, and Defense Ministry have tried to convince Russians that they honored former President Putin’s pledge to provide permanent apartments not later than 2010 to all servicemen entitled to them. 

Putin and the government may say they delivered 50,000 apartments in 2010, but they didn’t necessarily reduce the line for military housing or satisfy the government’s obligation to retired, or retiring, servicemen.

Newsru.com provided a good story on this last Friday.  And it’s not the first time it’s been told.  

A Defense Ministry source told Interfaks more than 20,000 apartments acquired for servicemen are unoccupied.  They and their families have refused to move in because these apartments lack access to essential services and infrastructure.  He says:

“On 1 January 2011, according to preliminary data, 20 to 25 thousand apartments built for servicemen in various regions of Russia were unoccupied.  But officer families are refusing to receive such housing built, as it’s called, in an empty field, where there are no schools, no clinics, no stores.”

United Russia member, Deputy Chairman of the Duma Defense Committee, and frequent critic of the government’s military policy, Mikhail Babich told Interfaks the “process of building and receiving housing, organized by the Defense Ministry’s State Order Directorate, generally contradicted common sense and the interests of servicemen, who weren’t even asked where they want to settle after dismissal into the reserve.”  Babich continued:

“It goes without saying now the Defense Ministry has a large quantity of unoccupied apartments which officers have refused because of their lack of social infrastructure, opportunities to find daycare for their children, schools, and also even to find work for themselves.”

The Audit Chamber told lawmakers last year that the “absence of necessary coordination in the activity of the Defense Ministry’s State Order Directorate and FGU ‘Rosvoyenzhile’ in a number of  the country’s regions led to buying apartments in volumes significantly exceeding real demand for them.”

The Audit Chamber said in the Central MD alone more than 50 percent of apartments in the cities of Kinel, Balakov, Almetyevsk, Salavat, Kopeysk, and others are unwanted.  A check showed that local authorities permitted 9 apartment blocks in Serpukhov, Chekhov, and Khimki, which lacked essential infrastructure (heating mains, water supply, sewer), to be accepted for use, and this led to improper expenditures in the amount of 1.6 billion rubles.

Sick in the Urals, and Elsewhere

The Defense Ministry’s suddenly got its hands full of sick conscripts in the Urals, Kaliningrad, and possibly Novosibirsk.  It’s also just a little defensive about the situation.

The situation sounds like it’s close to getting out of control.  First, it points up the poor health of many Russian conscripts coming into the army.  It  undermines Defense Minister Anatoliy Serdyukov’s talk of “humanizing” conscript service.  And it returns us to the issue of the cuts in military medicine that several commentators have decried.  The issue of swine flu in the Urals is of more general concern. 

This round of problems with sick conscripts surfaced on 16 January when Konstantin Tsybuk died of pneumonia.  He served in v / ch 86727, the 255th Combined Arms Training Range in Chebarkul.  His duty officer, a Lieutenant Igor Gurov, didn’t report finding him ill, or seek medical assistance.  Investigators are now looking at negligence charges against Gurov.  The 20-year-old Tsybuk left a wife and infant daughter behind.  ITAR-TASS has reported there are 63 other pneumonia cases in Chebarkul’s military hospital.

As early as 19 January, RIA Novosti reported 25 soldiers from various garrisons were in Chernyakhovsk’s hospital with pneumonia.  A Baltic Fleet prosecutor was also on scene checking sanitary, heating, and clothing conditions in their units.

Svpressa.ru gave a full run-down on other reported pneumonia outbreaks in the army, including 100 cases in Novosibirsk, and 26 in Saransk.

On Friday, a conscript named Yevgeniy Lantsov apparently died from swine flu (A/H1N1 – California / Mexico) in the Chelyabinsk Oblast Clinical Hospital.  Lantsov was drafted from Kemerovo on 20 December, and served briefly in v / ch 69806, the first-rank air base at Chelyabinsk / Shagol.  He was the leading edge of a swine flu outbreak in Chelyabinsk.  Four locals have died since, and RIA Novosti reports 50 cases in the city.

On Monday, conscript Sergey Vasilyev serving in v / ch 55059, a training regiment at the former PUrVO junior specialist training center in Yelan, died of pneumonia in the 354th District Military Hospital in Yekaterinburg.  The Main Military Investigative Directorate is currently investigating his death for evidence of negligence.

The Defense Ministry’s mounted something of a PR campaign to counter bad publicity about sick conscripts.  Krasnaya zvezda advised citizens not to be alarmed about the “sanitary-epidemiological situation” in the Armed Forces.  It claimed the military’s sickness rate is down 21 percent on average compared with last year, specifically down 24 percent in the Western MD, 15 percent in the Central and Eastern MDs, and 11 percent in the Southern MD.  It says pneumonia cases are down 15 percent, and most are mild. 

Of course, we aren’t told what the absolute numbers were last year (or over many years), only about a relative improvement.  And none of these districts even existed last year, so there is lots of room for fudging the numbers. 

Vesti.ru covered Serdyukov’s visit to Tyumen and Tomsk last weekend where he outlined Defense Ministry efforts to prevent further outbreaks:

“A decision’s been made:  where the temperature drops below minus 20 degrees (-4° F), guard duty will be cut from two to one hour.  And outside drills will be moved indoors.”

“The entire central Defense Ministry apparatus is strictly following these issues.  Each of my deputies is observing a distinct region, how the situation is taking shape there.”

“I submit that we’ll handle the situation.”

Serdyukov was in Tyumen looking at establishing a presidential cadet school, ironically, on the grounds of a former military-medical institute where army medics were once trained.

Vesti.ru reported that sick conscripts said their barracks were practically unheated, and they had to sleep in their uniforms. 

Serdyukov ordered the Chief of the Main Military-Medical Directorate, General-Major Aleksandr Belevitin and a team of specialists to the area to investigate and check on measures to prevent further spread of viral and acute respiratory infections.

Serdyukov’s Duma Session

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.

Refusenik Accountants

This morning Argumenty.ru reports that Defense Minister Anatoliy Serdyukov can’t find a new deputy minister for finance-economic work to replace Vera Chistova who left to head the Moscow city finance department on 8 November.  

A Defense Ministry source tells Argumenty.ru, “about 10 offers have been made, but all candidates declined.”

A highly-placed source in the Defense Ministry’s financial directorate says the absence of a deputy minister to answer for financial issues is already creating a number of problems in the ministry’s work:

“A number of contracts for construction of housing for dismissed officers have been broken, draft orders for next year for financial incentives for serving officers have been frozen.  And there’s simply no one to sign the certification of budget execution for this year for the country’s highest leadership.  I simply can’t recall such disorder in my 30 years of service.”

The source says Defense Minister Serdyukov’s report to the President on the fulfillment of orders to provide apartments to servicemen has also been postponed for an undetermined period.

Leaving to work for the new Moscow mayor seemed like a good opportunity for Chistova.  Or did she figure this was an opportune time to escape some blame for problems in the military’s budget? 

Chistova’s predecessor Lyubov Kudelina served for a long time, but left in early 2009 because, according to Viktor Litovkin’s source, she objected to the Defense Ministry pressing some officers to resign short of receiving their severance benefits, and because Serdyukov refused to ask for extra money to pay for military reform.

It seems odd that someone as well-connected in government finance as Serdyukov can’t find a deputy for this.  It would seem he has cronies already brought into the Defense Ministry that he could just order to take the post.  Maybe the refusenik accountants know it’s a bad place to be right now.

We should also recall that Serdyukov was brought to the Defense Ministry in early 2007 reportedly for the express purpose of bringing financial order to the armed forces.

Short Stories

There aren’t enough hours in the day . . . quick takes on some stories of interest.

Rossiyskaya gazeta . . . Minregion again sternly warns of problems in heating military towns due to Defense Ministry debts . . . the Far East is the most serious case.

Nezavisimaya gazeta . . . Ukrainian Defense Ministry may not be able to cooperate on An-70 transport for financial reasons.

Argumenty nedeli . . . long expose on the death of Russian military medicine, and the consequences, as a result of Serdyukov’s cuts and reforms.

ITAR-TASS . . . the interdepartmental commission met at Sevmash today with Vladimir Popovkin leading a review of Yuriy Dolgorukiy’s readiness to test fire the Bulava.

ITAR-TASS . . . on Tuesday, Chelyabinsk’s governor called on Serdyukov to stop explosions at Chebarkul.  This mini-scandal’s been evolving since they started in early October.  Expired munitions are being destroyed, but locals are complaining of damage from tremors.  Serdyukov was supposed to go to Chelyabinsk, but sent logistics deputy Bulgakov in his place.  Bulgakov supervised an elaborate demonstration to show that the explosions aren’t powerful enough to shake Chelyabinsk.  Residents say they can feel them in the city’s high-rise buildings.  The military doesn’t get much credit for trying to get rid of old bombs like those that nearly leveled one of Ulyanovsk’s rayons last November.  See Novyy region or Moskovskiy komsomolets.

There is growing media attention to the military housing problem — will Medvedev, Putin, and the Defense Ministry keep their promise to solve the permanent housing problem by the end of 2010, or are they just changing the rules and extending their own deadline?  See IA Rosbalt, Svpressa.ru, or Nezavisimaya gazeta.

Medvedev in Solnechnogorsk

President Medvedev (photo: Izvestiya / Yekaterina Shtukina)

Thursday President Dmitriy Medvedev made his most recent foray among the troops, and expressed what sounds something like a defense of his somewhat embattled Defense Minister, and his military reforms.

At Solnechnogorsk’s Center for Retraining and Improving Rifleman Qualifications, the President decorated some officers.  According to Kremlin.ru, he said:

“Our army is changing now.  And despite the fact that all changes are difficult, they are necessary. Because we understand:  if we can’t make our armed forces modern and effective, more combat capable, better armed, if officers receive pay that doesn’t motivate them to work properly, then we won’t have a proper defense.  Therefore, everything now being done is directed at creating modern and effective armed forces.  There are both problems and good decisions here, I am following them personally as Supreme CINC and I intend to continue to do so.”

He also congratulated General-Colonel Arkadiy Bakhin and Admiral Konstantin Sidenko after appointing them to be permanent commanders of the new Western and Eastern MDs respectively.

At the center, Medvedev inspected the school where Russia’s snipers are trained, and inspected the weapons they use.  The school has practically every type of infantry weapon, including NATO ones.

Izvestiya and Kommersant reported that officers there still venerate the Kalashnikov’s reliability and simplicity, but lament its ergonomics and low single shot density.  A new Kalashnikov will begin testing next year, and Izvestiya imagines the officers told the President what requirements for the new weapon will be, since today’s Russian Army can afford to buy the best.  Kommersant and RIA Novosti both noted that Kalashnikov lags behind Western manufacturers, so this all sounded a little like a rerun of recent domestic production vs. foreign procurement debates.

Medvedev visited the nearby military town of Timonovo, and viewed newly built apartment blocks for Space Troops officers.  Officers already in their apartments told Medvedev they are happy with the quality of the construction.  The President also met several dozen residents, families, and military retirees.  Some of the latter who served at Baykonur but received permanent apartments in Moscow Oblast complained of losing their higher pension ‘coefficient’ when they returned to Russia, and Medvedev promised to look into this.

He talked with representatives of the management company contracted to maintain these buildings for the Defense Ministry.  They said residents complain mostly about poor drinking water, and Governor Boris Gromov said this was because of old pipes that he promised to replace.  Medvedev gave Timonovo a positive evaluation, calling it: 

“A good town, normal level of support.”

This was Medvedev’s first trip to see the troops in a while, and he seems like he generally doesn’t go too often or too far to observe them.  He watched the naval portion of Vostok-2010 in July, and visited Alabino in May.