Tag Archives: ОПСВ

‘Virtual’ Apartments and the Army’s Protest Mood

Ex-Military Men Protesting 'Virtual' Apartments (photo: RIA Novosti)

In Monday’s Nezavisimaya gazeta, Vladimir Mukhin described a 15 May demonstration outside the Defense Ministry by former officers who were allocated ‘virtual’ apartments in Balashikha six months ago, but have been unable to occupy them due to slow paperwork.  Their demands are simple:  these retirees want bureaucratic obstacles removed.  

The protest was not covered by the media, or received only scant coverage.  However, the Defense Ministry’s promise to fix the problems for former servicemen from Balashikha was reported widely in the press. 

Mukhin’s subtitle for the article reads, “Unfulfilled Presidential housing program for the military leading to protest actions.”  He concludes that military demonstrations have been so rare in post-Soviet history that, if they occur, they have to be symptomatic of something.  He says similar protests have happened in other regions with large military garrisons. 

Everyone remembers Defense Minister Serdyukov’s reports about fulfilling the military housing program in 2009.  However, it’s becoming clear that this didn’t happen.  New military housing and construction chief Grigoriy Naginskiy not long ago announced that of 45,000 permanent apartments handed out in 2009, less than half have been occupied.  So the plan wasn’t achieved.  This has provoked a protest mood in the army, and the authorities, it seems, prefer not to notice it.  

Mukhin cites similar situations and actions in Bashkiriya, and elsewhere in  Moscow’s far suburbs.  The All-Russian Professional Union of Servicemen (OPSV or ОПСВ) tells Mukhin it’s pretty simple.  A garrison is drawn down, and officers who don’t want to relocate are put out of their apartments (sometimes into the street).  The garrison is then sold by Defense Ministry officials with a direct interest in this.  Mukhin concludes, that’s the ‘new profile’ army for you. 

OPSV Chairman Oleg Shvedkov told Mukhin several thousand retired officers and servicemen participated in May 1 protests around the country.  They protested not just housing, but also pension and pay problems.  But, of course, active-duty servicemen are prohibited from participating in political actions under the law. 

Viktor Baranets also addressed the plight of former officers in Balashikha in a 12 May article. 

According to ITAR-TASS and RIA Novosti, a Defense Ministry housing official promised on 15 May that the problem of 80 retired servicemen and the apartments allocated to them in Balashikha would be resolved before the end of June.  He said the process of preparing all the necessary documents would be complete by that time. 

A Defense Ministry spokesman said a meeting with an ‘initiative group’ [i.e. the protesters] was held in the ministry.  He also indicated the Defense Ministry is trying to speed up and smooth out the process of preparing and registering survey and property ownership documents.

Who Defends Officers?

On 13 April, Svpressa.ru made the point that officers don’t have a place to turn for help or protection against abuse in the army, unlike conscripts who have the Committee of Soldiers’ Mothers of Russia (KSMR or КСМР).

In response to the suggestion that officers need a “Committee of Officers’ Wives and Mothers” to help them with problems in the service, KSMR Chairwoman Tatyana Znachkova said:

“There’s no one to defend officers, and many of them live unhappily, not better than conscripts.  So their wives could create a committee for their defense.  Officers or their wives actually have come to us very often in recent times.”

Asked what their complaints are, she says:

“Legal violations in the unit, low wages, problems with obtaining housing.  But we can’t help them.”

“So I advise them to create their own organization because their problems are so very great.  But they are silent.  It’s understandable why the officers themselves are silent, they’re not allowed to gripe, but why are their wives silent?  No one can prohibit them.  If the family is without housing, without work, without money, what’s to lose . . .”

Svpressa continues, many of the officers cut have been thrown overboard, without housing, without work.  So in Voronovo, near Moscow, where a unit was closed a year ago, residents say former colonels and lieutenants go around to nearby dachas offering to do repairs or any kind of work on the houses.  They do it to feed their families since they don’t have any other work.

Anatoliy Tsyganok tells Svpressa:

“Officers have now been thrown to the whims of fate.  There’s really no where for them to complain.  Their problems are resolved well only in words.  Look for yourself, in just the last year, more than 3 thousand officers discharged into the reserves without housing and deceived by the state about the payment of monetary compensation have turned to the European Court . . .  The main part of complaints concerns nonpayment to servicemen of money for participation in this or that combat action or peacekeeping operation.  Part of the complaints are collective.  And the quantity of such complaints will increase since there is more and more of a basis for them.”

Asked about the basis of complaints, Tsyganok says:

“Some officers are outside the TO&E, receiving a fifth of their usual pay for several years, although they are supposed to be in such a situation not more than half a year.  They are waiting for apartments from the Defense Ministry.  They have every basis for placing law suits in Strasbourg.  In the framework of armed forces reform almost all billets in voyenkomaty at different levels were cut.  And 90 percent of former voyenkomat officers, dismissed without apartments, will also appeal to the ECHR [European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg].  These are educated people who understand they won’t get the truth in a Russian court.  And their only hope is the European Court.  Today there are very many officers left without apartments.  They don’t know in what order, when and who will give them apartments.  These people have a direct road to the ECHR.”

Tsyganok goes on to mention how President Medvedev has promised to house officers, and claimed that an unprecedented 45,000 apartments were acquired for them last year.  Tsyganok believes the number was actually less than 30,000.  He notes that in St. Petersburg officers are being offered prefab housing, fit only for summer living, built for the Defense Ministry at a vastly inflated price (5-6 million rubles vs. 1.25-1.35 million market price).  Officers with apartments in abandoned military towns have to hope the nearest municipality will take them over and assume responsibility for services, but they usually don’t want to.

Tsyganok describes the difficulty in employing former officers.  Businesses generally don’t want anyone new over 40.  An initiative to use officers as teachers didn’t get off the ground.  So, according to Tsyganok, many officers choose between working for security firms or criminal groups.

He repeats his familiar lament that Russia is losing its well-trained, well-educated military intelligentsia—officers who completed 4-6 years in a VVUZ, mid-career branch-specific training, and 3 years in the General Staff Academy.  He concludes:

“So I presume, Russia is flashing back to the former Red Army.  In case, heaven forbid, of some conflict, I believe the current Russian Army won’t survive.  In these conditions, I think it doesn’t compare even with Georgia . . .”

Tsyganok says it’s absurd for an officer to have to repair dachas like a guestworker to feed his family.  It’s even more absurd for him to choose between security guard and criminal.  But the saddest thing in this situation is there’s no place from which to expect help.  So maybe officers need an organization to protect their rights, and in light of the current military reform, the need is very acute.

Organizations and institutions that exist, or have existed, to help officers are like most civil society in Russia—weak or eventually dispersed or coopted by the authorities.  There are ones that come to mind—the All-Russian Professional Servicemen’s Union (OPSV or ОПСВ), the Movement in Support of the Army (DPA or ДПА), and the All-Russian Officers’ Assembly that last met in 2005 or so.

On 14 April, Viktor Baranets picked up some similar themes, saying today’s reformist thinking from Defense Ministry and Genshtab chiefs is generally incomprehensible to Russian Army commanders.  For many years, they inspired the troops by telling how superior contract manning would be, and these serious intentions were underscored by hundreds of billions of rubles.  But the result was fewer contractees than before.  And now the Genshtab has said it’s changed its mind about more professionals and is reversing course.

Similarly, for years there’s been talk of ‘raising the prestige of the officer corps.’  And what does Baranets see in reality:

“And the fact is a large number of majors and even lieutenant colonels have started to be put in sergeant billets.  I’m not talking about captains and senior lieutenants.  Because, do you see, there aren’t enough professional junior commanders.  They’ve only just begun to train them.  But why do we need to ‘pay’ for the tactical calculation of reformers at the expense of downgrading people?  Putting officers in lower positions by every army canon is a form of punishment.  And no kind of service expedience can justify this violation.  And where is the logic even?  With one hand the chiefs give such officers impressive premiums for good service, and with the other they write orders on a transfer to a position which is not seldom even 4 steps lower than the one they occupy!  The rampage of personnel abuse has already gone to the point that they’ve already warned cadet-graduates of the Voronezh Military Aviation University [sic] (tomorrow’s lieutenants):  only those who graduate with a gold medal and distinction will get officer’s positions, the rest—sergeant’s.  In such confusion I don’t exclude that soon General Staff Academy graduates will command platoons.  It’s time for the Main Military Prosecutor to sort it out:  but how do these reform outrages accord with the demands of our laws?  But does it even make sense to put a specialist with higher education, whose 4-5 years of preparation cost the state millions of rubles, in a position yesterday still occupied by a junior sergeant who has secondary school and 3-months of training behind him?”

Viktor Litovkin noted this morning that Serdyukov’s Military Education Directorate Chief, Tamara Fraltsova, told Ekho Moskvy that the VVUZ system will again produce an overabundance of lieutenants this year for a shrinking number of junior officer posts in platoons, companies, and batteries.

Fraltsova said:

“Today the army has the right to pick the most worthy officers from the number of VVUZ graduates.  We’ve tightened the rules for passing examination sessions.  Now a cadet can be put out of the military-education institution for one 2, an unsatisfactory evaluation received in the course of a session.”

Litovkin says the overproduction of lieutenants (and decline in officer posts) led to young air defense officers being assigned to sergeants’ duties last summer.  A similar thing happened with VVS pilots; not every graduate-pilot could find an operational aircraft.  So great resources—3-6 million rubles per pilot—were poured into the sand.  Litovkin sees it as indicative of an armed forces reform in which great resources are expended in vain.  Not to mention the trauma to lieutenants who, against the law, are placed in lower-ranking duties.

18-Month Conscription or More Money for Contract Service

Vladimir Mukhin’s report on General Staff Chief Makarov denouncing  contract service has not received much attention.  See Monday’s Nezavisimaya gazeta

Mukhin concludes the military leadership has decided the longstanding effort to transfer some troops to a professional basis and reduce the length of conscript service has been a total fiasco.  And contractees will be reduced, and conscripts increased. 

Mukhin says, with this, Makarov touched the very painful issue of increasing conscript service back to 1.5 years.  He says such a plan is allegedly with the country’s leadership right now [this will really add to Medvedev’s popularity, won’t it?]. 

Duma Deputy Vladimir Komoyedov

Mukhin cites former Black Sea Fleet Commander, Admiral Komoyedov, now a KPRF Duma deputy and member of the Duma’s Defense Committee, who says the issue of raising the draft term is under discussion among generals as well as among legislators. 

Mukhin says all this is perfectly logical to military leaders.  A longer draft term will allow conscripts to be better trained and more knowledgeable and to compensate for the absence of professionals.  But this approach in no way  connects with the political statements of the country’s leadership which assures society there won’t be any increase in conscript service time. 

Komoyedov says: 

“The situation here is complicated.  The idea of increasing the military service term to 1.5 years is written into our, the KPRF, program.  We understand well that in current conditions it’s almost impossible to train a skilled and knowledgeable specialist in the troops in a year.  They’ve begun, apparently, to understand this in the Genshtab also.  It seems to me that military leaders know how to convince the president and prime minister to take unpopular steps on questions of changing to the side of increasing the military service term.  Otherwise the army expects significant undermanning–because of the demographic hole, losses on health grounds, and the like.”  

Mukhin turns next to the Chairman of the All-Russian Professional Servicemen’s Union (OPSV or ОПСВ) Oleg Shvedkov who says:   

“It seems to me that the idea of increasing the conscript military service term to a year and a half, even if it today it’s actively lobbied for by someone in military circles, neither the Kremlin nor Okhotnyy Ryad (the Duma) will support it.  Our leaders have already made so many mistakes including in questions of military reform.  Changes in the conscription and troop manning system will cause significant agitation in society.  The authorities of course won’t allow this.  More likely a decision on increasing military budget parameters for use in selecting and training contractees will be taken.” 

Valentina Melnikova, Secretary of the Union of Committees of Soldiers’ Mothers (СКСМ) of Russia, told Mukhin she still thinks a complete transition to contract service could be made. 

She and Shvedkov are right of course.  Theoretically, Russia could shift to all professional enlisted, but it would take political will lacking heretofore.  After what Makarov and Postnikov said (and knowing the generalitet’s predilections anyway), an effort to reinforce a badly, badly sagging contract service effort seems very unlikely.  And it would seem Makarov and his protege would have to resign too.