Before Russia’s holiday topor fully enshrouded military commentators, Gazeta’s Sergey Smirnov published an interesting piece on the situation in which Defense Minister Shoygu finds himself. There isn’t a lot of great comment on Shoygu yet, but it might be cranking up. Smirnov looks at how the popular Shoygu could mar his well-regarded career while tackling the same accumulated military structural problems that faced his predecessor. He writes about possible bureaucratic and personal conflicts with Sergey Ivanov, Sergey Chemezov, and Dmitriy Rogozin.
Leftover Problem One: Contract Service
According to Smirnov, Russia’s military added virtually no contractees in 2012, but still has to recruit 50,000 of them every year until 2017 to reach its assigned target of 425,000. The obstacles are the same. Eighty percent of them don’t sign a second contract because the army doesn’t offer living conditions more attractive than barracks. Undermanning is a related problem. Smirnov says the military’s manpower is certainly below 800,000. And Shoygu may have to acknowledge this problem.
Leftover Problem Two: Bureaucratic Competitors
Smirnov describes Serdyukov’s conflict with Rogozin over the OPK and its production for the military. He claims the “Petersburg group” of Sergey Ivanov, Chemezov, and Viktor Ivanov wanted one of its guys to take Serdyukov’s place at the Defense Ministry. But Putin didn’t want to strengthen them, so he took the neutral figure Shoygu.
According to Smirnov, Serdyukov wanted out, and wanted to head a new arms exporting corporation to replace Rosoboroneksport. That, of course, conflicted directly with Chemezov and the interests of the “Petersburgers.” And Smirnov makes the interesting comment:
“But that appointment [Serdyukov to head a new arms exporter] didn’t happen precisely because of the big criminal cases which arose not by accident.”
Was Serdyukov done in for overreaching rather than for corruption scandals in the Defense Ministry?
Shoygu, writes Smirnov, was not thrilled at the prospect of continuing the “not very popular” army reforms. Smirnov is left at the same point as everyone else: will it be a “serious revision” of Serdyukov’s reforms or a “course correction?”
There’s lots of talk to indicate the former rather than the latter. The new VVS CINC has bloviated about returning to one regiment per airfield instead of large, consolidated air bases. He claims the Krasnodar, Syzran, and Chelyabinsk Aviation Schools will be reestablished. He babbles about going to a three-service structure and retaking VVKO. Shoygu will allow Suvorov and Nakhimov cadets to march in the May 9 Victory Parade. He stopped the Military-Medical Academy’s move out of the center of Piter. Other commonly mentioned possible revisions are returning to six MDs and transferring the Main Navy Staff back to Moscow.
Leftover Problem Three: Outsourcing
Serdyukov’s outsourcing policy led to scandals, and didn’t work for the Russian military’s remote bases. Gazeta’s Defense Ministry sources say the structure and activity of Oboronservis will likely be greatly modified or, less likely, Oboronservis will be completely disbanded if some workable entity can take its place.
Leftover Problem Four: Military Towns
The military wants municipal authorities to take over the vast majority (70-90 percent) of a huge number of old military towns (that once numbered 23,000) no longer needed by Armed Forces units. The army only wants some 200 of them now.
The local government wants the military to provide compensation to restore and support these towns, but the latter doesn’t have the funds. The army is laying out billions of rubles in the next three years, but only to outfit 100 military towns it wants to use. There is also the problem of who gets, or has the power to give away, legal title to this military property.
Leftover Problem Five: Officer Housing
Shoygu, says Smirnov, has to solve the unresolved problem of officer housing, especially for officers “left at disposition” of their commanders (i.e. not retired but lacking duty posts and apartments). The Defense Ministry still doesn’t know how many need housing. Smirnov writes:
“Despite the fact that the military department daily reports on the handover of apartments, the line of officers retired from the army who are awaiting receipt of living space is not becoming smaller. At present from 80 to 150 [thousand] former officers are awaiting the presentation of housing.”
More than enough lingering headaches for one Defense Minister.