Tag Archives: Viktor Baranets

Somebody Finally Went There

Komsomolskaya pravda's Viktor Baranets

Yes, somebody finally went to a very obvious place — during this week’s “live broadcast,” Viktor Baranets called Vladimir Putin on his failure to solve the military housing problem.  You may recall this recent post lamented Putin’s “free pass” on the unfulfilled promise of apartments for servicemen.

Gov.ru printed the transcript of Putin’s on-air session with reporters.  In a friendly manner, Baranets warned Putin he was about to ask an uncomfortable question.  And he couched his question like this:

“Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin many times said to the army and Russia that the housing problem for dismissed servicemen would be resolved by 2010.  The problem is not resolved.  Not one minister has apologized to the dozens of essentially deceived people, and you have not apologized.”

“Don’t you believe it’s necessary to give some apologies to the people and tell them the honest, objective time when this problem will really be resolved?”

Baranets continues:

“I’m addressing you as a candidate for Russian Federation President.”

“Vladimir Vladimirovich, it’s perfectly obvious that a number of ministers have failed in their work in strategic areas.  This concerns the economy, and health care, and the army.  Nevertheless, Vladimir Vladimirovich, you still to this time haven’t given a very sharp critical evaluation of the work of these ministers.  Why are you afraid to replace them?”

“Vladimir Vladimirovich, if you will dispose of the untalented and throw talented, principled ministers into the battle, you can believe, the people will be drawn to you, reforms will go forward.”

“Vladimir Vladimirovich, I am finishing my long speech and I want to tell you, you’ve already been told many times, why don’t you replace talentless, unprincipled ministers, who, by the way, are deceiving you.  They have really set you up when you talked about how the problem for housing the dismissed would be resolved.  They set you up.  This is a state crime, not just a crime against you, Vladimir Vladimirovich.  You need to make conclusions from this.”

“But if you have problems with selecting personnel, turn to us, we will help, including even me.”

Vladimir Putin Answers Baranets

After a little banter, Putin got to his answer.
Putin said his predecessor didn’t deal with the military housing problem, and, starting with those dismissed in the 1990s, the line for apartments just grew. 
His administration counted 70,000 ex-servicemen in need of housing, and handed out 111,000 apartments in 2008-2010.  But, said Putin, the Defense Ministry undercounted, and there were actually 150,000 men in the housing queue.
According to the Prime Minister, even though funds were available, the construction industry just didn’t have the capacity to build faster. 
In 2008, the dismissal of excess officers from the Armed Forces and the global financial crisis made housing military men more difficult.
But Putin concluded he still thinks the permanent apartment problem will be resolved by the end of 2012, and service apartment problem a year later.  He noted, however, that the line may get longer since there’s an issue of servicemen still waiting in municipal housing queues.
Then Putin turned to Baranets’ point about ministers.  Putin said he didn’t want to make them scapegoats since he is ultimately responsible, and cadre reshuffles mean lost months of work.  He said he prefers to straighten ministers out so they avoid mistakes.  Putin ended his answer by saying a time for renewing the government line-up is coming, and this will happen.
KP’s video of the Q and A is hereTV Zvezda’s is on Mil.ru.
So Putin’s defense against Baranets’ accusations of failure on the military housing problem boils down to claiming it’s a hard issue.  If able to follow up, Baranets might have asked why the Defense Ministry didn’t accurately figure the number of apartments needed or investigate the chances of getting them from Russia’s housing market.  Ultimately, this little repartee between once-and-future president and military correspondent is a small sign of how fear of Vladimir Putin has diminished.  It’s hard to imagine the same exchange five years ago.  Perhaps even five months ago.

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.

GOMU Chief Smirnov Denies Plans to Increase Draft Term

Reacting to spreading rumors that the Defense Ministry intends to increase the current one-year draft term to 18 months, 2 years, or more, GOMU Chief Vasiliy Smirnov said Monday, “There’s no plan to increase the term of conscripted military service in the Russian Army.”

His denial came hard on the heels of General Staff Chief Makarov’s sudden public declaration that professional contract service has failed, at least for enlisted soldiers if not future sergeants, and the army will redouble its emphasis on drafted manpower.

Commenting in today’s Novaya gazeta, the chairwoman of Mother’s Right Veronika Marchenko says:

“If the Genshtab Chief is acknowledging the fact that the Genshtab is not capable of transferring the army to contract service, even though a corresponding [Federal] goal program was adopted, this is not cause to return to the draft system and increase the number of conscripts.  This is a reason to dismiss all the inept generals.”

That is a quaint sentiment, but it doesn’t work that way.  The generals always muttered that contractees wouldn’t work, and men inclined to evade simply had to be herded in.  They’ll say they were right all along.  The chiefs won’t suffer, only the indians.

More interesting, however, Marchenko thinks the rumors could be a trial balloon to gauge society’s reaction–if there’s no reaction, they might try to increase the service term again.

Another human rights organizer claims every 10th conscript is abused in some dehumanizing fashion.  She compares army service to life in a leper colony:

“It’s possible to live [there] ten years and not contract leprosy, or it’s possible for the irreparable to happen in one day.  The army today is potentially dangerous for the human system.”

Komsomolskaya pravda’s Viktor Baranets writes today that he’s amazed that it’s taken 20 years for generals like Makarov, Postnikov, and Chirkin to acknowledge that contract service is doomed.  He goes on:

“And how here can’t you believe that in the same manner in a year or two the Defense Ministry and Genshtab again will publicly ‘scratch their noodles’ and with a funereal sigh announce to us that the transfer of troops to the brigade system, and the transfer of the Navy Main Staff to Piter, and getting rid of warrant officers, and the reduction of almost 200 thousand officers were also mistakes?  But the strategists who reformed the army for no reason will by that time will be wearing pensioners’ slippers and courageously scribbling out their memoirs.”

This Russian (maybe even universal, bureaucratic) penchant for back-to-forth reform, reforms where process is everything and results are nothing is truly amazing and very evident in the armed forces.  But it’s everywhere even on the very same day.  Witness please Putin’s solemn announcement that he’s slashing the rolls of strategically important enterprises after many years of just as solemnly building up their ranks . . . what was the point?  What did they gain, what was accomplished?  Nothing.  It was a political drill to fend off clients desperate for money and bureaucratic attention, and their strategic status was, by and large, a sop.  End of digression.

What else on the topic of the moment?

Baranets.  He speculates the ‘death notice’ for contract service could be a first step backward on Serdyukov’s reforms.  He says there are now 70,000 contractees and contract-sergeants.  He believes in a year the Genshtab will increase conscription to 700-750 thousand guys annually, and they won’t become specialists in anything with demob always just around the corner.  So, he concludes, the rumors about a return to longer conscript service ain’t a coincidence.

Versiya has interesting coverage of the issue.  So Makarov says contract has failed, all sorts of other innovations in army service similarly haven’t brought the desired results.  Dedovshchina didn’t decrease, collecting the requisite quantity of servicemen will now be more complicated, the quality of soldier training has sharply declined.  And the number of conscripts in the ranks will grow.  Versiya asks:

“Can it be we’ll return to the Soviet model of an army which has been publicly declared ineffective in modern conditions?”

One-year service was supposed to eliminate dedovshchina, but General-Lieutenant Chirkin admits it didn’t.

Versiya’s versions:

  • First Version:  Return to Soviet-style manning.  Probability:  50 percent.
  • Second Version:  No alternative but contractees, this is just a pause.  Probability:  30 percent.
  • Third Version:  Course will be unchanged despite Makarov’s announcement.  Probability:  20 percent.

It sounds like Versiya really puts the odds of largely diverting from contract service at 50:50.

Pukhov Criticizes Serdyukov’s Reforms

Ruslan Pukhov (photo: Radio Rossii)

In today’s Komsomolskaya pravda, Viktor Baranets interviews Ruslan Pukhov, Director of the Center for Analysis of Strategies and Technologies, and Member of the Defense Ministry’s Public Council.  Pukhov provides a fairly balanced assessment of Defense Minister Serdyukov’s reforms, one year on.

Pukhov believes Serdyukov managed to reorganize and shake up the Defense Ministry apparatus, and partially achieved more rational use of the military’s budget money.  He says the main thing is the breakthrough on the ‘organizational measures’ of military reform.  He calls the ‘new profile’ the deepest organizational change for Moscow since 1945, citing its large-scale relocation of troops and equipment, cutting of personnel and obsolete armaments, reorganization of military education, and civilianization of many military jobs.  Pukhov concludes the administrative tasks of the reform are largely complete.

However, Pukhov also agrees with Baranets that the reforms have created a structural shell that has to be brought to life, made effective, and combat capable.  This will be harder than what’s been done so far.  Pukhov says there are few who doubt the army needed a radical, not just a cosmetic, reform, and the five-day August 2008 war proved it.

Pukhov thinks the reforms have created a new army, fundamentally different from the Soviet or previous Russian Army.  In scale, they can only be compared with the military reform of Peter the Great.  If it’s possible to reproach the Russian leadership for anything, it’s for dragging the process out with half measures which turned into a permanent degradation of the army, according to Pukhov.

Asked about Serdyukov’s greatest achievement and greatest failure, Pukhov says the former is having the political and administrative will to complete the first phase of reform.  But the greatest failure is Serdyukov’s inability to win the support of the entire officer corps, and this has put part of the officer corps against him.  Bureaucratic and poorly explained changes have often demoralized personnel, and poorly thought out personnel cuts have created discontent in the ranks, from contractee to general.  Military discontent with the methods of conducting the reform could discredit the reform itself, and make it too difficult for the political leadership to continue supporting Serdyukov, although for now Kremlin is satisfied with Serdyukov and his role as the army’s ‘surgeon.’

Pukhov says many of the measures have been extremely painful, affecting the fate of hundreds of thousands of servicemen, and often been implemented in a typical Russian fashion he describes as ‘up the ass.’  The Defense Ministry’s ‘secret-bureaucratic’ approach itself has had an effect here as well.

After practically calling Serdyukov’s the army’s proctologist-in-chief, Pukhov cuts him some slack, saying he didn’t personally plan and implement the largest part of the ‘orgshtat measures.’  They were done by military specialists in the Defense Ministry, General Staff, and service and district staffs, by men who’ve served out there themselves and are now engaged in transferring their colleagues, cutting some, putting some outside the TO&E, ‘optimizing,’ and so forth.  But Pukhov notes, all this could be done humanely, with respect toward the men and their professional experience.

Pukhov agrees with Baranets that a ‘soulless’ style of dealing with people, a lack of concern about human capital, and disregard for the human factor is traditional in the army.  And, unfortunately, it permeates the entire military system, according to Pukhov.  And a significant portion of the officer corps has become victim to such an approach during these rapid reforms.

Pukhov ends with some criticism for the top military leadership which often says it has come all the way from the bottom ranks, like those being ‘optimized’ today.  But what’s happening, including the aforementioned ‘excesses’ of reform, in Pukhov’s view, should make one think that there are some unhealthy morale-psychological tendencies in the army, which started long before Serdyukov, and can’t be considered normal.  Perhaps, for the success of reforms, the leadership should focus on the human aspect and recognize that the army, first and foremost, is people, and not pieces of iron.

So it sounds a little like Pukhov is saying the civilian Serdyukov didn’t realize how military men would implement his changes in their own organization, and what the human costs would be.  Again, it sounds like he wants to cut Serdyukov some slack, and share the blame for the pain caused with others around him wearing uniforms with big stars.  This tends to overlook the reality that many of those with the stars who objected were sent packing by someone.

What 3 Billion Stolen Rubles Could Buy

Viktor Baranets

On Wednesday, Komsomolskaya pravda commentator Viktor Baranets recapped Sergey Fridinskiy’s latest military corruption report, but Baranets also gave examples of what the Defense Ministry might have bought with the 3 billion rubles [$100 million] lost to corruption.

  • 50-55 T-90 tanks
  • 75-80 BMPs
  • 3 or 4 Su-27 or MiG-29 fighters
  • 8-10 Mi-28N attack helicopters
  • 1 light frigate or corvette
  • 1 or 2 Topol [SS-25] ICBMs
  • 3 or 4 reconnaissance satellites
  • 300-400 apartments
  • food for an MD (130,000 personnel) for a year
  • uniforms for 300,000 or 350,000 conscripts, or 1/3 of the army

So corruption brings a significant opportunity cost in the form of foregone or lost procurement, and ultimately reduces combat capability.  Bear in mind this is, of course, only uncovered corruption.  The real amount is undoubtedly larger, but who knows how much.  And this kind of army corruption didn’t start this year.  It’s been delivering this kind of blow to efforts to operate, maintain, and reequip the armed forces year in and year out for a long time.