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Experts’ opinions are divided over Russian army reform

March 21, 2012, 15:53 UTC+3 Alexandrova Lyudmila

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev has said that the reform of the Russian army has been practically completed. Experts’ comments on the issue are varied, though. Some say that the Soviet model of the massive conscription-based army is no more, and the image of the Russian armed forces over the past three years has changed radically. Others are very negative in their attitude to the reform.

The reform of the Russian army, launched in 2008, has proved one of the priorities of the head of state. Over the past few years the strength of the army has reduced from 1.2 million to one million. The duration of the conscription service has been reduced from 24 months to twelve.

Instead of six military districts there have been created four strategic commands, incorporating the air forces, air defense units and naval forces. The command and control apparatus has been slashed by half. Divisions and regiments have been abolished (they have remained only in the airborne troops), the main tactical unit is the brigade - as the most efficient and mobile unit.

Besides, the Army and the Navy have been relieved of all non-core functions –cleaning, food cooking, equipment repairs and construction. A special military police force is being created to enforce discipline and struggle with hazing and bullying in the barracks. Starting from January 1, 2012 the cash allowances of the military grew 200 percent, and military pensions, 60 percent. An unprecedented program 20 trillion rubles worth was adopted for re-equipping the armed forces. The program is extended till 2020.

President Medvedev said at the annual collegiums of the Defense Ministry on Tuesday the reform of the armed forces had been practically completed.

“Most units will be able to perform their combat tasks within the tightest deadlines,” he said. On the list of the successful measures the president mentioned the strengthening of the strategic nuclear force and the creation of a unified system of air and space defense. He recalled that in 2008-2011 the share of modern armaments and military equipment has grown from ten percent to sixteen percent.

Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov said the ground strategic forces had been upgraded 25 percent. “As for the ground-based component is concerned, the rearmament has been completed of ten missile complexes with strategic missile complexes Topol-M and Yars,” he said. The missile complex Bulava will enter service in October 2012, three regiments armed with the S-400 air defense system were put on duty. Seven major air bases have been created. A number of bases is being built for the Borei and Yasen submarines, as well as for corvettes and frigates. The newly-created air and space defense force is on duty.

Nevertheless, experts are divided in their comments on the reform, as well as the figure central to it – the defense minister.

“This is the sole federal minister, who has carried out the structural reform of his agency. All the others failed,” military analyst Dmitry Likhovkin told the daily Moskovskiye Novosti.

“The real reform began under Serdyukov, but it has not been completed yet, of course,” the president of the Institute for Strategic Assessments, Alexander Konovalov, said with certainty. “Serdyukov dared take some drastic steps, which would have never been taken, had he been a career military. He took those steps precisely because he is not a member of the military corporation, but a specialist on finance.”

To adjust the former Soviet army to the needs of modern Russia he had to take some very unpopular measures, for instance to drastically cut military academies. “But there was no other way – military academies kept turning out far more lieutenants than the Russian army really needed,” Konovalov said.

However, the chief of armaments of the Russian Armed Forces in 1994-2000, Colonel-General Anatoly Sitnov, is most critical of the fact that “training establishments have been disbanded and the officers’ corps has been slashed by 200,000.”

As the reform was implemented, great inconsistencies occurred, the daily Vedomosti quotes an anonymous officer at the central staff of the Defense Ministry as saying. In 2009 tens of thousands of servicemen hired on contract were dismissed, while the number of conscripts was increased from 200,000 to 300,000. It was only in 2011 that plans were unveiled for hiring a total of 420,000 contract servicemen by 2017. If that is done, then the reform will be completed in earnest, and it will be possible to cancel conscription altogether.

The editor-in-chief of National Defense magazine, Igor Korotchenko, who is quoted by the on-line periodical Vzglyad, believes that the army is no longer a “clumsy offspring of the Soviet Armed Forces.” “Now it is a more adaptive army, capable of confronting the new threats and be committed to action virtually in no time,” he said.

It looks like the people have welcomed the ongoing changes in the armed forces. As follows from the results of the national public opinion studies center VTSIOM, most Russians (52%) appreciate the army, and 35% feel respect for it.

However, military expert Vladislav Shurygin, who is quoted by Vzglyad, rates the reform “very negatively.” He said that it was placed in the hands of non-professionals, and as a result the army has been disorganized. In his opinion, the reform has caused “massive exodus and ousting of specialists from the army, the loss of the best officers and, in fact, the collapse of combat control.”

Experts believe that Serdyukov’s greatest failure – and at the same time the main task a future defense minister will have to deal with under Prime Minister Vladimir Putin – is the relationship between the Defense Ministry and the defense-industrial complex. “Prices are weird. Quality leaves much to be desired. Casually imported items account for eighty five percent of components used in military satellites,” Konovalov said.


MOSCOW, March 21