Streetwise Professor

February 27, 2013

God is in His Heaven, and the Tsar is Far Away

Filed under: Military,Politics,Russia — The Professor @ 10:36 pm

Putin gave a stern speech on military matters yesterday.  It was a classic.

First, the paranoia:

“Attempts are being made to tip the strategic balance,” said Putin, who as president is commander-in-chief of the armed forces, told his audience at the General Staff academy on Moscow’s outskirts. The head of the Russian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Kirill, sat in the front row.

“Geopolitical dynamics call for a quick and considered response … Russia’s armed forces must move on to a new level of capabilities in the next three to five years,” said Putin, who has not ruled out seeking another term in 2018.

The former KGB spy said moves that threatened Russia’s geopolitical position included the eastward expansion of Russia’s former Cold War foe NATO and U.S. deployment of an anti-missile shield in Europe.

Eastward expansion of NATO?  Really?  To where, exactly?  Ukraine has been off the table for freaking years.  Georgia-ditto.  And has he paid attention to the complete hollowing out of the European military?  For crissakes, France can’t attack freaking Mali without a big assist from the US.  And has he paid attention to the huge looming cuts to the US military?

I don’t know whether he really believes this crap, or whether he just believes the babushkas on whom he is increasingly reliant for political support believe this crap.

Then there was the delusional ranting about transforming the Russian military:

“Geopolitical dynamics call for a quick and considered response … Russia’s armed forces must move on to a new level of capabilities in the next three to five years,” said Putin, who has not ruled out seeking another term in 2018.

Transformation in 3-5 years?  Seriously?  Given the completely ineffectual nature of Russia’s attempts to transform its military over the last 3-5 years, how in God’s name could he possibly believe that such a thing is possible?  Jeez, this is a military that cannot even commit to having its troops wear socks (rather than foot wraps).  So it is going to transform into a technologically advanced force in 5 years?  As if.

Putin’s speech also betrays extreme frustration that makes his calls to a technological transformation transparently hollow:

President Vladimir Putin instructed the General Staff of the Russian Armed Forces on Wednesday to sort out issues related to housing for soldiers and the problems affecting garrison towns.

In an address to an extended meeting of senior officers at the Defense Ministry in Moscow, Putin ordered the Ministry to deal once and for all with all unfulfilled housing obligations, saying “there should be no such notion as an officer without an apartment.”

Putin earlier described the issue of service housing as “eternal.” The lack of army housing has been one of its most pressing problems since the Soviet era, particularly following the withdrawal from the former Warsaw Pact nations in the early 1990’s, despite a massive downsizing of the forces since that time.

In a pre-election article, Putin promised to resolve the issue by 2014. As of December 2012, about 100,000 soldiers remained on the housing waiting list, according to Russian Audit Chamber head Sergei Stepashin.

Putin also ordered the ministry to deal with infrastructure problems in garrison towns, where a number of power cuts and central heating malfunctions were reported this winter.

“The situation when, because of someone’s irresponsibility and complacency, certain [military] cities had insufficient fuel or heating this winter, when recently renovated boiler stations broke down and power supplies were cut because of debts, is impermissible,” Putin said. “I ask the Defense Ministry to deal with every separate case and sort out this mess.”

So, this military which cannot provide housing or fuel or heating to its troops, despite repeated promises and repeated orders to do so, is somehow supposed to transform itself into a technologically advanced force capable of defeating the attempts of the evil Americans to impose its will on the Fatherland?

Putin’s fury at his inability to translate his will into reality is palpable.  He wants so badly to rejuvenate Russia’s military prowess, but there is a yawning gap between his orders and their implementation.  The transmission belt between his will and the acts of his agents slips and slips, hence his fury.

This is another old, old, old phenomenon in Russia.  From time immemorial, Tsars would issue commands, but were pitifully unable to enforce obedience to them.  Exerting control over subordinates scattered across Russia’s vast wastes proved beyond the capacity of even the most willful Tsar.   God is in His Heaven, and the Tsar-and Putin-are far, far away.  At least Canute understood the futility of trying to rule the tides. Putin is battling against forces as inexorable as the oceans, but he deludes himself into believing that he can overcome them.


Russia is on Putin’s hamster wheel, and Putin is on the hamster wheel of Russia’s history.  He harkens to Russian history, but fails to comprehend its implications.

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  1. I don’t think he believes it but he couldnt very well say-wow you guys really suck. I think it was more a message that some serious trickle down corruption is on the way.

    Comment by pahoben — February 28, 2013 @ 9:51 pm

  2. Professor,

    I don’t think the army reform is as bad as you make it out to be. If you need a reason to gloat, nothing beats Sochi. Picking the only sub-tropical and hence the warmest place in the coldest country on earth to host the Olympics. You know it makes sense!

    Comment by So? — February 28, 2013 @ 11:48 pm

  3. @So? Long time no hear. Welcome back.

    IMO, if anything I soft-pedal the absurdities of the “reform”. Case in point. Shoigu’s order to reopen all of the closed officer training academies that Serdyukov closed. The military is already way over-officered and undermanned, and this just perpetuates that problem.

    This isn’t gloating, by the way.

    Sochi is obviously idiotic. I think they put it there because they didn’t want the world to see what sh*tholes the rest of the country are. All of these “prestige” projects-Sochi, Vladivostok, soccer worlds-are a colossal waste. But since much of the waste goes into connected pockets, maybe that’s the point.

    The ProfessorComment by The Professor — March 1, 2013 @ 7:43 am

  4. Sochi is an underdeveloped provincial little town. Hardly better than the rest of the country.

    “Prestige” projects are a waste in a normal country, yes. But Russia is not a normal country. By spending 50 billion on Sochi, 45 billion is wasted/stolen. But not spending 50 billion means that all of it would have been wasted/stolen. At least, Sochi will get a sewage system at the end of it.

    Comment by So? — March 3, 2013 @ 12:12 am

  5. Professor,

    I am glad to see you blasting Putin’s internal policies and scumbags like Astakhov, but come on, learn something about the international relations, maybe read some Cato Institute publications.

    > Eastward expansion of NATO? Really? To where, exactly?

    Putin was talking about Poland, Czech R, Hungary, Slovakia, then later the Baltics, all in contradiction of Bush Sr’s solemn promise to Gorbachev never to expand NATO to the east, in exchange for Russia disbanding the Warsaw Block. I don’t blame you for not knowing, you are an economist and know nothing about international affairs, but couldn’t you have googled first?

    Here is a bit of history for you. In 1992 the USSR fell apart and Yeltsin, an America-lover, came to power. The American public lost fear of Russia and started clamoring for defense cuts. That would have made the US taxpayers less poor but US military companies, their lobbyists, and the US politicians and journalists in their employ – less wealthy. No other country could fill USSR’s shoes in terms of being a scarecrow. So, the military-industrial complex needed to return Russia to being America’s enemy. This was done by intentionally provoking Yeltsin’s Russia by NATO expansion and then by the rape of Yugoslavia and of the UN charter. It worked. Russians got scared and elected a bigot like Putin. Putin and the US military-industrial complex are the yin-and-yang: they desperately need each other, if one of them falls – the other will too. The classic Unity of opposites:

    As I wrote earlier:

    Back in 1996 I personally warned the American public in my Usenet posts that NATO’s eastward expansion was designed to provoke Russians into electing an anti-Western demagogue. So did the Cato Institute and many other sane people. The US military-industrial-congressional complex needs a scarecrow to scare the American public into giving up their hard-earned money to the military companies, their lobbyists and their congressmen. Then in 1999 we all warned against the Kosovo war. The public didn’t listen. In 1999-2000 Putin came to power, just as we had warned, and the US taxpayers are now willingly paying $1 trillion per year in various military expenses.

    Putin and the American hawks are the yin and yang of modern politics: they need each other to suck the blood and money out of their citizens.

    Comment by Vlad Rutenburg — March 5, 2013 @ 1:19 am

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