Streetwise Professor

May 1, 2008

Humbug on Parade

Filed under: Military,Politics,Russia — The Professor @ 9:28 am

View this link for numerous pictures of the preparations for Russia’s Victory Day military parade. Each of the numerous photographs has the same caption, which ends with a reference to “Russia’s resurgent military might.” Repetition does not make it so. For as these two articles (and many others) show, behind all the military pyrotechnics, if you pull back the curtain you will find that the Wizard of Rus’ is all humbug. First, the hollow army:

Author: Nikolai Dzis-Voinarovsky
[Transition to contract service: vast sums expended with nothing
to show for it.]

Judging by official reassurances, almost 40% of privates and sergeants in the Russian Armed Forces are contract servicemen. Experts meanwhile unanimously claim that the military reforms have been wrecked. The Russian Armed Forces have lost advantages of service by conscription and never gained benefits of contract service. Funding of the transition to contract service rose to 99 billion rubles over the last three years but all these colossal sums were spent on anything but salaries of the Russians signing contracts with the Defense Ministry.

Colonel General Vasily Smirnov of the Main Directorate of Organization and Mobilization of the General Staff maintains with a straight face that a contract serviceman “is paid much more than 35,000 rubles a carman takes home every month.” Had Smirnov been telling the truth, all carmen would have already been in the Army and Navy. In fact, many others would have been seriously pondering service by contract because the sum Smirnov mentioned is way above the average per capita income in Russia (13,773 rubles).

Most men in Russia actually refuse to even entertain the idea of military service – by conscription or contract. According to Public Opinion Foundation sociologists, 51% of respondents view the situation in the Armed Forces as bad, 29% as so-so, and 6% as good. Specialists of the Transition Period Economy Institute checked Smirnov’s words and ended up with a picture not even
nearly as rosy as the general had painted.

Contract soldier’s basic salary is 8,000 rubles. There are bonuses and so on, of course, but even with all of them accounted for a soldier in Chechnya may only count on 15,000 rubles a month. Engine driver in metro in the meantime is paid between 35,000 and 55,000 rubles.

The Defense Ministry reported federal target program “Transition to contract service in units and formations” for 2004-2007 implemented. The initially drawn plans stood for an increase of contract servicemen in the Armed Forces from 22,100 to 47,758 men by 2008. The figure was eventually reduced to 138,722. Before the spring conscription campaign this year, the same Smirnov was already talking about “100,000 contract servicemen or so”. Funding set aside for the federal target program went up from 79 to 99 billion rubles (in 2003 prices). The additional finances were spent on propaganda and research but “not a ruble was spent on salaries of contract servicemen”, specialists of the Transition Period Economy Institute say. The Auditing Commission discovered misuse of 164.1 million rubles by the Defense Ministry earlier this month.

Specialists view low salaries as the key factor that determines success or failure of the military reforms.

Service by conscription is down to twelve months now. Combat readiness of the Armed Forces is down too. Most deferments have been annulled. Crooks alone benefit from these results of the federal target program. Experts in the employ of the INDEM Foundation say that conscription is the third worst corrupt sphere in the country, after health care and education.

The Defense Ministry is energetically drafting people with higher education into the Army and Navy. They amounted to 1.8% of
the numerical strength of the Army and Navy in 1985, 3.1% in 1999,and amount to 21.7% nowadays. “This withdrawal of specialists from national economy cannot be excused. Instead of drafting former students, the Defense Ministry had better concentrate on educational level of its career officers,” to quote Yevgeny Gontmakher of the Center for Social Studies and Innovations.

The Defense Ministry’s ability to provide tenements for the military is highly questionable too.

As a matter of fact, low salaries of contract servicemen have already resulted in dire consequences. According to Military Prosecutor General Sergei Fridinsky, privates and sergeants serving by contract committed over 3,500 crimes in the first ten months of 2007 (a 25% rise against the figure logged the year before).

Traditionally enough, state officials prefer talking of the cloudless future to doing something to remedy the currently problematic situation. Officials promise to up an average salary in the Russian Armed Forces to $3,375 by 2020. Gontmakher warns that the state cannot deliver what it is promising…

And the hollow navy:

Russia ‘no longer uses’ nuke sub deterrent

WASHINGTON, April 28 (UPI) — Russian nuclear submarines conducted only three patrols last year, indicating Moscow may have effectively abandoned their use as a deterrent, says a new report.

The Federation of American Scientists published its Nuclear Notebook this week, revealing that the number of deterrence patrols conducted by Russia’s 11 nuclear ballistic missiles submarines decreased to only three in 2007 from five in 2006.

In comparison, U.S. nuclear subs conducted 54 patrols in 2007, more than three times as many as all the other nuclear-weapon states combined.

Owing to “changed strategic circumstances” Moscow has apparently concluded “they don’t need this (submarine deterrent capability) for their security,” the federation’s Hans Kristensen told UPI, citing principally the end of the Cold War nuclear standoff.

For such a deterrent to be fully credible, at least one sub has to be on patrol — evading detection in open waters — at any given time, ready to launch unstoppable ballistic retaliation for any nuclear first strike.

But the Russian patrol figures reveal “that Russia no longer maintains a continuous (nuclear ballistic missile submarine, or SSBN) patrol posture like that of the United States, Britain, and France, but instead has shifted to a new posture where it occasionally deploys an SSBN for training purposes,” Kristensen wrote on the federation’s Web site.

He added the shift became apparent “when then Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov declared … that five SSBNs were on patrol at that time.” Later he learned that those five patrols were the only ones conducted that year.

“Combined, the two sources indicated a cluster of patrols at approximately the same time rather than distributed throughout the year.”

Kristensen told UPI that the new posture was likely to damage the strategic capabilities of the SSBN fleet.

“If you talk to U.S. submariners, they will tell you you need to be out on patrol all the time to maintain your readiness. … You can’t just switch back from an occasional deterrent posture to a full-time one.”

Shaun Waterman, UPI Homeland and National Security Editor

This examples could be expanded ad infinitum.

And it is not just the military. Recently Russian government spokesmen have been trumpeting a demographic turnaround. But myriad independent sources–including Russian demographers–cast serious doubt on these claims. Indeed, the consensus independent forecast is that Russia faces a worsening demographic outlook in the first years of the next decade, and that crippling declines in the working population are almost inevitable.

Thanks to the commodity price boom, Russia has a window to make inroads into its myriad health and social problems. This window is likely to be short-lived, because commodity booms often are. The country has already squandered several years, and shows no inclination to do anything different with the next several. Instead, we see bullying of neighbors; continual whining about enemies and the lack of respect paid Russia; Potemkin parades; propaganda masquerading as progress.

Indeed, the Red Square parade is deeply symbolic of Putin’s Russia. Boastful preening and display, mimicking past glories, all to distract attention from an all too often shambolic present and a bleak future–a future that could be a far brighter one, if only the country’s leaders could conceive a future different than an imagined past. But perhaps this is too much to ask, perhaps the habits of rule are too ingrained, for as Richard Pipes has written of governing Russia since the time of Peter the Great:

But once it had been decided that the interests of the country required the existence of a citizenry conscious of its collective identity and of its role in the country’s development, then certain consequences inevitably followed. It was clearly contradictory to appeal to the public sentiments of the Russian people and at the same time to deny them any legal or political safeguards against the omnipotence of the state. A partnership in which one party held all the power and played by its own rules was obviously unworkable. And yet this is exactly how Russia has been governed from Peter the Great to this day. The refusal of those in authority to grasp the obvious consequences of inviting public participation generated in Russia a condition of permanent political tension which successive governments sought to attenuate sometimes by loosening their reins on the realm, sometimes by tightening them, but never by inviting society to share the coachman’s seat.

The parade and the Sochi Olympics and myriad other things are “appeal[s] to the public sentiments of the Russian people.” But the sham of the recent voting, the consolidation of power into one party (United Russia), and the continued absence of a rule of law, which allows those in power to “play by [their] own rules,” all serve “to deny [the people] any legal or political safeguards against the omnipotence of the state.” As Pipes states, this will engender in the populace political tension, when, as is almost inevitable, it becomes clear that the fat years have not been used to address Russia’s chronic and debilitating structural problems in any serious way.

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