Streetwise Professor

October 4, 2011

Military Madness

Filed under: Economics,Military,Politics,Russia — The Professor @ 10:28 pm

I have often commented on the bizarreness of the obsession of Putin (and lately, Medvedev) to lavish huge amounts of money on the Russian military to purchase hardware at the same time that its software–the men (primarily) who serve in the ranks–is so beset with problems.  This issue has come to a head with Kudrin’s making the issue of military spending the pretext for his outburst against Medvedev (although it really had to have been directed at Putin).  A couple of  articles bring this point home.

From EDM:

Another indication that the Russian General Staff is not overly anxious about a NATO withdrawal from Afghanistan relates to manpower, quite apart from the presence of poorly trained reservists, which would seriously inhibit Moscow’s capacity to maintain forces in theater for anything other than short spells. Indeed, a critical flaw in exercises of this type is that within only a few weeks, much of the manpower will be lost as senior conscripts are demobilized from the units. During Vostok 2010, some conscripts were prevented from demobilizing, while on the other hand many draftees involved in its various stages had been in the army for only a few weeks. One commander summarized the problem, lamenting: “give then a shovel and they will either lose it or break it.” Judging by Tsentr 2011, the “progress” is at best glacial (Krasnaya Zvezda, October 22, 2010).

There are also grounds to doubt the quality or “combat readiness” among these conscripts. Reportedly in an effort to placate the defense ministry leadership who prefer to believe that dedovshchina [hazing] no longer exists within the military system, there was an upsurge in the number conscripts who tried to commit suicide in Chelyabinsk Region and were sent to the psychiatric hospital in Birgilda (RIA Novosti, September 15). Alexei Sevastyanov, the region’s human rights ombudsman noted in his blog that the numbers of servicemen arriving in the psychiatric hospital had spiked, which he linked to preparations for Tsentr 2011. Sevastyanov blamed the psychological and physical impact of dedovshchina for such an upsurge. In the first nine months of 2011, around 22 servicemen from the Chebarkul tank brigade were admitted to the hospital after attempting to commit suicide due to stress. The defense ministry suspended reporting statistics on the number of annual suicide cases in the armed forces, though it is unofficially estimated at around 20 per month, or a battalion per year (, September 7).

Following allegations made by the mother of a young soldier in Chelyabinsk, on September 15, the Central MD’s military prosecutor opened an investigation and formed special monitoring teams to send to Tsentr 2011. Olga Rodionova’s son, Ivan Golubev, was drafted in July and on September 13, a senior conscript attacked him with a block of wood. She visited the garrison of the 7th Tank Brigade and witnessed first hand life in the “new look” army; beatings of young soldiers were ignored by officers, personnel slept on the ground wrapped in their jackets, their feet rotted as a result of wearing wrong-sized footwear, medical aid was scarce, and inadequate washing facilities featured among other issues. Rodionova observed one soldier being kicked repeatedly in the stomach as officers walked past – evidently accustomed to witnessing and ignoring such violence. She stated that in preparation for Tsentr 2011, conscripts spent 14-18 hours per day digging large holes and building a notional camp. They lived without hot water, sleeping 36 to a tent designed for 22 soldiers. The bathhouse was heated twice weekly, but medics prevented new recruits washing due to the festering sores on their feet. Despite the reported outsourcing of catering, in late August there was a large-scale outbreak of food poisoning caused by soldiers eating rotten fish. Rodionova also expressed concern about the disregard for safety standards for soldiers assigned to unloading munitions. Rodionova concluded “You get the feeling that this is not an army – they are cattle with automatic weapons” (Novvy Region, September 15, 16).

This “new” brutal Russian army contrasts with many of the superficial pretentions to achieving success in the reform efforts to date. Moreover, as the conscripts frequently rotate out of these units, little scope remains for seriously improving combat training. Such reduced capabilities also undermine the assertions by Russia’s neighbors about any conceivable increased military “threat” from the country.

The conscripts serve for one year, and barely have time to become acclimated to the military before they are thrown into conditions that they are unprepared for, and then they leave.  If they are lucky.

And demographic and health problems and draft evasion sharply constrain the numbers that the military can conscript:

The military will significantly reduce the number of conscripts called up in the fall conscription drive amid difficulties finding a sufficient number of young men due to poor health and draft evasion, the General Staff said.

The military intends to call up 136,000 conscripts during the fall draft, which lasts from Oct. 1 to Dec. 31, compared with the more than 218,000 conscripts pressed into service in the spring draft, General Staff deputy head Vasily Smirnov told reporters Friday.

Smirnov said the reduction in the number of conscripts is aimed at “boosting the quality of the entrants” amid a military reform and will be compensated by a growing number of contracted military personnel, Interfax reported.

. . .

Smirnov also said 34.8 percent of conscript-age people were not eligible for military service because of poor health in the spring draft, an increase from 33 percent in 2010.

Moreover, 203,500 young men went into hiding so that draft notices could not be served to them in the spring, Smirnov said. In addition, about 7,300 young men who received the notices still did not show up for duty, he said.

Smirnov’s assertion about the growing number of contract personnel is so much bull, as anyone who has followed this issue knows.  The military has had a very difficult time attracting kontraktniki, and an even harder time retaining them.  Many of the dysfunctions in the conscript force have lived on among the (relatively few) contract soldiers and units.  It is just pathetic when the authorities tell such transparent lies.  The contract force has been a failure, and the hierarchy has fought it at every turn.  The Russians would be far better served spending some of those billions of rubles on building a real volunteer force, instead of dumping money on defense contractors–where it will acquire little of use, and where much of it will disappear without a trace.

Kudrin must have thought the entire exercise was madness.  Spend huge sums in fraught economic times in the immediate aftermath of an existential economic crisis to acquire armaments (theoretically) that have little strategic use, and which in any event will be manned by the unskilled, the unmotivated, the abused, the demoralized–which means that they will be less than useless.

And he’s right.  The entire exercise is madness.  But Putin–and make no mistake, it is his decision, for all Medvedev’s butch posing–has chosen madness.  And not just in this.  This is just one part of a broader effort to create a shambolic simulacrum of the USSR.  No, not in all of its ugly manifestations.  But in those that stir atavistic pride in many Russian breasts.  Those related to Russians’ self-image as a Eurasian hegemon arrayed against the New Carthage. (E.g., Putin’s new intiative to create a new EU–Eurasian Union–that stitches together the pieces of the USSR.  More on this in a few days, time and travel permitting.)

Utter madness.  One guy got it, and that guy is gone.

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  1. General Smirnov ought to be a little more familiar with the actions of his own government. The contract army was abandoned a long time ago, it was in all the papers.

    Comment by La Russophobe — October 5, 2011 @ 6:07 am

  2. Putin says Brezhnev was awesome. Just. Awesome.

    Comment by La Russophobe — October 5, 2011 @ 6:17 am

  3. Russia spent more than a quarter million dollars per day through September to keep the ruble from entering freefall just like the stock market. The highest monthly level since the August crisis.

    Comment by La Russophobe — October 5, 2011 @ 6:20 am

  4. Paul Goble was way out in front of the Brezhnev curve.

    Comment by La Russophobe — October 5, 2011 @ 2:25 pm

  5. #3 should read $250 million not a quarter million.

    Comment by La Russophobe — October 5, 2011 @ 2:26 pm

  6. You are forgetting new military hardware will definitely look cool on Victory Day parade. And you don’t even need trained personnel able to operate with it for that, driver is enough.

    Comment by deith — October 5, 2011 @ 2:44 pm

  7. “Russia spent more than a quarter million dollars per day through September to keep the ruble from entering freefall.”

    Alas, at that rate it will require about five million days to exhaust Russia’s financial reserves, money that rightfully belongs to Us, and that Putin stole from Our saintly, non-tax-evading junior colleague Mikhail Khodorkovsky.

    We do not wish to wait that long for Our revenge on Putin, and to fulfill Our objective in Russia -All for Ourselves and nothing for other people!

    Comment by a — October 5, 2011 @ 6:14 pm

  8. The trend indicators for Russian arms exports have been falling since 2003 with respect to the US and in 2010 were particularly egregious for Kremlin LLC. A well equipped Russian military would provide marketing opportunities for arms exports to wannabe regimes around the globe.

    Comment by paboben — October 5, 2011 @ 7:41 pm

  9. Complete speculation and probably baseless but I wonder if there is any connection between Bout’s arrival in the US and Sechin’s apparent fall from grace.

    I can imagine intelligence passed to Russia that Putin would use against Sechin. There are the Al Qaeda stories as an example that might have an impact.

    Comment by pahoben — October 5, 2011 @ 8:08 pm

  10. #7 did you read #5? CAN you read?

    It’s a quarter BILLION dollars per day. D’oh!

    Comment by La Russophobe — October 5, 2011 @ 10:17 pm

  11. Our Dearest Kimmie-kins,

    IFirst, allow Us to say that We truly, deeply appreciate the indefatigable efforts bout you and the good Professor exert to undermine the black regime of Our rebellious servant Vladimir Putin. We are certain that his black heart trembles with terror at your every, every word.

    That said, allow Us to answer your question. Yes, We can read. We read what you wrote, and quoted it precisely. Trusting in your veracity, We did not activate the link you kindly provided.

    Alas, it seems that Our trust in your veracity was sadly misplaced. Now the only question eremaing is either your ability to read, or your ability to write. One or the other, and possibly both, seems to be absent.

    Comment by a — October 6, 2011 @ 5:45 am

  12. A: In other words, you’re a stupid dumbass.

    Comment by La Russophobe — October 6, 2011 @ 6:01 am

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