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Russia Profile
November 12, 2008
The Armys Pain
Servicemen Do not Understand the Aims of Military Reform, but Are Terrified by Its Scope

By Dmitry Babich

The Defense Ministry has unveiled plans for the most far-reaching reform of Russias Armed Forces since the end of the Second World War. Change is long overdue, but the plans have already provoked a storm of protest from conservative-minded politicians and former generals. Worse, the true aims of the reforms are still shrouded in mystery, and hundreds of thousands of serving officers are facing an uncertain future.

The Russian army is bracing up for one of the most sweeping reforms in its history, but officers and even the armys top brass remain in the dark as to the reforms real aims and consequences. This is the conclusion that one can draw from interviews given by the reforms opponents, which include several prominent retired generals and representatives of the leftist opposition in the Duma. Gennady Zyuganovs communist faction even demanded the resignation of Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov, who is seen as the main driving force behind the reform. A letter to President Dmitry Medvedev, demanding Serdyukovs resignation, titled Stop the Pogrom against the Army and signed by 58 Duma members, has become one of the political events of the week.

Meanwhile, the scraps of information that have been released by the Ministry of Defense impress by the sheer scope of the planned reform, making it look like the biggest overhaul of the armed forces since the end of the Great Patriotic War in 1945.

The plan, made public on November 10, presupposes that between 2009 and 2012, 23 infantry divisions and 12 infantry brigades will be disbanded. Out of them, 70 brigades will be formed. Only 40 of them will be regular infantry brigades. Twenty others will concern themselves with artillery and missiles (five of them armed with the famous Iskander-M short range missile) and ten will provide communications, anti-aircraft and radio-electronic forces.

It is obvious that the ministry of defense learned the lessons of the short war in Georgia in August this year, said Anatoly Tsyganok, the head of the Moscow-based Center for Military Forecasts. Despite the defeat of Georgian forces, it became clear that Russia had few military units that were indeed ready for full-scale combat. The Russian army had very few drones, bad night vision equipment and other devices which the United States and Israel supplied to Georgians. So, the idea is to have a leaner, meaner military force.

The Nezavisimaya Gazeta daily agrees that the reform is needed since the armed forces remain Soviet by their organization and supply system. However, the newspaper expresses concern over the secretive character of the reforms preparation. The annual meeting of the militarys top brass, held on November 11 and usually attended by both the president and the prime minister, was conspicuously ignored by Dmitry Medvedev. Journalists, traditionally welcome guests at these sorts of events, were not invited. Nezavisimaya Gazeta explains this by tensions in the army, where many officers are reported to be unhappy about the reform. If one looks at the published plans, these people have a reason to worry.

By the year 2012, only 270 thousand people will be serving in Russias ground forces. There will be no army units supposed to become combat ready after reserve officers are mobilized. The system every citizen a soldier, effective during the two world wars and largely retained in the modern Russian army, will be dropped as obsolete.

In the Soviet Union, there were 200 army divisions with about 10,000 people serving in each of these divisions, wrote Mikhail Barabanov, the editor in chief of Moscow Defense Brief. Out of these 200 divisions, only 50 belonged to the so-called A category, i.e. had all their soldiers armed officers ready for combat. The remaining 150 divisions needed to get reinforcements from the mobilized reservists. This unhealthy mix of army units of different quality is retained up to the present time.

The army will have a completely new structure. Instead of the old chain of command military district army division regiment, formed during the Great Patriotic War and retained until now, a new system will be established. Military district operative command brigade has only three links in the chain instead of the old four. But that will mean that many divisions and armies, with their banners, traditions and officer positions, will have to become part of history.

Talks about the need to have fewer army unites of higher quality have been common for a long time, but it took Serdyukov, an outsider in military circles, to start the real reform. Before being appointed to his post by former President Vladimir Putin last year, Serdyukov never served in the army or was part of the officer corps.

According to the published plans, by the end of the reform there will be no more than 150,000 officers in the army instead of the current 355,000. This means that hundreds of thousands of officers will have to be demobilized.

The real cuts will not be so substantial, because a lot of these officer positions are not filled and exist only on paper, Barabanov noted. The officer positions currently filled by recent students, who serve two years as lieutenants upon graduating from university, will also be cut without too much pain. However, 117,000 currently serving officers will have to leave.

In the depth of their souls, the officers understand the need for reform, Nezavivimaya Gazeta wrote. But no one wants to become part of the sacrificial offering.