Old Saint Basil's Cathedral in MoscowJohnson's Russia List title and scenes of Saint Petersburg
Excerpts from the JRL E-Mail Community :: Founded and Edited by David Johnson

#15 - JRL 7167
Russia's Military Needs Viewed Ahead of Putin Message
29 April 2003
There Is No Threat, but We Do Need To Arm Ourselves
By Nikita Petrov

Practice shows that in his annual message to the Federal Assembly President Vladimir Putin does not always devote much space to questions of Russia's defense capability and national security. Understandably so, in fact. The president's message essentially determines the general direction of the state's movement for the year, primarily in political, economic, and social terms. And the entire country spends the entire year until the following message trying to implement these clearly defined aims. But on the other hand, of course, Vladimir Putin sees and understands what is happening in the world today and is hardly going to bypass the issues of the country's defense capability and national security.

The situation surrounding Iraq has shown first and foremost that Peter I's dictum that in principle Russia's only allies are its army and navy remains topical. Although, as Russian Federation Defense Minister Sergey Ivanov has stressed, "the doctrinal principles and strategic concepts of most the world's states regard war as a national disaster and a threat to the existence of civilization". Yet at the same time military force remains the dominant means of achieving political aims. In this situation Russia, "proceeding on the basis of its geopolitical position, while giving preference to political, diplomatic, economic, and other non-military means of ensuring security, recognizes the objective necessity of possessing military forces for the country's defense capability", the minister believes.

But to begin with it is necessary to bring order to the Armed Forces, and it is proposed to impose that order by reforming the army and the navy. Especially since many analysts close to the Kremlin consider the past decade to have been a relatively quiet and favorable time for Russia on the political plane. This means that the country has a real chance to carry through the difficult but extremely necessary work of radically restructuring the military organization to meet the challenges of the present. No one any longer questions the fact that this needs to be done. The crisis of the old army system has been exposed not only by the two Chechen campaigns in 1995 and and 1999 but also by analysis of US and NATO actions in the course of the operations against Yugoslavia in 1999 and Afghanistan in 2001 and the Anglo-American war to overthrow Iraqi leader Saddam Husayn.

A whole lot has been said about military reform recently. And the president is hardly likely to say anything new on this question. The main parameters of the federal targeted program to switch the army to a predominantly contract principle of recruitment -- and it is this aspect which provokes most public interest in the entire military reform -- have already been presented to Vladimir Putin by Defense Minister Sergey Ivanov and the members of the working commission tasked with drawing up the document. So the supreme commander-in-chief seems likely to note only the essence of the problem in his speech to the country's political elite. This consists, remember, of already ratified plans for switching to a new -- contract -- principle of army recruitment. The process will begin on 1 January 2004. The first contract troops will appear in units in permanent combat readiness, of which there are 72 in total. They incorporate something in the order of 176,000 NCO and enlisted personnel jobs. Contract recruitment will begin with those units and combined units that are deployed in the North Caucasus Military District and nearby regions. According to Defense Ministry plans, 27 military units will switch to contract recruitment in 2004, 14 will switch in 2005, 19 will switch in 2006, and finally 12 will switch in 2007. In parallel with this, conditions will be created for other permanent-readiness units quartered in other regions to switch to the same system. Beginning in 2008, the reform will "make the leap" to the Strategic Missile Troops, the Air Force, the Navy, and the Space Troops. In this period it will also become possible to reduce the period of draft service to one year. The separate proviso is made, however, that the speed and timing of the final switch to the new military track will depend on the economic situation in the country.

The militarily estimate that the switch to the new recruitment principle will require the allocation of R23 billion in 2004, R33 billion in 2005, R38 billion in 2006, and R37 billion in 2007. Already, ahead of the examination of the country's budget for 2004 (which will happen on 5 June) Finance Minister Aleksey Kudrin is promising an overall growth in expenditure under the "national defense" and "law-enforcement activity" federal budget headings at the level of R100 billion. "We are going to have two weigh up right now to what extent we will be able to do this, taking account of expenditure priorities", the vice premier stressed. Neither the government nor the potential recipients of the budget pie are in any doubt that this will have to be done.

Russia's military doctrine declares that in the foreseeable future the country's leadership sees no threat of broad-scale armed conflicts. But, in the words of Defense Minister Sergey Ivanov, the country is already having to fight not against states but "against individuals and organizations spread across many countries and many continents". That is, the enemy has been identified, albeit in very provisional terms. The upshot is that Russia is building Armed Forces capable of fighting international terrorism and meanwhile maintaining a proper nuclear balance with the United States. It is possible that this aspect too will be examined in very great detail by the president. Especially since the State Duma deputies have still not ratified the Russian-American Strategic Offensive Reductions Treaty.

Russia's top military-political leadership thinks that the time has come for wars of a new type in which a special place is occupied by information warfare. For example, Defense Minister Sergey Ivanov is constantly referring back to the first Chechen campaign when, because of their complete helplessness in the information sphere, the Armed Forces were slapped in the face from all sides as they did their duty.

One further important aspect. The experience of military actions in Chechnya formed the basis of the program "Equipping the 21st-century Soldier", which envisages the creation of sophisticated radio communications, navigational aids, life-support systems, and small arms. The main trend of the work is to ensure the protection of the individual soldier and superiority in night fighting by re-equipping aircraft, helicopters, and ground subunits with television and other surveillance and monitoring facilities. The "massive rearmament" of the Russian army is planned to begin in 2006-2007 (although, here too, the famous proviso about the economic situation in the country is included). Until that time, enterprises are proposing to bring several dozen new types of armaments into army use each year, but in single specimens. The army notably received 22 new types of weapons and military equipment in 2002 via the Russian agency for conventional armaments, and it has taken delivery of 16 types in 2003. These are mainly new missile complexes, small arms, and combat control systems. But the Russian army has nothing remotely like what the American army employed in Iraq. For example, according to Russian Federation Space Forces Commander Colonel General Anatoliy Perminov, the Defense Ministry is only now planning a future start on training specialist officers capable of assisting general-purpose subunit commanders in orienting on the ground using satellite systems. Whereas the American army has such systems for every platoon commander as a minimum. The state of affairs with conventional communications equipment is equally dire. The use of obsolete radio sets has led to a situation in which those Chechen gunmen can easily eavesdrop on federal forces' exchanges, cut into their conversations, and spread disinformation about the real state of affairs in a combat zone. In the second Chechen campaign the army did get Akveduk closed communications systems to replace them, but only one set per unit. It is quite possible that issues relating to the supply of new armaments and combat equipment to the Armed Forces could certainly be aired in the president's message.

Preparing for and implementing the Armed Forces' switch to new weapons and military equipment is the main task for the country's military-industrial complex (after the fall of the USSR three-quarters of its military-industrial complex enterprises went to Russia, and more than 70 plant-cities and closed administrative formations are entirely dependent on the defense sector), where the state of affairs cannot yet be called normal either. One reason for the crisis in the defense industry is the delay over military reform and the long absence of a national defense concept. Enterprise managers do not know what or how much the military will need in the immediate future, what military production plans are for the longer term, which mobilization requirements will be maintained, or what facilities will be subject to withdrawal from defense production for subsequent conversion, mothballing, or elimination.

Meanwhile the output of the military-industrial complex is declining steadily, facilities are working at half-capacity at best, and equipment is becoming obsolete. The state defense order also remains insufficient, which means that the military-industrial complex survives only by supplying its products to foreign states. And all this is occurring against the backdrop of Defense Ministry debts to the defense-industry sector running into many millions. Of course, the Defense Ministry too would like to bring new equipment into the arsenal, but in such a situation the military can only buy single specimens of weapons and military equipment, and this does not allow economically profitable series production to be organized. Because of chronic non-payment and high taxes the defense sector, in turn, is vastly in debt to the state budget. Since they do not have timely advances from the budget to fund the defense order and conversion programs, military-industrial complex enterprises are forced to raise credit at high interest rates. In the past two years, as a result of delayed payment for work carried out, enterprises have paid banks almost as much in loan interest as they have received from the budget. It should be acknowledged at the same time that the reduction in volume of military-industrial complex production has been caused by the failure to apply economic mechanisms and state regulation effectively enough, a slowness on complex enterprises' part to adapt to the demands of contemporary economics, and suppressed investment activity due to the lack of budget finance and the payments crisis. So the situation was bound to be reflected in the military-industrial complex's potential to fulfill the tasks imposed on it in ensuring the country's security.

Will Vladimir Putin touch on these issues, at least, not to mention the dozens of other national security problems? The president's annual message has a foreign policy as well as a domestic policy resonance. A country is largely judged by its leader's words. And too strong an emphasis on military topics, on the one hand, could provoke a wave of anti-Russian attitudes in the West and some people could start remembering about the "Russian military threat". But on the other hand, the military-political situation in the world remains tense, and Russia has an obligation to take measures to ensure its own defense capability and security. It is the president who sets the tone, direction, and pace of those measures.

Top    Next