As part of his campaign for the presidency, Vladimir Putin has been publishing a series of articles on various themes. On Tuesday, he turned to national security and specifically the Russian military. Since the full text is available in English, I won’t spend much time describing what is in the article but will just comment on some themes that caught my attention.
I have to say, of all the articles Putin has published as part of his electoral program, this one is one of the best. It’s not a terribly high standard, given that at least one of them was found to have been plagiarized from other sources, but still.
The first part of the article provides one of the best justifications I have seen for the military reform that the government undertook starting back in the fall of 2008. Had this statement been made this clearly and forcefully back then, I think Putin, defense minister Anatoliy Serdyukov and company might have had an easier time convincing the expert community that they knew what they were doing. (Back then, the reform was rolled out without a clear plan or explanation, which generated a lot of criticism.) I’ve been a fan of the main ideas behind the reform effort from the start, so I’m glad to see this all spelled out so clearly by Putin (or, more likely, his ghostwriter). Here are the key points justifying the reform:
Previous experience proved that the potential for developing the military system inherited from the Soviet Union had become depleted…
It was not possible to build up the military simply by adding personnel and equipment partly because it didn’t solve the inefficiency problem and partly because the country lacked both the human and financial resources. Most importantly, that system did not meet contemporary and long-term requirements. We could eventually have lost our entire military potential and we could have lost our armed forces as an efficient mechanism.
There was only one way out. We had to build a new army. We had to establish a modern and mobile army which could maintain permanent combat readiness.
This is followed by an equally clear discussion of accomplishments to date. These primarily have to do with changes in organizational structure, including the transition from brigades to divisions and from military districts to unified strategic commands.
The section on future tasks focuses primarily on procurement. The list of priorities is worth quoting:
Our number one priorities are nuclear forces, aerospace defense, military communications, intelligence and control, electronic warfare, drones, unmanned missile systems, modern transport aviation, individual combat protection gear, precision weapons and defense capabilities against such weapons.
In terms of specific platforms and weapons, the list for the next decade reads as follows:
Over four hundred modern land and sea based intercontinental ballistic missiles, eight strategic ballistic missile submarines, about twenty multipurpose submarines, over fifty surface warships, around one hundred military spacecraft, over six hundred modern aircraft including fifth-generation fighter jets, more than 1,000 helicopters, 28 regimental kits of S-400 air defense systems, 38 battalion kits of Vityaz missile systems, ten brigade kits of Iskander-M missile systems, over 2,300 modern tanks, about 2,000 self propelled artillery systems and vehicles and more than 17,000 military vehicles.
Parts of this are more believable than others. Given that the military still isn’t sure what tank it wants to build, the 2,300 modern tanks number is particularly unlikely. And I have doubts about six hundred modern aircraft and fifty surface warships (unless we count patrol boats and the like). Targets for helicopters, submarines, air defense systems and missiles are more likely to be achieved.
The social dimension
The biggest problems with the reform effort to date have been with the social dimension of reform. This dimension is given an extensive amount of attention in the article. The increase in salaries that came into effect in January is expected to solve the recruitment problem. We shall see.
Putin also made a new proposal to create the Russian equivalent of a GI Bill for soldiers to help with admission to and payment for a university education. This could prove attractive to less wealthy families who otherwise would have little hope of paying the bribes that are often necessary to gain admission to a Russian university.
At the same time, it’s not encouraging that the fiction of a million man army is being maintained. According to the article, there are 220,000 officers and 186,000 contract soldiers and sergeants currently serving in the military. The total number of conscripts serving at present is 350,000. That means the total force is around 750,000 rather than one million. To put it another way, 25 percent of all billets in the Russian military are currently vacant, although this is not being acknowledged. That’s a big problem. The only way to solve it is to step up recruiting of contract soldiers.
Again, we shall see if the higher salaries help with that. If it works, then the plan to have 700,000 professional soldiers in place might be achievable, though almost certainly not by the target date of 2017.
Then there’s the housing issue. Putin again makes promises that the issue will be solved, this time by 2014. That’s a year later than previous statements. The deadlines for providing apartments to all active and retired officers who are owed one have been pushed back year after year, so I wouldn’t hold my breath on this.
Dealing with defense industry
The last third of the article deals with new demands that the military and government are placing on Russian defense industry. There’s not much there that hasn’t already been said by various officials elsewhere over the last year.
After starting with the usual statements on the importance of domestic defense industry and their modernization, Putin once again makes clear that the military is not going to just accept what they’re being sold. As he puts it, “It is unacceptable for the army to become a market for morale sapping obsolescent weapons, technologies and research and development, especially if it is being paid for out of the public purse.”
Modernization is to come in a number of ways:
- The acquisition of foreign technologies with the aim of improving domestic production in the future.
- Providing greater financial predictability for defense industry by placing state defense orders for a 3-5 (or even 7) year period.
- Increasing transparency and competition among defense industry companies.
- Privatizing state run defense industrial companies.
- Creating synergies between the defense and civilian economic sectors in order to spur innovation.
The parts about privatization and competition are interesting, as they seem to contradict efforts made in the previous Putin presidency to nationalize many of these same companies through the creation of quasi state-owned sectoral holding companies. Is this an implicit admission that the government made a mistake then?
All in all, some reasonable grand plans for Russian defense industry but few specifics on how they might be carried out. And that can probably double as an assessment of the article as a whole. The vision is clearly there. But the question still remains, can the vision be implemented successfully given Russian realities? Or will corruption, the intransigence of the old guard, and just plain old inertia stymie this vision? The jury is still out on that question.
This story first appeared at Russian Military Reform, February 22, 2012.