After a meeting of Russia’s top brass this week, Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov disclosed drastic plans to reform and cut the Russian military. The executive decision to begin the reform was signed by President Dmitry Medvedev on September 15, but most details were kept secret (see EDM, October 9). Now Serdyukov has disclosed some figures, but many details are still unclear. The traditional Russian obsession with secrecy may once again undermine a long-overdue reform.
In previous years when commenting on the state of the Russian military, I often said that there were more colonels in active service in the Russian military than lieutenants; but I could only cite “unnamed Defense Ministry sources,” since all information on service personnel numbers was classified. This week Serdyukov told journalists, “Our army is today like an egg—swollen in the middle—we have more colonels and lieutenant-colonels than junior officers” (Rossiiskaya Gazeta, October 15). Now, thanks to Serdyukov, I can cite an official source. All figures on military personnel in active service still remain classified, however. Serdyukov revealed some, but they do not all add up; numbers change and no Russian official is under any obligation to tell anything ever again to the public.
Serdyukov announced that by 2012 the number of generals would be cut from 1,107 to 886; colonels from 25,665 to 9,114; majors from 99,550 to 25,000; and captains from 90,000 to 40,000, while the number of lieutenants would be increased from 50,000 to 60,000. At the same time, Serdyukov stated that the overall number of officers in the armed forces today was 355,000, while some 40,000 officer’s positions were vacant (Rossiiskaya Gazeta, October 15).
The figures clearly do not add up with the breakdown, which totals only 266,322. The number of lieutenant colonels is not given at all. It is not clear whether or how the vacant positions for officers are calculated in these figures. The vacancies are most likely for lieutenants, but an actual breakdown of unoccupied positions was not given.
Serdyukov announced that the number of army units would be cut drastically from 1,890 to 172 by 2012. The number of disbanded units in the other services would not be as drastic: Reductions in the Air Force will be from 340 to 180, in the Navy from 240 to 123, in the Strategic Rocket Forces from 12 to 8, in the Space Troops from 7 to 6, and in the Airborne from 6 to 5 (Rossiiskaya Gazeta, October 15). Serdyukov did not mention any possible changes in the number of units in the specialized branches such as the Railroad Troops or the nuclear Defense Ministry 12th Main Directorate forces. It is impossible, of course, for a journalist in Russia to inquire on his own about any details, since the number of units, the composition of forces, and all related information are official state secrets.
There is no official explanation of why so many units in the army will be disbanded, where they are located, or what will be done specifically to help their staffs find new work and accommodations. Serdyukov announced, “Retired officers will receive social benefits, will be offered work as civilian contractors in the Defense Ministry if their present jobs no longer require military rank, or will be offered retraining for jobs outside the Defense Ministry.” Serdyukov promised that the planned drastic cuts in personnel and unit numbers “will not cause any social tension” (RIA-Novosti, October 14).
Serdyukov announced that divisions and regiments in the Russian army would be transformed into more compact brigades as in Western armies. Military education would be radically reformed: The present 65 military academies would be transformed into 10 military academies and universities. “Russian military education will be transformed to match the more effective American model,” announced Defense Ministry civilian adviser Vitali Shlikov (RBK Daily, October 15).
The personnel of the Defense Ministry’s General Staff, central staffs, and command structures will be cut from 21,813 to 8,500 by 2012. The announced cuts are causing “outrage” within the military, but the reforms are fully supported by Russia’s political leaders and will be pressed on regardless (Kommersant, October 15).
In Russia no decisions have ever been made by either the people or the military rank and file, so Russian reforms, including the most radical ones that change the livelihood of millions, are traditionally carried out in a drastic but secretive way. Only the opinion of the tsar or his equivalent (president, Communist party boss, or prime minister) has ever mattered. The reformers in Russia are the leaders or their close comrades; their whims may begin a reform or end it, while the people are simply issued orders. The obsession with secrecy makes reforms in Russia traditionally highly unpopular and easily reversible.
Serdyukov’s reform plans may be what the Russian military actually needs to transform itself from a dilapidated Soviet leftover into something modern. But the sketchy nature of the information on substance and detail leaves the plan open to criticism by experts (Ekho Moskvy, October 14). It is impossible to comprehend whether the drastic cuts will improve the situation or make it worse. When bureaucratic paranoia rules, genuine public support is absent.