High-profile efforts by Russia’s authorities to promote a positive image of military reform, notably its efforts to switch more divisions to contract service, are being undermined by allegations of financial corruption within the military. These allegations have become commonplace in post-Soviet coverage of the Russian army, but now the Russian Audit Chamber has issued a report to the main military prosecutor’s office concerning allegedly stolen funds. The report has sent a clear signal to planners in Moscow that the task of reforming the military remains monumental.
Among the various elements of the Russian military implicated in the report is the Central Directorate of Military Transportation, which the auditors say has developed an interest in concluding agreements for transportation of servicemen with specific carriers — often the more expensive ones. The Audit Chamber found that the carriers used are offering expensive fares, with no use of different tariffs or discounts. There is an alleged lack of competitive bidding, and when these agreements are filed they inevitably include irregularities. Around 7 billion rubles ($244 million) worth of agreements for the period 2002-2004 are being investigated. Moreover, at a more mundane level, military transportation vouchers are also exposing other sources of corruption.
Using a military transportation voucher, Russian servicemen may purchase railway tickets, and the Defense Ministry then pays the voucher on a no-cash basis. These vouchers are in turn sold on the black market at a lower price and they eventually leak back into military units. The Audit Chamber believes this scheme accounts for more than 9.3 million rubles ($324,000) in 2002-2003 in the Far Eastern Military District alone (Moskovsky komsomolets, July 21). Few service branches escaped reproach in the report, even the Navy’s freight shipments have large sums of money unaccounted for. Such reports not only cause embarrassment at high levels but also highlight the existence of endemic corruption at all levels of the Russian armed forces.
Answers offered to the prevalence of such problems typically relate to the idea of professionalizing key units and formations. “Contract service,” although presenting another set of challenges itself, appears to be the current mantra of the Russian military planners. Vladimir Lukin, the Russian Ombudsman, visited the Taman Division in the Moscow Military District on July 23 to observe first hand the changeover to contract service. Lukin discovered for himself some of the problems faced by changeover in general, and the Taman Division in particular. He held discussions on the conditions and the outlook for military service, the transition of a number of the division’s units to contract service, their social provisions, and progress in respecting the human rights of conscripts and other categories of personnel. Lukin particularly noted the importance of improving the bonds between members of the officer corps, and the moral and spiritual guidance given to young officers (Itar-Tass, July 23).
Of course, the Russian military desperately needs to demonstrate improvement in its units deployed in the North Caucasus, particularly in the Chechen theater. Hence the Russian Ministry of Defense has gone to great lengths to emphasize the level of progress in introducing contract servicemen in the North Caucasus Military District. More than 10,000 contract service personnel will be dispatched to the North Caucasus in 2005.
Major Andrei Bobrun, acting chief of the North Caucasus Military District press service remarked, “These contract servicemen will be added to airborne units stationed in Krasnodar Territory and Rostov Region, motorized rifle units stationed in the towns of Budennovsk in Stavropol Territory and Troitskaya in Ingushetia, and the tank battalion in Maykop in Adygeya, and the nuclear, biological and chemical protection battalion in Volgograd Region.” This will be supported by building adequate housing for these contract personnel at a cost of 5.3 billion ($184.6 million) by the end of the year (Interfax, July 21).
Despite such well-publicized efforts to reform the Russian army, allegations of human rights abuses by Russian servicemen continue to emerge from Chechnya. According to Gazeta.ru, the Chechen Interior Ministry alleged that 11 villagers went missing during a raid carried out by the army. Eighty servicemen from the Vostok special battalion of the Russian Ministry of Defense arrived at Borozdinovskaya in armored personnel carriers, trucks, and cars. They detained eleven men, listed in the logbook entry. For unknown reasons, the register says, some of the houses caught fire. Moscow denies the allegations and stressed the presence of ethnic Chechens within the Vostok battalion (Ekho Moskvy, July 22).
Allegations of continued financial corruption within the Russian armed forces serve to draw attention to the vast undertaking involved in reforming these structures. Yet the constant denial of abuses in the Chechen theater, instead merely sending yet more contract personnel there, masks the real issue of why Moscow refuses to seek a political solution to the crisis. Without sustained political willingness in tackling the existence of such widespread financial corruption, the military reform program, such as it is, will fail.