Putin Considers New ‘Defense Plan’ as ‘Reform’ Dies

Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 10 Issue: 21

Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, President Vladimir Putin, and Chief of the General Staff Valeriy Gerasimov (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

Russia’s President Vladimir Putin is considering signing into law a new “defense plan,” setting out in a comprehensive document the long-term threat assessment and strategic environment facing Russia over the next few decades. It will mark an effort on a grand scale to re-conceptualize Russian security documents and provide a framework for the defense ministry, General Staff and the military industrial complex to implement defense modernization. Although its details remain unknown, recent statements and speeches by the top brass and leading members of the Military Academy of Sciences point to the underlying precepts contained in the document at a time when it is increasingly clear that the “new look” reform of the Armed Forces is dead (see EDM, January 31; Interfax, January 29).

On January 29, the Defense Minister, Army-General Sergei Shoigu, and the Chief of the General Staff, Colonel-General Valeriy Garasimov, presented the draft defense plan to President Putin. Shoigu explained that the defense plan is the work of “49 ministries and departments,” and takes into account the long-term development of defense capabilities and the state armaments program. Its merit, according to the defense minister, lies in taking account of “all the programs” linked to defense, specifically mentioning the “arms program” and “mobilization.” Alongside the new defense plan, an additional framework has been devised for the military industrial complex, which sets out a vision for the maintenance and servicing of military equipment. Shoigu said this involves “lifetime contracts, from production to scrapping” (Interfax, NTV, January 29).

Some elements of Russia’s threat assessment and the prevailing views on the strategic environment as well as the type of armed forces required to meet these challenges were the subject of discussion during last month’s annual conference of the Academy of Military Sciences. Shoigu addressed the conference—unusual in the sense that the previous Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov had avoided contact with the academy—speaking of the escalating military threats to the Russian state. With “hot spots” located close to Russia’s borders, the Armed Forces need an optimal structure, an “efficient management system,” modern weaponry and a professional staff. But the nature of threats outlined, including “color revolutions,” was not extraordinary, ranging from missile defense to local conflicts such as Libya, Syria or potential conflict over Iran. Garasimov told his audience that the General Staff has not forgotten about the possible risk of “large-scale” wars, and as if to reinforce the message, Shoigu tellingly used the term “mobilization” when handing the defense plan to Putin (Interfax, January 29; https://www.vkonline.ru/234506/article/vpervye-razrabotan-plan-oborony-strany-uchityvayushij-vse-riski.html).

As the number of reform measures implemented during Serdyukov’s tenure as defense minister continues to be rolled back under Shoigu, the General Staff has requested that the extra-territorial principle applied to conscript service should now be reinstituted. That principle allows conscripts to be sent to serve in different parts of Russia. Serdyukov had abolished applying this principle to conscription, believing it is better to allow conscripts to serve closer to home (Izvestiya, January 30).

Voyenno Promyshlennyy Kuryer published the entire text of the speech to the Academy of Military Sciences by its president, Army-General (retired) Makhmut Gareev, widely recognized as Russia’s leading military theorist. Of course, since the “new look” was launched in the fall of 2008, Gareev has frequently appealed to the political-military leadership not to abandon conscription or mobilization as the very basis of Russia’s conventional military security capabilities. However, Gareev had also given qualified backing to the experiment to introduce network-centric approaches to modern combat in the Russian military (https://vpk-news.ru/articles/14094).

Now Gareev, with his ideas fully back in fashion among the defense ministry leadership, has taken the gloves off. Gareev reasserted the view that Russia faces military-political and economic efforts by other actors to squeeze its energy resources. The country will also face growing political pressure from the United States and China, and in this context Gareev said, “It is necessary to do everything in order to maintain our own national interests and to preserve the country’s integrity, above all by political-diplomatic means.” Gareev also referred to the reorientation of US strategic interests to the Asia-Pacific region, and the “re-stationing” of US and North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) military forces in Central Asia, which “cannot fail to affect Russia’s national interests and security” (https://vpk-news.ru/articles/14094).

“Combat engagements will come to have a non-contact character, and the command-and-control of line-units will be accomplished by means of a net-centric system; computers will work out solutions for commanders in several variants,” Gareev told his audience, before reminding them of developments in the First and Second World Wars. He added, “Certainly, the character of armed warfare today is significantly changed, and military operations in the future actually will take on a more highly maneuverable character; but even the First and Second World Wars began with high maneuver operations” (https://vpk-news.ru/articles/14094).

On the reform of the Armed Forces under Serdyukov, according to Gareev, the goal has been achieved of creating “compact, mobile” forces “equipped with the very latest types of arms,” which exaggerates the progress of the modernization. But then he rebuked the brigade-centric system it has produced: The reformed brigades are “2.5- to 3-fold weaker” than the divisions they replaced. Gareev further issued a clarion call for strengthening mobilization, which he described as a system of trained reserves, possibly along the lines of the US reserve system. At heart, Gareev offered a curious mix of old and new, possibly to fill the void of the Serdyukov reform, but openly questioned the value of boosting contract personnel numbers. “The times and experiences of all wars indicate a contract enlistee will serve well for good money in peacetime, but he will not die for money,” he argued (https://vpk-news.ru/articles/14094).

The reworked Russian defense plan will most likely offer a compromise view among government departments on the potential threats to Russia over the next few decades, and also represent an effort to guide the main departments to produce a new level of synergy in their programs. But whatever the final content of the defense plan proves to be, it will have to fit an as yet unknown replacement for the Serdyukov reform. Paradoxically, while reference to “mobilization” signals the persistent influence of such thinking on Russian security policy, no one has yet offered an answer for a manpower system that depends on dwindling numbers due to the demographic crisis. The adjustment has not been made to the new reality that there is no mass mobilization potential in Russia, and this also reflects the deep uncertainty over what may be cobbled together in its place.