Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 3 Issue: 27

Western accounts of Vladimir Putin’s Russia have almost wholly ignored the regime’s ongoing efforts at defense reform, even though they have been steadily underway for at least two or three years. Indeed, there are numerous signs that reforms are not only continuing but may actually be accelerating and becoming even more thoroughgoing in scope. For example, in November 2005 Chief of the General Staff General Yuri Baluyevsky complained to President Putin about a lack of coordination between the defense industry and the military. Within days Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov was promoted to the rank of deputy prime minister and tasked with coordinating the activities of this sector and heading the military-industrial commission that gives orders to this sector and its ministries and oversees their implementation. This appointment has also triggered rumors of an impending recreation of a Ministry of Defense Industries as in the past (Vremya novostei, November 28, 2005).

In early December 2005 it was reported that Baluyevsky and Colonel General Alexander Rukshin, Chief of the General Staff’s Main Tactical Directorate, were planning to have the Air Force absorb the Strategic Missile Forces. Some analysts believed that because of the difficulties involved in coordinating the different command and control systems of the Air, Strategic Missile, and Space Forces, the General Staff would then be obliged to include the Space Forces in the Air Force as well (Nezavisimaya gazeta, December 9, 2005). But this notion was itself part of a larger, more sweeping reorganization that apparently was dictated by the national leadership’s demand to reduce the army by another 100,000 men to save money.

Under the new plan, all of the six existing military districts would be abolished and replaced by regional directorates for the West, South, and East (no threat is seen from the North, i.e. the Arctic). In that configuration there would be no reason to maintain the high commands of various services and commands of branches like the Strategic Missile Forces, Space Forces, and Airborne Forces. Similarly, the four fleets and the Caspian Flotilla would also be folded into these three directorates. Thousands of command positions would correspondingly be abolished. And there are reports that this process has already begun (Nezavisimaya gazeta, December 13, 2005). Allegedly this would help the armed forces undergo a transformation that would make them more suited for counter-terrorist operations and for rapid power projection to hot spots on Russia’s peripheries.

Certainly if this reconfiguration is imminent, the move would comport with the comprehensive transformations now taking place in the Ministry of Interior’s forces and the Special Forces. This reorganization also would then take its point of departure from Baluyevsky and Ivanov’s assessment that the main threat is terrorism and local wars or conflicts for which the armed forces must be ready and that there is no foreseeable likelihood of a classical conventional or even nuclear conflict with NATO or anyone else (Nezavisimoe voennoe obozrenie, December 9-15, 2005; Izvestiya, December 7, 2005; Trud, December 13, 2005).

Finally, although details of this projected reorganization are still secret and sparse, it has been reported that when the service branch commanders were confronted by this plan they flatly turned it down and declined to assume the command of the new territorial structures that would be required to make it work (Nezavisimaya gazeta-regiony, no. 17 [151] December 2005). Since then little has been reported about the armed forces’ potential reorganization and reform. Nevertheless it is clear that the government remains dissatisfied with the Army’s failure to reform itself or to realize the goals already set by the state. The repeated hazing scandals that have again become public are merely continuing confirmations of the fact that much is rotten in the military and that Putin and Ivanov, despite sizable reforms and sustained activity, have failed to create a military that can meet Russia’s security threats as they define them.

The military itself is not ready, willing, or able to adapt to new threats and requirements such as those repeatedly seen in the North Caucasus and elsewhere. Therefore the general crisis of the Russian armed forces continues. The ultimate outcome of the new cycle of reforms is still undetermined, but this is a contest with immense repercussions for Russian and international security and one that cannot be neglected.