Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 4 Issue: 32

On February 7 Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov told the State Duma that Russia will re-arm its armed forces, offering 5 trillion rubles to develop new hardware rather than simply maintaining the armed forces. The program will continue until 2015. More significantly, Ivanov reacted against the idea of “reform” in the Russian military, expressing his preference for the term “modernization.” The reason is clear: “As soon the word ‘reform’ gets mentioned, people start to tremble and shake: What will come later from this reform? In the army we have no reforms — we are undergoing modernization,” Ivanov asserted.

The program for armaments 2007-2015 contains a laundry list of military hardware to purchase, including 50 Topol-M systems, 50 missile-carrying aircraft, 100,000 motor vehicles, and 31 ships. In fact the target is to replace 45% of existing military hardware. Clearly, such an ambitious program will place economic challenges in the path of successful implementation. “The financial problem is not acute at the moment. The state procurement order is being financed bit-by-bit in full. The issue is quality. Can our industry produce what the armed forces need? This is a big question and this concerns me very much at present,” Ivanov admitted (Channel One TV, Moscow, February 7).

Despite Ivanov’s confidence in offering this ambitious program, he placed other issues on hold such as the possibility of building aircraft carriers, promising to review the situation in two years. In another dimension of “modernization,” Ivanov pointed to the formation of regional commands and again reaffirmed his belief in professionalizing the manning system in the military, commenting that 2007 will witness additional transition to contract service — another 47,000 soldiers and sergeants will start serving on contract.

Ivanov considers the armament program to be central to Russia’s strategy for enhancing its readiness for future warfare. He claimed that Russia’s combat readiness is higher than at any time its post-Soviet history, and he called on the Duma to support his requests for defense spending. Ivanov said that the plan involves placing on “combat duty with the Strategic Missile Troops tens of silo-launched [missile] systems and command points, and also to acquire more than 50 Topol-M mobile ground-based missile systems, [and] to have in the Russian air force 50 long-range strategic bombers” (NTV Mir, February 7).

Russian defense officials rely heavily on armament programs to show that the military is making progress, if not reforming. Viktor Zavarzin, the chairman of the Duma’s committee on defense, believes the 5 trillion will be allocated to implement the State Armaments Program during the period 2007-2015. Zavarzin said, “Only a fifth of overall spending envisaged under the program is earmarked for strategic armaments. Most of it will be spent on the re-equipping of general-purpose forces.”

Plans include rearming approximately 200 formations and units from the general-purpose forces, including 45 tank battalions, with half receiving new types of tanks; more than 170 other battalions will be modernized with new IFVs and APCs; five air defense brigades will get the Iskander-M system; others will receive the S-400 system and the Pantsir-S missile/gun system. Modern communications equipment will also be supplied to more units, consequently “The number of constant-readiness formations and units will increase to 600 as a result,” Zavarzin said.

The Russian air force will receive 116 new and 408 upgraded aircraft for forward aviation units, 156 new and 372 modernized helicopters, and 34 new and 159 modernized strategic bombers. Two multipurpose nuclear submarines and four diesel submarines will be delivered to the Russian Navy, as well as 12 warships and several patrol boats (Interfax, February 2).

On February 7 Admiral Vladimir Masorin, the commander-in-chief of the navy, visited the Rubin Central Design Bureau, stating that around half the existing naval budget is spent on the development of the sea-based strategic nuclear force. “This places a special responsibility on the developers of strategic weapons. Priority has been given to funding the sea-based strategic nuclear force based on the tasks of deterrence and prevention of security threats outlined in the military and naval doctrines,” he said (Interfax, February 7). Current Russian opposition towards the U.S. development of the ABM system, envisaging the deployment of components in Poland and the Czech Republic, has not only resulted in predictable statements of Moscow’s disapproval, but in some quarters the idea has been mooted that the U.S. and Russia should sign a non-aggression pact. It seems disingenuous for Russia to continue to spend so much of its naval budget on developing its sea-based strategic nuclear force, while complaining that Cold War thinking is predominant in the West.

Personnel policies must also be modernized. Russia has done little to seriously change the culture of bullying within its army. Reportedly, elements in the Russian army are attempting to combat bullying by using bullying methods. According to the Union of the Committee of Soldiers’ Mothers a document has emerged in Altai region that suggests commanders should counter bullying with non-regulation methods, including administering “harsh treatment” and public humiliation of offenders.

The Russian Ministry of Defense has refused to confirm the origin of the document. Speculation that it was written within the Ministry appears unfounded, suggesting instead that it could have been the initiative of an officer within the local military unit. Valentina Melnikova, the head of the Union of the Committees of Soldiers’ Mothers, emphasized the shocking nature of these allegations, which, if substantiated, reveal the existing levels of brutality within the Russian army are now taking new twists. It is unclear whether this will result in the Ministry launching an investigation into such allegations (Ekho Moskvy, February 5). In the “modernizing” Russian army, old problems will die hard.