Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 1 Issue: 110

Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov has announced a series of military personnel cuts that will affect the entire Russian armed forces, not merely the many layers of bureaucrats within the central directorates and main commands in Moscow. The nature of these cuts, which should be implemented by the end of the year, will result in an overall reduction of around 100,000 persons.

The purpose of the latest military reductions is to streamline management, increase efficiency and raise the level of combat readiness, enabling rapid troop deployment within the Russian Federation. It is part of a complex and evolving process, witnessing the redrafting of Russia’s national security concept, placing the army in a greater counter-terrorist role within Russia, facing questions concerning the future of the manning system, and effectively reorganizing the armed forces and security structures to meet the challenges of the post-Beslan security environment.

At the beginning of 2004, Russian military manpower was estimated at around 1.2 million. Under the latest plan, air force strength will be reduced by 36,000 persons, Ground Troops by 20,000, navy by 16,000, Construction Troops by 9,000, Rear Services Troops 6,000, Strategic Missile Troops by 3,000, Airborne Troops and Railroads Troops by 2,000 and Space Troops by 1,000. Key to these changes is the thinking that may be underlying military reform. Changes will be apparent within the restructured armed forces: two Tu-22M3 long-range bomber regiments are to be transferred to the reserves. Fighter and bomber regiments will also be cut. Some Mi-8MT and Mi-24 helicopter regiments will be scrapped (Strana.Ru, October 14). Other structural changes in the months ahead may serve to give the impression of large-scale “reform” without getting close to tackling the core problems that have plagued the Russian military for many years.

This process is regarded by planners within the Russian Ministry of Defense as a key part of their overall plans to enhance combat readiness, based on the conviction that the armed forces currently have very limited ability to protect Russia’s vast territory along an entire “front.” It is, therefore, planned to establish permanent combat readiness units capable of being redeployed to any part of the country in a short period of time. There, they would be brought up to sufficient strength by local subunits and reservists, and thus able to offer effective opposition to the enemy. Such ambitious planning demands the establishment of a new command-and-control system for such a mobile army, in turn compelling streamlining and restructuring of the decision-making bureaucracy.

Russia’s military expenditure in 2005 is expected to be around 471 billion rubles, (or 573 billion rubles including social payments). The real growth will be 27.6% compared with last year. The Ministry of Defense hopes to procure a large number of weapons and military equipment. In addition, it is planned to double the amount of money (19.7 billion rules) to bolster the state program for manning the armed forces with contract servicemen, including increasing the numbers of NCOs. Such high hopes have perennially arisen in the recent history of Russian military reform, only to be shattered by the harsh reality of conservatism, inertia, and resistance to substantial change. Army General Alexei Moskovsky, deputy defense minister, recently announced, “Russia’s armed forces will receive more than 300 samples of new weapons and military technology in 2005.” However, in reality almost two-thirds of this equipment will be upgraded or refurbished. The Russian MoD currently cannot afford to procure new equipment and weapons for its own armed forces (Komsomolskaya pravda, October 13).

There is then, some evidence, however disparate, that the approach to Russian military reform may be undergoing a shake up. Many ventures have been mooted, downsizing and various efforts in restructuring have been attempted, and indeed the so-called “professionalization” of the army has featured within political and military discourse during the past decade. There are glimmers of light appearing within the Russian MoD. Ivanov strengthened his position relative to the General Staff by sacking Anatoly Kvashnin in July 2004, and he now seems to be giving some focus to areas of the armed forces that sustained reform would clearly benefit. Prioritizing the creation of mobile forces, manned by highly trained contract personnel and capable of rapid deployment to trouble spots around Russia, will be an essential part of developing Russia’s last resort in its fight against terrorism. Equally, if the early lessons of the Special Forces operation in Beslan are being assimilated into the planning, it necessitates the improvement of command and control and the ability of commanders to communicate effectively and coordinate diverse forces in theater.

Nevertheless, much of the recent military reform initiatives have been marked by a continued adherence to traditional language and priorities, clouding the real issues confronting those seeking to raise standards in the effectiveness of Russia’s military. Claims that the army is about to get large quantities of new weaponry and equipment, or that restructuring alone will be enough to affect changes in the military culture, are patently misleading.

The real challenge for successful reform lies in convincing Russia’s youth, who are reluctant to serve in the armed forces for fear of institutional bullying. These potential soldiers gain little confidence when they witness the Russian Defense Minister dismissing the concerns of the Union of Soldiers’ Mothers about the systematic mistreatment of conscripts within the barracks.