Nezavisimaya Gazeta reported that speaking to the audience during the forum Kudelina fully supported the plans of the government to abolish benefits for servicemen and denied all reports of the military pensioners’ rights activists about allegedly possible cutting of pensions.
Debates dedicated to problems of relations between the military and society were held in Moscow in the framework of the Civil Forum between November 22 and 23. The discussed topics were not new for Russian reality. They included professional Armed Forces and civil control over them, alternative civil service, military labor unions, transparency of military budget and social benefits for servicemen. The Defense Ministry prepared for the meeting with representatives of the Civil Forum seriously. Deputy ministers and directors of the ministry’s leading departments talked to women from the committee of soldiers’ mothers. Participants of the forum for the Defense Ministry crowned intensive discussions, which lasted for two days, with the preparation of detailed proposals. They proposed the organization of an expert working group in the ministry to solve the problems of civil control over the Armed Forces, to introduce the military labor unions institution and to pass the bill on alternative civil service as soon as possible.
On November 22, representatives of the Civil Forum came to the Defense Ministry with these proposals, and were met heartily. Lubov Kudelina, Deputy Defense Minister for financial and commercial operations, met with the group for problems of social benefits for servicemen, and Deputy Defense Minister Igor Puzanov talked to experts for civil control over the Armed Forces and alternative civil service. For two hours they listened to representatives of the Civil Forum with interest and attention. However, despite a hearty reception, the Defense Ministry did not like democratic ideas of representatives of the Civil Forum. The ministry declined all proposals of the Civil Forum to some extent, but found a compromise, with which majority of representatives of the Civil Forum agreed.
For example, instead of organization of an expert group for civil control over the Armed Forces, it was decided to use a mechanism of collaboration with public organizations through the institution of officers for ideology in the troops. Colonel General Puzanov said, “Henceforth officers of the Defense Ministry will pay a special attention to such collaboration. He named the main ideological department and its director Colonel General Vitaly Azarov as the main coordinator of such work.
Puzanov also did not support the idea of establishment of military labor unions. He explained, “This is not a topical issue. Under the condition of instability and large social problems, this will only sway the Armed Forces. We have the bodies to solve social problems in the troops. We will solve them if servicemen receive sufficient money allowances and housing.” Along with this, Puzanov expressed his hope that the government will solve material problems of servicemen, and morale of the military will be improved.
Deputy Defense Minister Kudelina also supported Puzanov, “There are bodies to control the Armed Forces in Russian society. The Chamber of Public Accounts, General Prosecutor’s Office and courts check them regularly. There are also inspectorates in the Armed Forces. Why do we need any other controllers? There are many controllers, but there is not much order.”
It was decided to prepare the bill on alternative civil service in cooperation between the Civil Forum and Defense Ministry. Participants of the meeting also decided to organize meetings of representatives of the Defense Ministry and Civil Forum dedicated to topical problems of social benefits for servicemen and civil control over observance of their rights at least once a quarter.
Meanwhile, participants of the Civil Forum also outlined some other problems. Nezavisimaya Gazeta reported that speaking to the audience during the forum Kudelina fully supported the plans of the government to abolish benefits for servicemen and denied all reports of the military pensioners’ rights activists about allegedly possible cutting of pensions. However, according to the Duma, the cancellation of a number of benefits for servicemen and retired officers and raising of their money allowances will only slightly increase their welfare, just by 10-15% and not the 50-90% stated by representatives of the finance and defense ministries. This was not accidental that the defense committee of the Duma, with participation of all military deputies from various factions, prepared its own alternative bill on he regulation of benefits for servicemen and their money allowances.
The government and the Defense Ministry did not manifest their attitude to the initiative of the parliament members yet. This is understandable. To raise the real welfare of servicemen at least by 100% and to protect them from inflation it is necessary to add 18 billion rubles to the military expenditures of 2002. This is probably not realistic in the circumstances of oil prices decrease. Why the government does not say this to the society frankly?
Speaking to representatives of public organizations in the framework of the Civil Forum Kudelina did not explain the essence of planned changes in the structure of money allowances for officers and military pensioners. Meanwhile, the Civil Forum implied open discussion of the problems that are important for the authorities and society. Unfortunately, this expectation did not come true. Moreover, Kudelina said that she was averse to transparency of all clauses of the military budget, meaning that she had disclosed too many military secrets already. At this point it is very difficult to understand Kudelina. Which secrets she meant when Russia fully reveals its budget to, for example, UN and OSCE? Why does she need the trick of state secrets? Society needs to know where the money of the military budget is spent. Only then it will be necessary to build a civil society.
Thus, the establishment of democratic institutions in the Armed Forces was suspended again. Authorities in the form of the Defense Ministry represent the main obstacle for the process. Although the Kremlin does not reject ideas of the Civil Forum yet, it still looks at problems of civil control over the Armed Forces with indifference and does not make any related democratic decisions. Probably, there are too many other problems.