The results of activities of the President and Defense Minister were summed up this week. Vladimir Putin, over two years of his work as the President and Sergei Ivanov, over a year of his work as the Defense Minister, organized and attempted to begin a number of reforms in the defense area. What have they managed to do, and what are the remaining problems of military buildup? We will try to answer these questions.
Military reforms finally started in post-Soviet Russia, and this is a positive aspect. In January 2001, the President approved the plan of Armed Forces development for the period between 2001-2005. On January 28, his ally Sergei Ivanov became the Defense Minister. In October, Ivanov discussed pressing problems associated with provision of the country’s security, due to the changing of the situation in the world after September 11. In November, Ivanov took part in consultations with senior officers of the Armed Forces. The practical measures that the President approved, and which were taken in 2001, include transition of the Armed Forces to a three-branch structure including the ground Forces, Air Force and navy. The Strategic Missile Forces were divided into two independent arms, the Strategic Missile Forces proper and the Space Forces. Organization of the Main Command of the Ground Forces was completed by December 1, 2001. According to the program of optimization of the military administrative division of the country, the Volga and Urals military districts were merged on September 1, 2001. In 2001, over 70,000 posts were eliminated from the Armed Forces including over 25,000 positions of officers and warrant officers. Reforming of the system of personnel training and military education, as well as optimization of research and development organizations and testing ranges of the Defense Ministry also finally began. Work on transition to a uniform system of armament and combat materiel ordering from January 1, 2002 was almost completed. Overall, in 2001 the Armed Forces took about 900 organizational measures.
Which problems remained? There are a few of them. The biggest is lack of money. For a few years in succession, the Russian military budget has been financed at the level of 2.6% of GDP. This is a low level of military financing. In the USSR military expenditures amounted to 7-11% of GDP. In 2002, the US plans to spend up to 3.2% of GDP on defense. In the structure of the military budget, the major part of money is spent on maintenance of troops and only one-fourth on development.
Financing and supply of materiel to the group of forces in Chechnya costs much money. Payment of increased money allowances and the so-called “war money” (special payments for participation in combat operations) alone requires up to 10 billion rubles a year. Despite the current operations (sweeps, passport checking regime, destruction of hidden ammunition depots, dugouts and so on), the situation in Chechnya is far from ideal. Servicemen die there every day, and killings of local officials and the population, which is starting to support federal authorities, also continues.
During his presidency, Putin raised money allowances for servicemen only once so far. Cancellation of social benefits for officers and warrant officers after July 1, 2002, causes a certain discontent. Now it is difficult to predict what the living standards of servicemen will be after abolishment of benefits in payments for housing and compensations for income tax. Inflation, which exceeded 40% over the last two years, may counteract all rises in money allowances that the government plans to organize after July 1, 2002.
Opposition politicians and military experts are also discontent with the foreign defense policy of Putin, for instance, liquidation of the military bases in Lourdes (Cuba) and Cam Ranh (Vietnam). Russia’s attitude to signing of the treaty on strategic offensive arms limitation with the US is also not clear. Official structures of the Kremlin do not respond to deployment of military bases of the US and NATO in Central Asia and Transcaucasia, as well as to possible participation of Washington in the antiterrorist operation in the Pankisi Gorge in Georgia actively enough.
Many former generals do not like the position of Putin, who supported ideas of the incumbent Chief of the General Staff Anatoly Kvashnin regarding the substantial reduction of strategic nuclear forces.
The Defense Ministry and General Staff are criticized because in circumstances of money shortage they are going to develop the naval component of strategic nuclear forces still, although in such a situation many experts say that it is necessary to develop the ground component of strategic nuclear forces as the cheapest and most effective one.
Division of functions between the Defense Ministry and General Staff was not completed. These agencies remain mutually duplicating, and although the incumbent Defense Minister is a civilian, he actually fulfills the functions fulfilled by Marshal Igor Sergeev before him.
Weakness of the state and insufficient development of its economy do not allow Russia to transit to professional Armed Forces quickly, although the President has given the government the task to prepare a program for gradual transition to professional Armed Forces by the end of 2003. According to the order of the government, the Defense Ministry already prepared a draft concept, on the basis of which the program will be composed. At any rate, it is clear to all Russian leaders that until the state develops the national economy, there will be no professional Armed Forces in Russia.
Russia also has problems related to preparation of the law “On alternative civil service.” On the one hand, this law is purely civil, on the other hand, it influences very important state interests in relation to drafting of conscripts to military service and preparation of mobilization reserves. Russian society does not have common views on the law. For seven years the Duma has been permanently debating the relevant bill, but has not been able to pass it yet. According to the presidential order, the government prepared the bill and will submit it for debating to the lower house of the parliament.
Thus, a number of vital problems remain in military development in Russia. The future will show how Putin and Ivanov are going to solve them. However, it is definite that the Kremlin will keep paying a lot of attention to issues of military reform. The Kremlin will focus on military reform mainly because of the eastward expansion of NATO and because the US quits the ABM treaty, deploys bases near Russian borders and considers Russia as a potential enemy, against which it is possible to use nuclear armaments under certain conditions.