On September 27, President Vladimir Putin and Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov discussed issues of domestic and foreign policy. They also talked about the military budget for 2003. The Defense Minister says that he is “in general content with the budget.” The President says that he will not interfere with the process of debating of the budget and invites officials of the Defense Ministry and Duma deputies to improve contents of defense clauses in cooperation. What does this mean?
This means many things; first of all, that parameters of the defense budget for 2003 proposed by the government and approved in the first reading by Duma deputies will not be revised radically. That is, the level of defense expenditures will remain the same, about 2.6% of GDP. Such level of financing has existed in Russia for three years and shows that, despite the military reform allegedly going on, the State still leaves the troops in the condition that enables them to fulfill the tasks of defense capability maintenance only with overloads and at the limit of their capabilities. It is known that in summer of 2002 Chief of the General Staff Anatoly Kvashnin called such condition of troops “super-critical.”
In turn, in his recent interview for WPS Alexei Moskovsky, Deputy Defense Minister and Armed Forces commander for armaments, reported that in 2003 the Russian Armed Forces, like before, would buy only a few pieces of armament, and the expenditures on the state defense order proposed by the government for 2003 took into account parameters included into the State Armament Program for the period until 2010 incompletely.
Moskovsky refused to explain with regard to which clauses this was done, but shared his hope that in the process of debating of the budget by the Duma the deputies would add allocations for the state defense order. But from which clauses will this money be taken? Probably the money will be found only on account of reduction of other expenditures of the military budget, because, according to military experts, neither the government nor the President are going to increase the absolute or relative size of the military budget.
Conclusion of the Defense Committee of the Duma about the draft budget for 2003 states that parameters of defense expenditures “do not give any reasons to expect significant improvements in condition and combat capabilities of Russian Armed Forces in 2003.” Members of parliament note with alarm that in 2003 the money assigned, for instance, for food supply, will be sufficient only for supply of food to 67% of servicemen. The rest will evidently starve, because it is planned to give them not foods worth 48-50 rubles per day, but money compensation of just 20 rubles. The draft budget for 2003 states that all servicemen will be supplied only with field uniforms. The budget also includes assignments for payment of 50% of expenditures on transportation of servicemen and members of their families when they travel somewhere on vacation, expenditures on medical services to them and expenditures on cargo transportation. The Duma Defense Committee says with concern that by the end of 2002 debts of the Defense Ministry for cargo transportation will grow to 3 billion rubles. Taking into account the planned non-payments to the Roads and Transportation Ministry, this may completely paralyze movement of the troops by railways and by air. Assignments in the military budget for housing, medical and resort services for servicemen are less than needed by 30-50%.
Probably the most terrible for the Armed Forces is that, according to conclusion of experts of the Duma Defense Committee, the troops lack 2.2 billion rubles for purchase of the minimum quantities of fuel and lubricants. The experts say that this shortage will prevent intensification of operational and combat training.
The average flight time of Air Force pilots and the sailing time of Navy ships will remain much less than the level necessary for improvement of combat skills of troops. Two years ago, President Putin met with top-ranking generals of the Armed Forces and said that it was necessary to prevent this. Two years have passed, and the problems remain and seem as though planned for 2003 too.
Big problems with discarding of nuclear submarines and liquidation of chemical weapons persist. For this purpose, Duma deputies requested that the government assign at least 2 billion rubles. However, these assignments are not included into the expenditures on national defense.
Meanwhile, Duma deputies, the Defense Ministry, the General Staff, and the government as a whole operate on different estimates of capabilities of the military budget of the country for 2003, as well as of the progress of reforming of the troops. For example, when Sergei Ivanov spoke to deputies on September 11, he said that in 2003 defense expenditures would amount almost to 380 billion rubles, which would be by one-third more than in 2002, and that the budget would be “the best” of recent times. Meanwhile, the conclusion of the Duma Defense Committee on the draft budget for 2003 signed by chair of the committee, Andrei Nikolaev, mentions quite different figures and estimates of the military budget for 2003, namely 345.7 billion rubles, which corresponds to its increase only by 20.3% in comparison to 2002. Members of parliament have more modest and critical estimates for the budget’s fulfillment in 2003.
When on September 27 the Defense Minister reported to the President about the progress of the experiment for transfer of the Pskov airborne division to a contract basis, he said that “Now, there are no big problems with this.” Along with this, Chief of the General Staff Kvashnin expressed his discontent with the measures for transfer of the division to contract basis, when he inspected the 76th Airborne Division last Saturday. When Kvashnin got acquainted with the course of the military settlement’s construction, he said that construction was drawn out without any justification. He added that, should contract servicemen be forced to sleep in bunk beds, they would flee soon. It is clear that this is already a significant problem for the Russian Armed Forces.
There is no need to guess why there is such difference in the estimates. In the Kremlin, Ivanov spoke as a politician. At the base of the 76th Division, Kvashnin spoke as someone who puts policies into practice. At this point, the arguments of Kvashnin as a pragmatist and the arguments of similar representatives of the troops being far from politics are more important. For example, people in the Kremlin and in the Defense Ministry speak a lot about the role of the experiment, while there are no allocations for construction of housing in Pskov in the budget for 2002. What is being done now in the 76th Airborne Division is financed at expense of other clauses of the military budget.
Differences in opinions about the role of professional Armed Forces are noticeable in the Defense Ministry too. Pragmatists of, for example, the General Staff or Airborne Forces say frankly that if there is no adequate financing of the experiment in the 76th Airborne Division, the experiment will fail. Officials of the Defense Ministry attempt to sooth down such discontent and advise officials to speak only about the positive sides of the experiment and to say that all problems with its carrying out are only temporary.
The facts allow making of conclusions as to whether these problems are temporary or not. We would like to be mistaken, but preconditions for the failure of the experiment for transition of the Armed Forces to a contract basis are already obvious. The first professional unit, the 104th Airborne Regiment, should be formed by December 1, 2002. Initially, it was planned to man it only with servicemen that were already serving in the Armed Forces. This contingent was considered to offer the greatest chances for the plan to work. This attempt failed. Small wages kept soldiers and servicemen away.
Now, according to the General Staff, Military Registration and Enlistment Offices of the ten regions neighboring the Pskov Region have been ordered to start enlistment of contract servicemen. However, quite different people come to the Armed Forces to serve for 3,000 rubles a month. There is a danger that a part of the 104th Regiment will be manned with “disguised” vagabonds and drunkards.
According to officials of the General Staff, now there are big problems with drafting of contract servicemen to serve in Chechnya, to the 42nd Mechanized Infantry Division and to commandants’ companies. There, contract servicemen earn 7,000-8,000 rubles a month, but people do not wish to go to serve in Chechnya, and these positions are filled with conscripts. Taking into account the growing activity of the militants in Chechnya, not very many people wish to risk their lives for such sums.
Thus, the Russian military budget is obviously unable to supply the troops with everything that they need in sufficient quantities. Shortage of money for reforming of the troops and their transition to contract basis starts undermining the image of “the ruling regime” seriously. At least in the Armed Forces, the lower ranks of officers start drawing such a conclusion on the subliminal level. The level of remuneration for military service does not constitute a real incentive for privates and sergeants serving under contract and officers, even after the advertised raising of money allowances and cancellation of a number of serious benefits. Delays in payment of wages to servicemen have also started in the troops.
Along with this, there is the unending war in Chechnya and serious delays in payment of wages to servicemen, which Russian political parties and movements will use for their own benefit. Just consider the PR visit of Boris Nemtsov to the Pskov airborne division and the Union of Right-wing Forces demonstrations in support of transfer of the Armed Forces to contract basis organized on Saturday. The Armed Forces become a hostage of the politicians again.