The first meeting of the public council of the Defense Ministry was held on January 16 in Moscow in the cultural center of the Russian Armed Forces building. This council was created by order No. 490 of the Defense Minister on November 16 of 2006 and contained the requirements of the Russian Public Chamber for the creation of mechanisms for civil control over the army. We need to say that the state has satisfied these requirements in a very original way. The functions and composition of the body for civil control over the Defense Minister were written within the Defense Ministry itself. Of course, this occurrence has already triggered certain critique on the part of some mass media, as well as some politicians of the country (first of all, heads of the union of the soldiers’ mothers committees of Russia and all-Russian labor union of servicemen).
Opponents of the Defense Ministry are unhappy that of the 51 members of the public council not more than one-third will be able to exercise systemic and certain public control over activities of troops. The list consists mostly of very influential and authoritative people but almost a half of them (prominent businessmen and heads of mass media) have a very indirect relationship with the army. One-fourth of the council members are cultural leaders, political scientists and presidents of various public funds. It is quite clear that they simply will not have time to regularly work in the public council of the Defense Ministry. There are not more than 20 people really interested in solving the problems of the Armed Forces mentioned on the list.
Meanwhile, representatives of the Defense Ministry presume that the newly established public council will be efficient. Speaking at its first meeting, Deputy Prime Minister and Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov announced, “All our actions should be completely transparent for civil society.” The minister assured members of the council that the top-ranking officials of the Defense Ministry “will pay the closest and most serious attention to work and to all resolutions of the council.” Ivanov hopes that activities of the public council will actively contribute to the provision of defense capability and security of the state.
In turn, well-known film director Nikita Mikhalkov was elected as chair of the public council of the Defense Ministry. He believes that the public council’s assistance to the army “will be real.” Mikhalkov stresses that the public council will contribute to a “revival of the high title of “Russian officer.” He adds, “We will return such notions as “father-commander” to society because in the past parents have handed their sons over to military service to exactly such people.” Mikhalkov hopes that civil society will have a positive impact on the situation in the military units.
The department of the Federation of Jewish Communities of Russia for interaction with the Armed Forces and Emergency Situations Ministry (Rabbi Aaron Gurevich, the head of this department, is a member of the public council) reported that the agenda of the first meeting of the public council of the Defense Ministry “was chosen quite appropriately.” Members of the public council approved regulations of the public council, elected its chair, deputy chairs and members of the commission, determined the list of the main topics for discussion by the public council in 2007. Six commissions were organized within the public council. Members of the public council will be able to participate in meetings and consultations held in the Defense Ministry and thus they will be able to make their contribution to law enforcement in the army. The condition of military discipline and order in the Armed Forces and the participation of civil society in observance of the law in the Armed Forces was a separate issue of the agenda.
Many members of the public council participated in discussion of this issue. Among them was Valentina Melnikova, chair of the union of the soldiers’ mothers committees of Russia, a well-known opponent of the Defense Ministry. Despite her skeptical attitude to the mechanism of the public council, Melnikova, judging by the statement that she makes to WPS, is focused on creating constructive work
within the council. Melnikova considers the creation of this body to be a step forward, although she says that this is not a new phenomenon in the post-Soviet activities of the Russian Defense Ministry. She recalled how this body was already created in the Defense Ministry in 2001. At any rate, the current attempt of formation of civil control over the army looks “newer and more important.”
Melnikova considers the fact that parents’ committees will start acting in military units and military registration and enlistment offices from February 15 of 2007 to be a step forward in the formation of civil society institutions in the army.
Melnikova remarked, “At any rate, our proposal supported by the Public Chamber was slightly different. We proposed exercising of control over the troops on the basis of public groups that could be formed at military units. However, the Defense Ministry decided that parents’ committees would do this. We already receive proposals from the regions to unite their activity and work of local branches of the union of the soldiers’ others committees.”
Some regional military officials support the proposal to unite work of the parents’ committees and the union of the soldiers’ mothers committees too. Recently, the military commissar of Udmurtia, Alexander Danshin, has announced that the parents’ committee of the military registration and enlistment office of the republic and possibly parents’ committees of other military units of the Defense Ministry will most likely be created on the basis of branches of the already existing soldiers’ mothers committee. Danshin emphasizes that his military registration and enlistment office has been cooperating with the union of the soldiers’ mothers committees for some time, and there is no need to establish a new organization. In any case, the final say belongs to the soldiers’ mothers.
According to Danshin, the main thing is that representatives of the parents’ committees will receive access to military units except for classified objects.
At any rate, local military officials and leaders of the union of soldiers’ mothers committees have many questions related to the newly implemented system of civil control over the troops. Danshin believes that soldiers’ parents will have to come to military units for inspections at their own expense. It is also unclear where they will live and eat during such check of service of their sons. There are many problems in this respect.
Thus, interaction of the army and the society in Russia promises to be better focused and more fruitful in 2007. This will happen primarily because of the election struggle that begins in a few months. Hence, it is possible that at least in 2007 work of the public council of the Defense Ministry will not be forgotten due to control of the “party of power.”