Security Studies Program Seminar
Russian Military Reform and Anatoly Serdyukov
Dale R. Herspring
University Distinguished Professor, Kansas State University
Retired US Diplomat and Navy Captain
November 19, 2008
- It is difficult to pull together information on Russian military reforms. To make matters more difficult things are changing quickly. Herspring has an article coming out the first of December and it is already out of date.
- What the Russian military is going through now is more dramatic than anything that has happened in the past. In a certain sense, it is comparable with Nikolai Ogarkov’s “revolution in military affairs.” It represents the biggest and most radical change in the Russian military since the Bolsheviks took over. But there is still a long and uncertain road ahead.
- Gorbachev came to office without knowing anything about the military and then took money away from the military.
- Before his time, the military got anything it asked for. Gorbachev, however, believed that money should be shifted from military to civilian programs as part of his “perestroika” policy.
- Then he sent troops to Tbilisi, Baku, and Vilnius, ordered the military to restore order and then blamed the military for causing the resulting clash between the military and the crowds. This hurt and deeply alienated the military.
- Then when there was the attempt to oust him, the military had saved him by not taking part in the coup attempt.
- Yeltsin promised the military the moon - e.g. , better pay, more housing.
- Based partially on those promises, the military saved Yeltsin in 1993 in his battle with the Duma. Why? Because, the Interior troops don’t have tanks, only the army does. Army agreed to help Yeltsin by providing tanks in his battle with the Duma, but the army demanded a written order so they didn’t get blamed for things as they did under Gorbachev (e.g., Tbilisi, Baku, and Vilnius).
- The First War in Chechnya was a disaster – The situation was so bad, that there were over 550 resignations on the part of officers who refused to take part – that included the Deputy Chief of the Ground Forces. Over 1000 soldiers killed. Yeltsin interfering in the war. Soldiers didn’t have enough food.
- Troops were thrown together – untrained – Marines, with airborne forces, with reservists, with regular infantry – first met on the way to the war.
- What Russian Military wants is stability and predictability. They want to know how much money and what types of missions to expect. Yeltsin did not provide that.
- Yeltsin publicly blasted the military, which the military also didn’t appreciate. In the military mind, praise should be given in public, criticism in private.
- He turned the general staff and ministry of defense against each other. They both worked for Yeltsin, which created conflict and prevented them from uniting against him. Then, after refusing to provide funds to support the military, he blamed the generals for the Armed Forces’ many ills.
- The fact that the military stayed together throughout the Yeltsin period is nothing short of a miracle.
- Putin inherited a military in shambles.
- He won the military’s respect by letting the military run the war in Chechnya the way it wanted.
- Putin is a bureaucrat and problem-solver. Putin moved slowly but confidently. He reorganized the situation, and made the General Staff subordinate to the Minister of Defense. Furthermore, he made it clear that the General Staff’s role was in planning rather than operations.
- Putin put Sergei Ivanov in as Minister of Defense. Ivanov understood the West and had worked with Putin in the KGB.
- The military’s process of professionalization, which was met with internal resistance, began under Ivanov.
- By 2006, it was clear that the defense budget increases weren’t producing a lot of output.
- Ivanov decided to conduct an audit. Beginning of 2007, announced that 40% of the defense budget was being stolen.
- Putin decided to bring in Anatoliy Serdyukov as Defense Minister – he was an unlikely choice because he had been working in tax collection before. The military was unhappy with Putin’s choice.
- Serdyukov brought 20 auditors with him and purged underperforming officers. Then, he attacked the procurement process. For example, before, there was a Russian officer at each industrial factory to monitor output. But, this had turned into an old boy’s network. In the new process, the military set the requirements but civilians assessed the quality of the final products.
- It was clear to Putin, Serdyukov, and now Medvedev that professionalization was needed for Russia to be a military power. The military has resisted this perspective.
- Serdyukov has also sold off unused military property to help pay for the infrastructure necessary to build an army individuals will want to join.
- There was even WWI equipment that was still being maintained.
- He also knew Russia needed more housing, education and health infrastructure for families, etc. to recruit better soldiers.
- He also downsized personnel. Currently, there is one officer for every three people in the army.
- Baluyevsky was fired as chief of the General Staff after trying to resign three times. He was replaced by Nickolai Makarov who was close to Serdyukov. He had been deputy minister for armaments and thus understood the need for a “modern” approach to combat.
- Many senior officers were fired after this to show that new changes were going to happen. This is the most radical cut in recent Russian history.
- The head of military training has been revamping training facilities and has talked about using simulators and going so far as buying them from the US if need be.
- Serdyukov has also instituted bonuses for officers who are doing well.
- Putin has called for “innovation army” that will have superior weapons.
Invasion of Georgia
- The invasion decimated the Russian military.
- Most evidence suggests that Saakashvili started this.
- Control over the Russian Military is highly centralized.
- The Director of Operations in the Russian General Staff exerts considerable control. The day the war began, the General Staff was moving headquarters and communications were down. They learned about the invasion from the news reports.
- It took the military 12 hours to respond and the general in charge was fired.
- As a result of military shortcomings, Medvedev gave public blessing on military reform. His plan called for:
- Improved organization and structures for deployment.
- Greater efficiency in command and control.
- Russian communication systems didn’t work in many areas such as deep valleys.
- Making procurement of weapons a high priority.
- Increasing pay and improving living conditions.
- Later, Serdyukov added more details:
- Goal of one million soldiers and 150,000 officers with 70 brigades.
- Going to make brigades with no divisions.
- Non-commissioned Officer corps like the US.
- This is problematic because Russian officers don’t delegate authority.
- Chaplain corps like American model.
- Currently, the Russian chaplains don’t minister to Muslims which make up many of the conscripts.
- Ground forces will organize into 172 permanent ready units with all professional soldiers and no conscripts.
- Currently, conscripts are supposed to be put in only in the reserve. There shouldn’t have been any conscripts in the Georgian invasion force but there were a few.
- The military has been forced to take people they don’t want (like drug addicts) to fill slots.
- The number of officers in the MoD and General Staff will be reduced from 22,000 to 8,500. The number of generals will drop from 1,100 to 886.
- Plan to move from 65 to 10 military educational institutions.
- The Russians are trying to make soldiers who are educated by the military pay back if they leave before completing their service obligations.
- Warrant officers will either have to leave or become officers with command responsibilities. They will no longer be solely technical specialists.
- Complaints on the Georgian war from military, retired military, and other Russian commentators:
- The military did a terrible job. It performed like a “Soviet army” from a past period and did not avoid direct contact like the Americans do or wage war technologically.
- Modernization, especially in the Navy, is going too slowly.
- This invasion was a catalyst for reform in the military. Only 1/5 of troops in complete readiness – urgent need to change structure, systems, etc.
- The military doesn’t know anything about sub-state conflict.
- The Russian Air Force can’t breach air defenses.
- Have no electronic warfare or unmanned aerial vehicles.
- The gap with the West is widening.
Question and Answer
- Oil money has been funding modernization. There will be a lag, but the military will see budgets go down.
- Putin has realized that Kissinger was right – a state can’t have foreign policy without military force. Putin is trying to stop having Russia viewed as a paper tiger.
- Reports of Russian troops disobeying orders? No evidence. Part of the problem is that there were South Ossetian troops and they did most of the looting.
- Since the General Staff was out of contact initially – Russian troops were looking all the way to the President’s office for guidance. Medvedyev made the decision to recognize South Ossetia and Putin went ballistic and saw it as unnecessarily confrontational with the West.
- Russian army couldn’t take on Ukraine right now. The division that went into Georgia had just done an exercise on this and they still screwed it up.
- If the Georgians had exploded the Loki tunnel, they probably would have been successful.
- It is not clear that there is an integrated vision for reform. Unfortunately, the actions taken have more to do with problem solving, not long-term planning. They want a smaller, lighter, higher-tech force but there isn’t a more specific plan than that. The General Staff says that Serdyukov is a fix-it man without a coherent plan for modernization.
- The political decision has been made that past efforts at military modernization have failed and that they need dramatic change in the military. But, can the Russians learn to delegate authority? They have a serious micro-management problem. There is also a need to change the culture of discipline through fear and violence in the military if the Russians want a professional force.
- Putin’s view of the Georgia invasion – why doesn’t it fit into his grand strategy?
- It's true that there was a good outcome from the Russian perspective. Georgia and the Ukraine aren’t going to get into NATO now.
- Putin is not a theory man. He tries to solve problems.
- He wants to split US and Europe but saw the invasion as pushing too far.
- They went to war without the general staff because they were forced to. Georgians attacked and the Russians had no choice but to react. The Russians say that the push further into Georgia was just militarily necessary to defend their positions. It is not clear why it took the Russians so long to pull back the military.
- Georgia has pointed to the exercise that had just taken place as evidence that Russia intended this invasion. However, it seems to have just been a normal training exercise. Soviet army was always pretty autonomous from political direction.
- What has happened to cooperative programs with the US after the invasion? Gates and Mullen have been very protective of many programs. Mullen has gone against Bush Administration to say that we want more cooperation. He went over for a private meeting just recently. Navy has been non-reactionary to Russian ship in Venezuela. Good military to military and arms control cooperation.
- Current threat from Russian military is low. The Russian military will be more formidable in the future if the reforms continue. This time they are really serious about reform but it will still take a long time. There is no understanding of bottom-up ideas in the Russian military which will slow fundamental change.
- The plan is to have personnel changes completed by 2012 and weapons changes by 2020.
Rapporteur: Miranda Priebe
back to Wednesday seminar series, Fall 2008