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May 26, 2009
Russia’s plan for military reform runs into hurdles

Russia’s military is undergoing reform.

Russian President Vladimir Medvedev has begun a massive reform of the country’s military, with plans to cut Russia’s officer corps from 355,000 to 150,000, including some 36,000 cuts this year. Several top officials were let go in the past month, including the chief of Russia’s military intelligence unit.

The changes have been met with resistance from top military officers who say Russia is not fulfilling its promises, including pledges to provide housing for retirees. While some say reforms will strengthen the military, critics say they will hasten its decline. 

The global economic crisis willy likely make life difficult for those officers who are discharged, and may additionally put a damper on Russia’s $200 billion rearmament program.

The “Kings of War” blog praises the reforms: 

In this case, the significant point is that Russia may finally be addressing its core dysfunction which is its maladapted, top-heavy, corrupt and brutal personnel system. If this is the case then it is the most significant development in Russian military reform since 1991.

[…]I am glad to see these developments. The world is a much safer place with the Russian military not being just an overstuffed army of underpaid and unrespected officers and beaten-up low-quality conscripts haunted by the shadow if its past glory.

A blogger at “Venik” argues that the government has not adequately taken the economic crisis into account: 

Regardless of the specifics behind the military reform plans, it is extremely shortsighted of the Kremlin to push on with this project without making any adjustments to the schedule in light of the financial crisis. All previous attempts in the past twenty years to reform Russia’s military lasted long enough to disrupt and dismantle, at which point they ran out of funding. There is a real possibility that this latest reform will follow the same dynamic.

The “Pragmatic Euphony” blog agrees, writing that reforms would have been more successful years ago: 

The Russian economy is slackening and while that is perhaps a good reason for Moscow to downsize the Soviet-era armed forces, it also makes the transition even more painful for those left rendered homeless and jobless by this restructuring. In hindsight, it can be safely said that if a similar exercise had been undertaken a couple of years back — when the oil-fuelled Russian economy was booming — it would have caused lesser heartburn. And the adverse social and political fallouts could have been contained in a more peaceful manner.

The “Vineyard of the Saker” blog criticizes Russia for heavy cuts of the GRU intelligence unit: 

This is a potential disaster for Russia. The fact is that if a military is reduced in size or substantially reorganized, its intelligence component must be *strengthened* and not weakened. Simply put, the need for a high quality military intelligence service is inversely proportional to the capabilities of the armed forces: the weaker these forces are, the stronger the military intelligence must be.

While the wars in Chechnya and in Georgia have shown that while the Russian military can prevail – brilliantly in the case of Georgia – there still a dire need to reform these forces before the existing cracks in organization, training, command and control, etc. become insurmountable. The Air Force, for example, is now in truly urgent need of new aircraft and the Ground Forces need a major upgrade of its aging command and control infrastructure. 

If the Kremlin is serious about reforming the military then it simply cannot do that while allowing the GRU and the forces subordinated to the GRU to become the victim of a purge. 

Photo courtesy of Flickr user Javier D. under a Creative Commons license.

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1 comment


Why don’t they just economize by making their hats smaller?

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