NOTE: This is the second part of a serialized translation of Boris Nemtsov's white paper critiquing the Putin years. Part 1 appeared on Monday, look for Part 3 on Friday.
by Boris Nemtsov
First Deputy Prime Minister of the Russian Federation, 1997-1998
Deputy Minister of Energy, 2002
Translated from the Russian by Dave Essel
Chapter 2: The Army That Got Forgot
Putin really needed to use the country’s oil windfall to help meet the modernisation needs of the Russian Armed Forces.
This was the time to arm the army adequately. However actual arms deliveries and even plans for re-equipment have been scandalously low. According to data from the Council for National Strategy published in November 2007 published in a report entitled Results under Vladimir Putin: Crisis and Decay of the Russian Army, between 2000 and 2006, the Armed Forces received deliveries of only 27 ICBMs (27 warheads) while 294 (1779 warheads) were written off. In the penniless years 1992-1999, the army received 92 ICBMs (92 warheads). Since the year 2000, only 3 new aircraft have been delivered: one Tu-160 and two Su-34s. Around 100 aircraft were delivered during the 1990s. Since the year 2000, a little over 60 T90 tanks have been purchased while the total for the 1990s was 120. During the same decade, the Navy and seaborne frontier forces took delivery of over 50 surface and subsurface vessels. The figure for the current decade is less than ten. The state armaments programme for 2007-2015 plans to deliver a mere 60 aircraft to the armed forces in that time. This means that it will take … 80 years …. to renew our existing air fleet.
But the main blow has been against the most important element of Russia’s military potential, the support of the country’s sovereignty – the strategic nuclear forces. During the Putin years, Russia’s strategic nuclear forces have decayed at a frightening rate. More data from the Council for National Strategy’s report quoted above shows that between 2000 and 2007 the strategic nuclear forces wrote off 405 delivery units and 2498 warheads (as against 505 warheads only in the 1990s, during which time 60 new delivery units were bought while the army also took delivery of 1960 Tu-95 and Tu-160 strategic bombers). Under Putin, only 27 rockets have been produced – three times fewer than in the 1990s. So while Russia was overall able during the 1990s to maintain its nuclear potential at the level of that which it had inherited from the USSR, under Putin its reduction has become a serious threat to national security.
Furthermore, while the numbers of relatively invulnerable silo-based and RT-23 rail-mobile ICBMs (these latter look like standard refrigerated rail cars, which make them difficult to keep track of) were reduced, the armed forces continued to be given mobile Topol units that are highly vulnerable (these are 100-ton, 22-metre-long road-mobile units which can easily be found by optical, radar and infrared intelligence).
One hardly need say how important a country’s strategic nuclear force is to its sovereignty. One might even say that no SNF = no sovereignty. The rest of today’s armed forces are most unlikely to be able to resist large-scale attack by a strong aggressor. If Russia’s nuclear arsenal continues to be shrunk at current rates, by the middle of the next decade Russia’s SNF will have at its disposal no more that 300 ICBMs and 600 warheads. In that case, it is questionable if it will be able to perform its nuclear deterrence function: it becomes possible for an aggressor to make a disarming non-nuclear strike with high accuracy weapons to annihilate practically all of Russia’s nuclear strike power and take out the few rockets that the country does manage to launch with its anti-missile defence capability. China’s strategic nuclear force will equal that of Russia in the next 10 years or maybe even exceed it.
There’s no sensible response to the endless jabber about “sovereignty” as the main aim of Putin’s policies if in reality the main factor in that sovereignty – the strategic nuclear deterrent – has been undermined under Putin.
And while the army receives scandalously small amounts of armaments, most of what is produced goes for export. In the 1990s, Russian arms exports amount to an average of just over $1 billion a year. In 2007, income from arms exports amounted to $7 billion. We arm foreign armies, including those of potential opponents – China first and foremost. These foreign armies are supplied with many times more Russian armaments than our own. The arms export monopoly is run by Rosoboronexport, headed by yet another Peterburger and friend-of-Putin Sergei Chemizov. How the income from arms exports, which should be deliberately used to finance the modernisation of our Armed Forces, is actually used is kept totally opaque.
The efficiency of our military-industrial complex remains low and deployments of modern weapons to the armed forces are constantly delayed. Although the government promised that it would soon test a 5th generation fighter aircraft, no engine has yet been developed for it. The first samples of a new anti-aircraft/anti-missile weapon system designated the S-400 was finally deployed only in 2007 although they had initially been promised for 2000. Deployment of the Iskander theater quasi-ballistic missile, first promised for 2003, has still not taken place: trials have not yet been completed. Test of the naval Bulava missile should so far be considered unsuccessful. Three unfinished strategic submarines await it at the Severodvinsk shipyard; no one knows what will happen to them and who will be responsible for the money wasted on their production if the Bulava is never deployed.
The military-industrial complex’s technology lag behind other countries is increasing. The Su-34 fighter and the T-90 tank are both mere modifications of earlier series. No clear R&D programme for future weapons and equipment has been developed. Furthermore, in the absence of a clear military doctrine, it is impossible to define a proper strategy for supplying the armed forces with weapons and equipment: we do not properly understand who are our friends and who our potential enemies, our generals still go on preparing for a large-scale war with the USA while Russia remains unprepared and without defence against real threats, in particular from China (of which more below).
In the absence of effective public oversight of military defence expenditure, corruption flourishes and the cost of government orders are grossly inflated. “The amount by which we fail to meet government defence orders increases yearly and the percentage by which we fail to meet the demand increases in direct proportion to the increased budget allocated to the defence orders,” said Federal Minister and Deputy Head of the Military-Industrial Commission V. Putilin in Yekaterinburg on 19 April 2007. In 2006 the price of a T-90 tank made by the Uralvagonzavod works was 42 million rubles. By early 2007 the price was 58 million. In the 11 years it took to make the strategic nuclear submarine Yuri Dolgoruky, its development costs rose by a factor of seven.
Dubious initiatives by Putin to create industrial defence “holdings” run by his Petersburg friends have not helped matters. The monopolisation of armaments R&D and production is a dead-end route. Even in Soviet times competition between R&D bureaus and military-industrial plants was maintained in order to ensure competitivity. It is now being proposed to create monopolies not only in R&D and arms production but also to have a monopoly supplier to the armed forces (a sole purchasing agency called Rossiiskie Tekhnologii) to be headed yet again by presidential friend Chemizov. The state corporations are multiplying, Putin’s friends are getting richer, and the army remains without the arms and equipment it needs.
There are still over 157 thousand families of servicemen without housing. Of these over 70 thousand do not have permanent accommodation. In 1997, one of the authors of this document, when in the government, first managed to get something serious done about this problem: a Presidential Ukaz #1062 of 30 September 1997 “On Improving Housing Availability for Service Personnel and Certain Other Categories” was promulgated. Back then, the country’s income from exports was tiny but somehow or other we still managed to house about one hundred thousand servicemen’s families under the programme.
A lot could have been done while oil prices were high but the number of homeless servicemen has not dropped. In 2006, Putin announced the start of the new “presidential” 15+15 programme for the provision of housing to servicemen yet that year only 6500 new flats were made ready. Another 12000 were planned for 2007. Something is being done but why delay for so long?
All attempts to reform the manning of the Armed Forces have failed. The transition to a call-up of only one year was not properly thought through and has only made matters worse. By 2009, the Ministry of Defence will come up against an inevitable army manpower crisis: due to a call-up of only one year, the army will need to enroll 700,000 young men each year but by 2009 only 843,000 such people will be reaching the age of eighteen. The authorities will have to cancel all deferments and this will put the whole existing education system into disarray.
In addition, the quality of the contingent which is called up does not meet the needs of armies formed in this way. In January 2008, the Deputy Chief of the General Staff, General Smirnov told journalists that 30% of the total number of young men called up in the autumn round were found to be unsuitable for military service and over 50% had health problems preventing their deployment to specialised forces. In other words, this means that we simply do not have the population with which to maintain a called-up army and any talk about its being unacceptable to do away with military service is just cheap demagoguery.
Instead of developing a system for the reserve mobilisation of citizens in case of potential emergencies, the Ministry of Defence is continuing with its policy of filling barracks with called-up youths. Meanwhile, the dedovshchina problem is not going away. It is important to understand that dedovshchina is not just “something that happens” in some units, but a deliberately cultivated and condoned system providing a criminal way of managing the troops by allowing seniors to abuse juniors. A stop must be put to this criminal practice and the Russian Army must complement itself by becoming a contract force.
Abolishing the general call-up will not be easy but is absolutely necessary. It is nowadays fashionable to talk of the development of Russia’s “human potential” as one of the main aims of government policy. However, it is difficult to imagine a greater blow to the Russian nation’s human potential than calling up its young in the flower of youth to forced slavery.
Putin’s way of turning the army into a professional force looks like either nonsense or sabotage: professional recruits are paid a pittance – in 2007, salaries in Russia averaged 12,000 rubles while the average pay of contract soldiers does not exceed 6-8,000 rubles.
Forgotten, poorly equipped, badly paid, homeless, recruits unfit to fight, dedovshchina – that is what Armed Forces look like if one looks behind the curtain of Putin’s management. Russia needs a massive reform of its military.
The point of this reform shoul not be just a change in recruitment policy. A contract army is not a synonym for a professional one. The point is that Russia needs to be clear on its long-term plans for the military and needs to develop a radically new, modern and effective force.
Such an army will need a régime of greater openness. Greater public oversight over the financing and pricing of new equipment will also be required. The old opaque and corrupt arms purchasing system must be abolished – no more monopolies. The military budget must be open for all to see except for such things as the development of new weaponry and other secret design work. The army’s purchasing budget should be published on the Internet (as the American military do) and competition rules established.
We need to go over to a contract army as soon as possible, first in the high-tech units and later in the rest. This change of recruitment principle should be used as much as possible for the formation of new units placed parallel to existing ones in order to keep the new units clean of the burden of the old negative traditions of corruption and poor treatment of men. The pay of contract soldiers should be sharply increased to a level corresponding to their skills. Army pay should be approximately 20% higher than average pay in Russia as this will make the army competitive on the labour market. Contract soldiers should be able to get mortgages for their housing and after 10 years service be allocated housing free.
We must without delay begin a full-scale reform of the military in order to make it transparent, to ensure public oversight, to re-equip it, and to turn it into a professional army. The state’s present financial position means that it is possible to do this. Putin already had one chance of doing this but essentially forgot about the military in this highly favourable period of our history. We need new politicians in power if we want to be reliably defended.