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Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Another Original LR Translation: Golts on the Transition, by Our Original Translator

Moment of Truth?

Aleksandr Golts

Yezhednevniy Zhurnal

March 10, 2008

The next two months promise to be very curious indeed. It would seem that after eight years at the post of head of state Vladimir Putin has finally started to say what he really means. The first seance of truth occurred right after discussions with his western European colleague Angela Merkel. In response to the frequently asked question about his views toward the expansion of NATO to include Ukraine and Georgia, Putin gave an extraordinarily unexpected answer. The main problem now, in his opinion, was that “in the modern world the constant expansion of a military political alliance, in the absence of a conflict between two mutually antagonistic systems, is in our view not only pointless, but also dangerous and counterproductive. It gives the impression of being an attempt to create an organization that would take over the role of the UN... Already NATO is exceeding the limits of its mandate. We have noting against aid to Afghanistan, but when it is provided by NATO, this becomes an issue. This is not a problem involving the North Atlantic region, and they know this perfectly well.”

This at last is a serious conversation. Without any silliness about how NATO achieved military dominance over Russia on account of Romanian and Bulgarian tank divisions. Putin for the first time has clearly and succinctly formulated exactly what it is that is bothering the Kremlin: it is that a new system for international security is being created, one in which Russia will be relegated to a less than modest position. It is now clear (as Putin essentially acknowledged) that from a military point of view nothing is threatening Russia. Furthermore, he does not want to draw attention to the fact that in Afghanistan that cursed NATO is actually protecting Russian security (recall that in Summer 2001 the Russian General Staff was planning to send a force of 60,000 men to the south, supposedly to oppose the Taliban).

Exactly the same logic now explains the sharp reaction of Moscow to the U.S. withdrawal from the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) treaty and Washington’s plan to locate its third ABM system in Europe. Once again the issue is not that Moscow is seriously concerned that the U.S. is developing the capability to deliver with impunity a nuclear first strike against our country. Rather, it is something altogether different: The Kremlin is afraid that as a result of the U.S. basing an ABM system in Europe Russia may lose its status as a country capable of destroying the most powerful state in the world.

Hence, Putin has for the first time formulated what it is that actually annoys him about the increased activism of NATO (and the West as a whole). It is hardly the military threat, as he himself insisted in his speech in Munich. Rather, it is the loss of international influence and status. Even more revealing was his remark that President-elect Dmitriy Medvedev is, “in the good sense of the word, no less than I, a Russian nationalist. I do not think that it will be any easier for our partners with him than it was with me.” From the context it is more-or-less clear that Putin did not have in mind a nativist type of nationalism, with its obvious ethnic underpinning and deep-seated hatred of foreigners (although just to be on the safe side the Russian government-owned television stations carefully avoided any discussion of nationalism in their reporting). No, the issue here was something else. None other than the Successor, as a civilian lawyer, acquainted his senior (a practical lawyer) with the concept of a “nation-state”. And Putin drew from that the single, very natural conclusion for a person of a patriotic frame of mind: that nationalism consists of defending one’s own interests in conflict with other governments. In general, Putin’s conception is closest to the definition provided by the encyclopedia of Brokgauz and Efron : “Nationalism is the transformation of the living national consciousness into an abstract principle, affirming the “national” in absolute opposition to the “universal”, and “one’s native own” in absolute terms against “the foreign”. In essence, this is yet another variation on the hallowed theme of Sovereign Democracy.

If so, then exactly now, as he is wrapping up his term as President, Putin has formulated the main point of conflict in his foreign policy. The West is looking for some sort of universal starting point. And for NATO, this starting point is common democratic values. Transparency in government, accountability of the executive branch of government to the legislative, and free elections: the presence of all these are among the requirements for admission into the Northern Atlantic alliance. Exactly on this basis, President Putin suspects, a “replacement” is being created for the UN. With the “old” UN everything was clear. Any government, regardless how authoritarian or democratic, had the right to vote. But everything was controlled by just the five most powerful countries as of 1945. And Moscow, as a permanent member of the UN Security Council, had special rights.

Putin the “Russian nationalist” does not believe that shared values can unite countries. Since he doesn’t believe in these values, he considers any reference to them to be a trap. It turns out, however, that refusing to participate in these values means being excluded from the formulation of important decisions (as happened in the case of Kosovo). But Putin is, of course, just certain this is a conspiracy of the West. By this logic it is completely natural to try and remind everyone of one’s presence through the use of every means of pressure at one’s disposal - withdrawing from the Conventional Forces in Europe (CFE) treaty, threatening to withdraw from the Intermediate Range Ballistic Missile (IRBM) treaty, announcing that one will aim nuclear missiles at Poland and the Czech Republic (if they allow basing of an ABM system on their soil) and the Ukraine (if it enters NATO). But the fact that these threats have no effect gives rise to annoyance and disappointment. If Medvedev will try, as suggested by Putin, to carry out the same policies, he will encounter the exact same difficulties.

And here's more Golts, from the Moscow Times:

The official Kremlin line is that President Vladimir Putin will hand the country over to Dmitry Medvedev in excellent condition. Upon closer examination, however, it turns out that the country's problems are approaching a crisis point in almost every area. This is because what the Kremlin calls modernization is nothing more than pumping petrodollars into ineffective and outdated institutions, without using those resources to improve or replace them.

Only a few days ago, the Defense Ministry announced that it had drafted a bill to extend the term of service for military officers by five years. Officials have painted the initiative in glowing terms, and it apparently provides officers with the chance to continue serving in order to earn higher rank. Officers themselves will make the decision whether to serve the extra five years. In reality, however, the bill is only the latest attempt to mitigate the severe problem of insufficient number of personnel in the armed forces.

One of the main reasons for this crisis was the military's decision to cut the mandatory service term from two years to one, making it necessary for the Defense Ministry to call up twice the usual number of 300,000 recruits. But statistics indicate that only 843,000 young men will turn 18 in 2009. About half will enter college and receive deferments. In addition, a significant percentage will gain exemptions on medical grounds. As a result, Medvedev will be forced either to drastically reduce the size of the army or to cancel military deferments for college students, thereby crippling the existing educational system. Anticipating the impending crisis, the military brass began calling college graduates to active service as privates. They accomplished this by liquidating military departments at almost 200 universities and institutes. These programs previously provided students with military training and conferred the rank of lieutenant, while exempting most, but not all, of them from mandatory service.

But if college military departments are shut down, the flow of officer-recruits will dry up as well. And last year Putin signed legislation ending the practice of calling up reserve officers for active duty. It would seem that closing an unusual institution for training officers in peacetime is a positive step in the right direction. After all, it has often been noted that such officers are of little practical benefit. They are incapable of teaching their subordinates anything useful and spend their time counting the days until their discharge.

This is why the Defense Ministry is doing everything it can to retain officers at their commands. But last year, the military added one year to the minimum period of service required to advance to the next rank. Prior to that, the top brass suggested granting company commanders the rank of major. And now we hear of their plan to extend the officers' terms of service by five years. There is an obvious reason for all of these measures -- they are trying every possible method to force officers to serve longer terms at the lowest rank of platoon or company commanders.

Were the Kremlin planning to have a small professional army, everything would be fine. High bonuses for accumulated time on the job could compensate for many years of service at low rank. But in Russia's mass-mobilization army, the ability to rise rapidly through the ranks is one of the main -- if not the only -- motivating factors for officers to continue serving. Considering the low salaries and poor conditions that military officers must endure, even the slightest delay at the bottom rung of the career ladder makes extended service pointless. There is no basis for believing that an officer who has earned the right to retire with a pension will choose to extend his service for as much as a single day. These half-baked proposals clearly will not solve the crisis of the insufficient number of officers in the armed forces.

The picture that emerges for the military in 2009 is not very optimistic. There will be no troops serving, nor will there be officers to command them. When this crisis hits, the generals will throw themselves at the feet of the new commander in chief and say, "Dear, kind tsar! Nothing has worked -- not transferring a percentage of the draftees to contract service, nor switching to one year of mandatory service nor eliminating officer-recruits."

Maybe we should go back to the way it was before. That request just might be approved.

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