Comment on military reform for Valdai

The Valdai Club asked me a couple of weeks ago to comment on the achievements of Russian military reform to date. Here’s what I said:

One of the main premises of Russia’s Military Reform involved eliminating the mass mobilization army and replacing it with one focused on permanent readiness, and getting rid of the units that just had officers and equipment but didn’t have any soldiers available for mass mobilization in times of war.

Another aspect involved the concerns about the coming demographic decline in the number of 18 year-old men available for the draft due to the decline in the birth rate after 1991. That led to a decision to increase the number of contract soldiers relative to the number of conscripts. That was the manpower side.

In terms of organization the main focus was on increasing efficiency, eliminating duplicate structures, generally making the organization more efficient, and decreasing the number of command layers, so that army units could react more quickly when an order was issued in Moscow.

Also, there was a recognition that the Russian military needed to shift from being prepared to fight NATO and Europe towards dealing with more local and regional conflicts.

The assessment of the results of the Reform depends on structural changes or personnel issues. The mostly completed Reform of the organizational structure has been very successful. It’s reformed. It’s been fulfilled. It seems to work well enough, and it is certainly more efficient than the old system.

On the manpower side, the jury is still out. In January of this year, the salaries of contract soldiers increased quite a bit, and so the question is whether that will be sufficient to attract enough people to serve. Everything that had been done up to that point had not really worked.

As for the modernization of equipment, that is just starting, and it will also take the longest, just because it takes a long time to build such amounts of equipment. So it’s really too early to tell.

It’s virtually impossible to achieve all the goals outlined in the State Armament Program, but I think it is possible to come close. A lot will depend on the ability of the Defense Ministry to reform the industry by, for example, streamlining a lot of these big holding companies. Some of them work very well, but there are enterprises that are inefficient, or don’t really do much and are almost bankrupt. A lot of those need to be shut down, but that would be a big change in how the defense industry operates. Whether they are able to do that is still an open question, as is the extent to which the military and the government can control this process.

And corruption is still one of the biggest stumbling blocks. There’s still so much money that gets wasted in various ways.

Why NATO won’t recognize the CSTO

RIA-Novosti’s asked me for a comment on the likelihood of NATO establishing relations with CSTO. The following comment was published today on the Valdai Club website.

We should keep in mind that NATO isn’t really an organization in the way that we think about organizations. It’s primarily a collection of countries, each with its own foreign policy. And because it has a consensus principle in its decision-making, NATO can only take an action if none of the member countries object to a proposal. NATO operates by the silence procedure, whereby if no country objects to the wording of what the Secretary General offers as the consensus as he has heard it, they are deemed to have consented. If they object to wording, the discussion is reopened until they are satisfied.

In terms of setting up relations with another collective security organization such as CSTO, as far as I know NATO has pretty much never had relations with another such organization. Even back in the Cold War days, when CENTO and SEATO (the Southeast Asian and Central Treaty Organizations) existed, NATO didn’t really interact with them on an organization to organization basis.

So there are some inherent structural limitations on what NATO can do in terms of working with CSTO. NATO is focused on interaction with individual countries rather than with organizations. That’s the first and most important factor in limiting the possibilities for NATO-CSTO cooperation. There may be a greater chance of having individual NATO member countries working with CSTO, perhaps by participating in CSTO exercises, rather than having NATO as a body doing it. That’s not really the way NATO works in general. Many events that are seen in Russia as NATO events aren’t necessarily NATO events at all. For example, western reports on the recent Sea Breeze exercise in the Black Sea are very careful to describe it as either a U.S.-Ukraine exercise in which other countries participated or as a Partnership for Peace exercise. But it’s never described as a NATO exercise. Whereas reporting in Russia or China describes it as a NATO exercise, even though that is not the way the NATO member countries themselves see it.

A second reason is that NATO right now is mostly focused on internal issues. Since the end of the Cold War twenty years ago, NATO has been looking for a new purpose. One path that has been considered is to protect people in neighboring states against mass killings of civilians in internal conflict. This was its role in Kosovo in 1999 and more recently in Libya. The NATO countries have also added a counter-terrorism mission that has brought tens of thousands of its member countries’ soldiers to Afghanistan over the last decade. But there is still a lot of internal debate among NATO members about what its long term focus should be.  So I think rather than trying to focus on relations with other such organizations, the NATO countries are mostly focused on working out how its members will continue to make use of the existing NATO structure and procedures. So that’s a second limitation.

The third limitation may be relevant just for the United States, but because of the consensus principle NATO could not establish formal ties with CSTO without the U.S. being part of that consensus. There are still some parts of the U.S. security establishment, not so much in the current administration, but still important people in Washington who see CSTO as a potential way for Russia to extend its dominance over other former Soviet republics. And they don’t want to do anything to legitimize that. Again, I don’t see this as a policy of the current administration at all, but it’s something it has to take into account when it deals with Congress and with public perceptions of U.S. foreign policy. And since NATO-CSTO relations aren’t a high priority, the administration is not going to expend much political capital on this issue. They’d rather pick their battles with Congress on relations with Russia somewhere else, such as missile defense or last year’s New START treaty ratification.

So, those are the three key reasons why the establishment of a formal NATO-CSTO relationship is very unlikely. However, that doesn’t preclude the possibility that some NATO member countries could work with CSTO on particular issues. It is less likely that the United States would do this than some of the European counties given the political constraints discussed above, but it’s not out of the realm of possibility. It’s certainly more likely than some kind of NATO-CSTO partnership.

Valdai Club 7: Military reform and international cooperation

This is the final post in my series on the Valdai Club military section meeting. The last discussion panel of the conference was entitled “New Challenges – New Alliances: From Ideological Alliances to Interest-based Coalitions.” The three presenters were Yves Boyer, the deputy director of the Fondation pour la Recherche Strategique in Paris, myself, and Alexander Sharavin, the director of the Institute for Political and Military Analysis in Moscow.

Panel on international cooperation

Boyer’s presentation covered recent developments and future prospects for a common European Defense Policy. He said little about Russia per se, except to note at the end that Russia feels isolated in a globalized world and therefore the EU should develop close cooperation with Russia in order to reduce its sense of isolation.

My presentation focused on the possibilities for US-Russian cooperation in the Caspian region. The core of the argument can be found in my recent PONARS memo on the subject, so I won’t repeat it here.

Alexander Sharavin’s presentation covered how the military reform affects Russia’s international connections. He argued that one major impact has been the enormous change in tone at the MOD on willingness to engage in cooperation with foreign states. Eleven years ago, the head of the international cooperation department at the MOD was Leonid Ivashov, now it’s Sergei Koshelev, who is a professional diplomat. It’s a very different attitude. The difference in tone is notable because for the first time, civilians control the MOD. In the Soviet period, there were defense ministers who were civilians (even though they wore uniforms and were called marshals when they took the position), but they were controlled by the generals. This is the first time that civilians work in the MOD on an equal footing with members of the military. In the old days, they never would have taken foreign visitors to a location such as the Don radar station. Continue reading

Valdai Club 6: Missile Defense

The conference took place at the same time as the G8 summit in Deauxville, which included a statement on possibilities for missile defense cooperation between Russia and the US/Europe. The discussions on this topic at Valdai, however, left me very much pessimistic about the likelihood for such cooperation. There were two events directly related to missile defense. The first was a panel discussion on May 26th, with presentations by Oksana Antonenko of IISS, Mesut Hakki Casin of Yeditepe University in Istanbul, and Aleksandr Stukalin of Kommersant-Daily, followed by a discussion. The second was a meeting that same evening with a senior MOD official who has some responsibility for missile defense. As you will see from the report, the tone of these two meetings could not have been more different. (Note: I don’t have detailed notes on the presentation by Casin — it focused on how important missile defense cooperation would be for international security)

Panel on building a European missile defense system

Oksana Antonenko — Prospects for NATO-Russia missile defense cooperation

Antonenko provided a very optimistic assessment of the possibilities for including meaningful Russian participation in a European missile defense system. She began by reviewing the history of international cooperation on missile defense, noting several promising initiatives dating back to the Clinton presidency have been signed but never fully implemented, including the RAMOS program and the JDEC program to exchange early warning data on launches. Theater missile defense cooperation within the NATO-Russia Council was thus the 3rd stage of cooperation. This allowed for significant progress, including joint exercises. A live fire exercise that was to be held in 2008 in Germany would have brought cooperation to a new level, but it was canceled because of the Georgia war and the entire program was suspended. As a result, many of the experienced people involved in that cooperation left. Continue reading

Valdai Club 4: A conversation with General Tretyak

On Friday May 27th, the Valdai military section had the opportunity to meet with General Andrei Tretyak, the Chief of the Main Operations Directorate of the Defense Ministry. We were originally scheduled to meet with Defense Minister Anatoly Serdiukov and Chief of the General Staff Nikolai Makarov, but neither was available when the time came. General Tretyak spoke about the achievements and remaining goals of the military reform, and then answered questions from the group.

General Andrei Tretyak, Head of the Armed Forces General Staff Main Operations Directorate

General Tretyak’s statement

General Tretyak began with a discussion of the reasons why the reform was started three years ago. At that point, he argued, the Russian military was a shard of the Soviet army, not adapted to the new conditions that it faced. If the government had waited any longer, it would have been even more difficult to carry out all the necessary reforms. In terms of equipment, the army had less than 5 percent modern technology, and troops were scattered around the whole country at 22,000 sites. Russia’s military doctrine was designed for a big war, not for the types of conflicts Russia was actually likely to face in the coming years. The military suffered from poor social conditions, low salaries, a lack of housing, and low prestige in society.

The general then turned to what has been accomplished so far to address these problems. In 2009-2010, the military created combat ready troops that can be ready to fight in one day. Before, it took weeks or months. He argued that although the army is now more compact, all the troops can be ready in hours. The four unified strategic commands control all the forces on their territory except airborne, space and nuclear forces, in both peacetime and wartime. Each command now has 2-3 strategic directions that it focuses on. This reform has thus reduced reaction time and increased the army’s combat potential. Brigades’ readiness and control coefficients are much higher now, even though their forces are less numerous than when they were divisions.

At the end of his talk, General Tretyak addressed what he saw as the five main tasks remaining for the reform effort:

  1. Creating a single supply system. He noted that while this is difficult to establish, the MOD understands that the old division between armaments and supply is outdated so they’re starting to create a single supply chain. Though they face some difficulties, he argued that there has been progress.
  2. Improvements in combat training. There was a 30 percent increase in the number of exercises from 2009 to 2010, though more progress needs to be made in performance quality.
  3. Establishing a new basing system. The military is building 184 modern military bases with full amenities for the soldiers, their families and civilian support staff. As part of this task, they are outsourcing for basic tasks such as cleaning and cooking in order to free soldiers for military training. Though it is more expensive than the old system, they believe it’s worth the extra expense.
  4. Re-equipment and weapons modernization. This is the most difficult task. The government has allocated 20 trillion rubles to accomplish this task over the next ten years. He mentioned the two frequently noted targets – 30 percent modern equipment by 2016 and 70 percent by 2020. He went on to note that they don’t just mean physically new equipment; the equipment has to be truly modern —  they want to have the best of each type of equipment. He noted that the MOD had already developed requirements for these weapons.
  5. Developing a new educational system for the military. The first step was shrinking the number of military educational institutions from 64 to 16. Now they are setting up a system of continuous professional military education. They’re also working on solving the start-up problems for preparing sergeants; General Tretyak believes that they will have fully qualified new sergeants in 1-2 years. At the same time, they will start paying more money to military pensioners and will solve the housing problem retired officers. Continue reading

Valdai Club 3: Touring the Don-2N Radar Facility

On May 26, we were taken to the Don-2N radar facility in Sofrino, about a 2 hour drive northeast of Moscow. We were taken around the station by Major General Vladimir Derkach, the Chief of Staff and First Deputy Commander of the Russian Space Forces. After the obligatory tea, the first stop, of course, was the station’s museum, which was ostensibly primarily designed for educating new staff about the history and purpose of the station.

DON-2N phased array radar station

I’ll quote some excerpts from the official description of the site that we were given:

The DON-2N radar station is an integral part of Moscow’s missile defense system and is designed to detect and track ballistic missiles, measure coordinates, analyze complex targets and aim interceptor missiles, as well as automatically detect and track objects in space and send their trajectory measurements to the Central Space Surveillance Center. Continue reading

Valdai Club 2: Visit to 5th Motorized Rifle Brigade

On May 25th, the Valdai group was taken to Alabino, on the outskirts of Moscow, to visit the base of the 5th Guards Independent Motor Rifle Brigade (formerly known as the Tamanskaya Division). The visit included tours of the brigade’s museum, the barracks in which enlisted soldiers live and the base’s sports facilities. We also viewed military training, visited the firing range and an exhibit of some of the weapons and equipment used by the brigade, and ate at the cafeteria used by the soldiers.

The visit began (as all visits to Russian military installations seem to) at the base museum. The guide described the history of the Taman division, focusing almost entirely on the Soviet period and especially on World War II. There was a small room at the end of the exhibit devoted to the post-Soviet period, focusing on the division’s role in the conflict in Chechnya. But other than that, the museum had a very Soviet flavor, as you can see in the photos below. Continue reading