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that while this is difficult to establish, the MOD understands that the old division between armaments and supply is outdated so they’re starting to create a single supply chain.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.

Discussion with General Tretyak

The general made it clear that he was open to a discussion with the Valdai Club participants and did not want the meeting to turn into a press conference. There were a number of key themes covered during the discussion.

Manpower and training

The most important of these was the question of manpower and training. One participant noted that there has been a lot of zig-zagging on introducing contract soldiers since the first discussions took place in the late 1990s. At the time, it was expected that the low salaries paid in the civilian economy would allow the military to hire high quality specialists. But as the economy improved over the last decade, military salaries quickly became inadequate for this purpose. The military was still able to get contract soldiers through various means, but these were people who didn’t fit the military’s needs because they were underqualified. So the MOD decided to move away from contracts and return to using conscripts as the core of the force. But when the length of conscript service was reduced to one year, the military quickly realized that it could no longer fill certain specialties with conscripts because of the extensive training required for these positions. He argued that these positions will have to be filled with contract soldiers.

I find that this sentiment is typical of Russian views of the purpose of hiring professional soldiers. The predominant idea is to hire qualified, well-educated specialists, rather than ‘green’ recruits. No one thinks along the lines of the US model, which involves bringing in untrained 18 year olds and turning them into qualified specialists through the military education system, with the goal of having a significant percentage of these soldiers choose to pursue a career in the military. Qualified specialists are those retained, rather than recruited. This seems to me to be a much better model for the Russian military to follow, as long as it can get its retention rates up by following through on plans to improve salaries and living conditions for professional soldiers.

Another participants asked General Tretyak about progress with the new education program for sergeants. The general responded by mentioning that the new system follows foreign models. In the old Russian system, the sergeants had fairly narrow training and didn’t know as much as junior officers. So they couldn’t replace them in training enlisted soldiers. Now the goal is to have sergeants who will dedicate their lives to the military and will have wider knowledge. The first graduates of the sergeant training center will enter the military next year.

The general also noted that the MOD is considering the possibility of foreign military training for Russian officers. If carried out, this would be an interesting shift. In the past, the only officers sent for courses abroad were those about to leave the service, as such training was not considered conducive to further promotion in the service. If officers are actually sent to foreign courses and then promoted, this would mark a significant mentality shift among the military leadership.

Finally, the general also addressed the future of conscription. Ne noted that everyone, including the children of elites, should be required to serve in the military.  He pointed to Belarus as a model in this regard, arguing that in Belarus everyone wants to serve because serving in the military is patriotic, prestigious, and has a positive effect on future career prospects. This is the goal the Russian government has in mind as it goes about gradually eliminating exemptions to service.

Potential military threats and security concerns

General Tretyak noted that according to the MOD’s current assessment, Russia’s doesn’t currently face any military threats, though it does have some significant security concerns, such as the possibility of a renewed conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan, since Russia has relations with both sides. In a discussion on the situation in Karabakh, General Tretyak agreed with a participant’s assessment that the possibility of conflict in that region is high, but argued that it is gradually decreasing as a result of Russian efforts to reduce tension in the region. He disagreed with the suggestion that Russia’s relationship with Armenia is eroding and made clear that Russia will carry out its promises to that country. No one should see Russia’s refusal to intervene in Kyrgyzstan last summer as a precedent for Karabakh, as that was a very different situation.

General Tretyak also noted that Russia remains concerned about the security of South Ossetia and Abkhazia and about the threat of terrorism in the Caucasus. In the Western direction, he mentioned the existence of  some territorial disputes with the Baltic states, but made it clear that these are being worked out diplomatically. In the southern direction, he noted that Kazakhstan is a close ally but reiterated the Russian fear that stability in Central Asia is likely to decline because of the possibility of North Africa-type mass protests  events occurring there. He also felt that what he saw as the inevitable US withdrawal from the region will have a negative effect on stability.

In this context, the CSTO may come to play a more important role in the region. General Tretyak pointed out that CSTO reforms are continuing. The major Russian military exercises in the summer and early fall will include CSTO states. The Russian military has looked at the issues that arose in conjunction with the Kyrgyzstan crisis and know how to act if a similar situation arises in the future; according to General Tretyak, there are no disagreements on this with Russia’s CSTO partners. The general further noted that the forces assigned to the CSTO are the best prepared of Russia’s forces, because Russia wants to increase the organization’s military effectiveness. General Tretyak reiterated the Russian position that it would like NATO to recognize the legitimacy of the CSTO and establish cooperation with it.

The general then turned to the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, which has significant political influence in Central Asia. The military component is primarily based on the Chinese and Russian militaries. The organization has continuing plans to organize SCO military exercises. Both CSTO and SCO will inevitably increase their role in the region after the US withdrawal from Afghanistan.

General Tretyak noted that China is Russia’s ally. At the same  time, Russia is looking carefully at the development of the Chinese military, even as it helps it develop further. For now, they do not see any threat to Russia from Chinese military development. He further noted that no final decision has been made on where the Mistral ships being purchased from France will be based, though the Pacific is certainly a priority for Russia.

On the question of tactical weapons, and their connection to the CFE treaty and missile defense, General Tretyak argued that future warfare will not be frontal, but will focus on deep penetration. Russia is open for discussions on tactical weapons, but only under conditions of equality. For now, an understanding on this issue has not been reached. Russia wants to include all the nuclear states (UK, France, China) in the discussion, not just the US. On missile defense, he noted that there may have been a positive turn at the presidential meeting in Deauxville and considered it possible that an agreement could be reached this year.

The Russian military’s organizational structure

As the discussion turned to the structure and armament of the Russian military, one participant wondered how the organizational structure of the military be identical in all four Unified Strategic Commands, given the different natures of the threats and security concerns faced by Russia in different parts of the world?

General Tretyak responded that a unified command structure doesn’t mean that one size fits all. Russia has heavy, medium and light brigades. Heavy brigades use tracked vehicles, medium ones use heavily armored wheeled vehicles, while light brigades use lightly armored wheeled vehicles. Some USCs will have more of one kind of brigade or another, and each brigade will in itself be modular and adaptable for different circumstances. Units on the Kuril Islands are organized differently, because these are islands with very different defense requirements. And Russia is in the process of forming separate Arctic brigades, with differences in armament because of the different environment and climate conditions in the far north.

One participant asked why airborne troops are still directly under the command of the general staff. General Tretyak responded that airborne troops can be used anywhere, so they can’t be subordinated to a particular geographic regional command.

On the topic of armament, the general contradicted statements made at the Valdai club panel two days before that R&D spending was set to decreases significantly in the new State Armaments Program. He said that 32-34 percent of SAP funding would go to R&D, including spending on long term development projects. He argued that the main priorities for rearmament are the nuclear forces, the navy, and the air force, because strategic deterrence is the highest priority for the military and these are the forces that carry out those tasks.

Finally, on the question of the extent of military cooperation with foreign states on information warfare issues, General Tretyak pointed out that for now there’s little technological cooperation with other states and Russia would like to have more. He pointed to the positive experience of cooperation with Israel on UAVs, arguing that Russia really needed their assistance when that was set up. (The unstated implication, it seemed to me, is that such help is no longer needed. In other words, he seemed to be saying that Russia can now build its own UAVs. I haven’t seen any proof of this so far…)

Assessment

Overall, I had a very positive impression of General Tretyak and of the overall tone of the conversation. The general seems to be part of a cohort of top military officials who are open to learning from a wide range of experience, including the best practices of Western militaries. He also gave the impression of being very much open to dialogue with foreign officers and analysts. There was none of the lecturing tone that used to be the standard mode of communication between Russian generals and their foreign interlocutors. What we had was two hours of open discussion between one of the top Russian military officials and a combined group of foreign and Russian military experts and journalists. I left the discussion with a very positive view of the possibilities for the future development of the Russian military and for cooperation between it and Western military forces.

Of course, there are other cohorts in the Russian military, who continue to resist reform and close contact with the West. For now, the pro-engagement forces are in ascendance. Hopefully that will remain the case for the foreseeable future.

UPDATE: I added a sentence in the first paragraph to note that the meeting with General Tretyak occurred instead of a previously scheduled meeting with the Defense Minister and the Chief of the General Staff, both of whom were said to be unavailable.

I should also note that although the meeting was held under Chatham House Rules, which allow for the content of a discussion to be cited without attribution to a particular speaker, the Defense Ministry’s press and information service and the Russian press agency RIA-Novosti (which sponsored the event) both identified General Tretyak as the speaker in question. I follow their lead in identifying him but not the other participants in the discussion.

15 thoughts on “Valdai Club 4: A conversation with General Tretyak

  1. A quick question from this amateur Russologist; what’s the current position regarding women serving in the Russian military? What roles are they are permitted to serve in?

  2. Interesting. Spasiba. In the UK, women are permitted to serve with non-combat and non-frontline combat roles (including as fighter pilots). In Afghanistan, however, the front line is more of a front area and women soldiers have been killed in action.

  3. “Open discussion” no comment.
    He said nothing new, and showed surprisingly little understanding of the “new look.” His five main task border on farce.
    Two questions important for an informed readership: is Tretyak considered “progressive” is so on what basis? What role has “family ties” played in his career progress?

    • I disagree on the five tasks bordering on farce. They’re the right tasks — whether or not they can achieve them is a separate question. I’m as skeptical as most on the Russian military’s ability to carry out the reform program, but that doesn’t detract from the fact that they’re trying. Which is more than has ever happened before.

      If you compare his behavior to that of the other defense official we met (off the record), there’s a huge difference in tone. There are different currents at the MOD, and I would much rather the current he represents were in charge… I have not followed his career prior to this encounter, so if you have any thoughts on whether his views are considered progressive or not, I’d be interested in hearing them. I was just reporting on this particular encounter, which struck me as much better in both tone and substance than my past encounters with Russian MOD officials.

  4. Where do I begin? First, in my experience, I’ve encountered generals in Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan far more open than Tretyak. Also, he was not supposed to be there, and it should be explained to readers that the Defense Minister Serdyukov and Chief of the General Staff Makarov were to lead the meeting. Others have noted how “shy” the minister is with the Duma, let alone foreigners. Particpants were told that Serdyukov was too busy with other engagements, and at the last moment Makarov was withdrawn. However, we arrived there at least 30 mins before the meeting began, and I was the only western particpant to walk fully around the table before hand, and noted Tretyak’s nameplate was already there.
    He is certainly not progressive, and the reporting in the blog entry should note how carefully mangaged the Q&A was. Moreover, the general’s comments were made under Chatham House rules, and are reported on this blog, as are comments by a person during the brigade visit with “command experience.”
    Serious analysis of the deep crisis in the Russian armed forces requires more than touchy feely approaches. The whole Valdai was a PR event aimed at promoting a false view of a reform already dead. American policy makers nedd to be informed about what is really happening, not our dreams, or Russian fantasy.

    • Of course this was a PR event. All Valdai club events are PR events. That’s the nature of the beast. There’s a picture of the military that they want to present. But that doesn’t mean that the picture is 100% false! You have to take everything with a grain of salt, but you can’t assume that everything is just for show.

      I also noticed that the Tretyak nameplate was out in advance. My understanding is that the organizers were told 2 days in advance that Serdiukov would not be available. Makarov was withdrawn that morning, but I don’t think it was at the last minute. After all, he was supposedly out of Moscow that day. So they would have had a couple of hours to select the replacement speaker and then place the appropriate nameplate on the table. You’re probably right that I should have mentioned that we were originally to meet with Serdiukov and Makarov. Maybe I’ll update the post to reflect that.

      On the question of Chatham House Rules, I have been taking the lead from RIA-Novosti’s reporting. They publicly reported that the Valdai group met with General Tretyak and some of the contents of what he said. Same with most of the other sessions. My understanding is that in those circumstances (and corroborated by others who have more experience with this than I do), the identities of the other participants should be protected, but that of the main speaker is not. And all of the content of what is said is of course open for publication. There were a couple of other meetings, in the evenings, that were not mentioned in the press. In those cases, I have not, and will not, discuss the identity of any of the participants, including the main speaker, in my writings.

      On the state of the reform, I think we just have to disagree. I don’t believe it’s dead. I think they are struggling to keep it going, but they haven’t given up on the core ideas. On manpower, they don’t really have a good idea of how to get to where they want to be, but that’s different from deciding they don’t want to be there anymore. I think there’s a place for discussion of the tone of a meeting when writing about it. I don’t see that as touchy-feely. I’ve written my share of skeptical pieces about Russian procurement plans, struggles with contract soldiers, etc. There’s a place for that, and there’s also a place for pointing out that a bunch of foreigners were invited to the Russian MOD and had a rather open discussion there. And that made me feel more positive about the future than past interactions. That may be touchy-feely to you, but I see no reason not to report how I felt coming out of the meeting. I had a very different feeling after our discussion the day before on missile defense cooperation, as I’ll discuss in my next post….

  5. Dmitri,

    For what it is worth, I think your work in reporting this conference is notable. However, while I don’t blame you, I think it put you in an unenviable position. I find it superficial, full of facts, but with little understanding of the problem as a whole. Permit me to focus only on Tretyak’s comments. You suggest that his comments show he and the military are on top of things. I disagree.

    First, he fails to note the losing fight against corruption. The latest figure is 20% and when it comes to housing, it goes up to 50%. Despite Medvedev’s efforts to get a handle on things, all signs are that it is still out of control, and unless they get control over it the R20 trillion will go to waste.

    Second, they have no idea how to deal with the key problem facing them — what to do with NCOs. Those of us who have been in the field with them, and who have followed this issue for years, are well aware of the depth of the problem. In short, they do no understand the concept of delegating authority – the key to an NCO (I was once one). Instead, they go back and forth between junior officers and undefined NCOs. This is more than trying to figure out how to train an NCO. It is a fundamental unanswered question.

    Third, they face a very serious technological lag vis-a-vis the West, and especially the USA. In 1989 when there still was a USSR, we visited Vladivostok and spent time on Russian ships (the same ships are still the main part of the Pacific Fleet). They were ten years behind us technologically. With the loss of the nineties, they have fallen further and further behind (See all of the critical articles by Russian military specialists)

    Fourth, they lack an over all plan. Instead of a well thought out plan, they go from one direction to another. There are many examples, but the officer -150,000 then 220,000 is a classic example. They do not seem to have any idea what they are doing.

    Fifth, I don’t think any of us feel they will begin to move in the right direction until they get someone to replace Serdyukov. He is worse than Rumsfeld.

    I could go on, but I think this is enough to make my point.

    I was impressed with your note taking. Clearly, you took it seriously and gave it the “college try.” On the other hand, I don’t know who it was who selected you, but I think they put you in an impossible situation. There are those in the US who are on a level with Roger in terms of experience and knowledge and expecting you — in spite of the excellent work you have done, (and I expect more of the same in the future) to go up against directors of Russian institutes and departments was wrong. The conference was carefully kept secret from those of us who work on the issue — I found out by accident.

    Based on your report, it looks to me to have been a classic Agitprop type operation. Too bad they did not want a real discussion of the problems ahead of them; they might have learned something.

    Dale Hersprng

    • Dale,

      There is a place for reporting and there is a place for analysis. I do plenty of the latter on this blog, and I have written on all of the problems you spell out in your comment. Of your five points, I fully agree with the first four. I actually think that Serdiukov, while having virtually zero understanding of the military, was in many ways the only person who could start the reform process back in 2008. And the process desperately needed to be started. Now, perhaps you are right, there may be others who know much more about the military who could carry on the work in a better and more thorough fashion. However, Putin/Medvedev are in an unenviable position on this. Serdiukov’s removal would be seen as a victory for opponents of reform, so that makes it much more difficult for them to replace him.

      Anyway, my point here is not to argue those specifics, but to make clear my intentions. My goal in writing this series of reports is not to analyze the success or failure of the reform effort. It is to report to those who for whatever reason were not there on the discussions that took place. In doing so, I have tried to do two things: 1) report as faithfully as possible and within the rules for disclosure that we were given what was said in the meetings and 2) describe my sense of the tone of each meeting. I see no reason why I should talk about the failures or successes of the reform effort in each post. I and a number of others have written about that topic elsewhere and at great length. I’ll be getting back to that work once this set of posts is finished.

      I’m not sure what you mean about me going up against directors of institutes. I was not there to go up against anyone. I was there to learn. As I wrote in response to Roger, of course this is a PR exercise. But that doesn’t mean we can’t learn from it. Had we not been taken to the military base, we would not have seen the problems with training I described in one of my posts. And the discussions on missile defense that I will detail in a future post left me very pessimistic about the possibilities for cooperation in that area.

      The people who organized this conference wanted to give us a positive image of the Russian military, but they have been fairly open in their interactions with the participants. This was advertised as a first meeting of the section. I share your hope that there might have been a real discussion, perhaps with an effort to share the experiences of other countries’ militaries. Perhaps such a discussion will take place in subsequent sessions.

      I don’t have your years of experience working on Russian military reform, but I have more than 10 years of experience analyzing various aspects of the Russian military (mostly just the navy until about 2 years ago), so I don’t think I’m too naive about the issues that it faces. I have no idea why the organizers chose the people they did and excluded others. I do know that they were given three slots for US participants and that the selection process was carried out jointly by CAST and RIA-Novosti. Not all the participants were by any means experts on military issues. Some had much more expertise on security issues. In fact, it may be that I was selected because I have some expertise on both sets of issues. In any case, I asked why you were not among the participants but was not given a clear answer.

      So to conclude, I will continue to write these reports “full of facts” until I’ve finished going through my notes. Once that’s done, I’ll go back to doing analysis. I hope that my readers won’t take my reporting as blind acceptance of everything I heard while in Moscow.

    • About the 2nd part: This is a common sentiment by American commentators, but even in the American military, I can glimpse regular complaints of officers micromanaging NCOs, so the problem is relative and not absolute.

      What is not discussed in American is the difference between Western and traditional Soviet officer training. Western officer training is general – most of the time is spent majoring in something other than a military specialty. The military training is a minor or less and even some of it would probably be on something like basic international relations. Soviet training is much more concentrated on the military specialties so the officer is, at least in a technical sense, much more capable when he hits the platoon.

      There is a old saying that says in a volunteer (Western) military the officers are half-trained and a sergeant completes their training, while in a conscript (in fact it means Soviet b/c many Western conscript armies also have professional NCOs) army they train (or at least try to) the officer until he can train the sergeants.

      Even ignoring culture and history, if it is hard enough to get officers to delegate when the sergeant has the expertise, one can imagine how hard it is when the reverse is true.

      If sergeants are to ever get some respect and delegation, a major part would be them showing they can bring something to the party, and it will take some time to do that. Even after their new 3-year training (looks like a re-titled prasporchik training to me), the officer will still have had 4-5.

      But Sedyukov’s other reforms may go some way to solving that. They are trying to get more civvie university people (probably much to the horror of the old-guard – but don’t blame them, their last experience with such people suggests they are inferior in competence to 2nd year conscripts…) and even the military schools are getting consolidated, which probably means the cirriculum would be less specialized and the average officer will inevitably suffer a decline in specialty knowledge, forcing him to rely more on his sergeant.

      It is ironic that a decrease in training may be the key to getting some delegation working in the Russian military…

  6. Tretyak obviously did not want to comment on th efact that he MIstral talks are now treaidng water and will not be completed at least till 2012 or that is there is very stiff resistance inside hte MIC to any foreign purchases. Neither did he apparently comment on the fact that the acquisition plan for 2010 was a resounding failure and has already led to firings. As Dale said the press reports 20% of budget being stolen. But as you know an admission of this size probably ocnceals much larger theft and wast and corruption. there is no mention of Makarov’s attack on the Academy’s lack of understanding of contemporary war. And the fact that that you saw what looks liek a modern building should not be taken for the overall truth. While there are undoubtedly such entities the press is sitll full of reprots form outlying areas htat nobody ever sees, about dilapidated and broken ddown bases, housing, and weapons system. I know you went to report and had no hand in the selctoin process but the situaiton is much worse than emerges form the reports of the Valdai discussion. I do not say thi to admonish anyone but to suggest that there is more to the story than Moscow wnats to tell

    • I found the Mistral issue at the meeting quite interesting, actually. On the first day, the consensus among Russian participants was that the deal’s purpose was purely political and that the whole thing was at this point virtually dead. Then the next day there was a news report that there had been an official announcement that the contract would be signed in 15 days and suddenly the same people were saying “well, I guess that’s that — all the problems have been solved and we’ll have the Mistrals now…” From my point of view, it was a bit of a swinging from one extreme to the other.

      My sense was that they were having problems and that it was slow going, but that both sides had invested too much in it to kill it entirely. And that just because someone had said that the contract would be signed, that didn’t mean it would actually happen on that schedule. And subsequent reports seem to indicate that whatever is signed by June 21 will be a very odd contract that will refer to additional future protocols for matters that are not resolved by that date.

      On the modern vs dilapidated buildings. They actually were fairly open about the status of this brigade being “special.” The tenor of that presentation was that this was the model they were aspiring to for all the brigades, not what they had everywhere. I think I indicated that in my report.

      I actually thought they were on the whole more honest than I expected. Perhaps I had lower expectations than Roger did. I know what Valdai is for and I was certainly not expecting a frank discussion of all the warts of the Russian military. It’s natural for people to try to present their institution in the best possible light to outsiders. Especially when everything is being filmed and reported by your national press service.

      In that light, I thought one comment by Tretyak was particularly indicative. When asked about whether conscription should apply to the children of elites, he pointed to the camera and microphone in front of his face and said, “What do you think I’m going to say?” before going on with his answer.

      So I guess what I’m trying to say is I got precisely what I was expecting — a PR show on the state of the Russian military that at the same time indicated that they are more open to frank discussion of their problems with foreigners than they used to be. For example, I know that one of the leading US experts on military manpower issues (a former DASD on that issue) has been consulting for them. Can anyone imagine the pre-2008 Russian military hiring a former US government official to consult on such a basic issue.

      Regardless of what we think of Serdiukov and of the current state of the Russian military reform process, there is an effort to change there. The people leading it are not necessarily prepared or qualified to oversee this effort, and this has caused a lot of mistakes and dead ends. But I nonetheless applaud them for making the effort and still think that in the medium to long run, the Russian military will be better off because of the current efforts.

  7. My only response to this series of exchanges, and the “reporting” I have seen on the “military Valdai” is to say this–there was one western presentation on the reform obviously missing from the RIA Novosti website and the account offered by Weitz –it was y own. In this coverage, at least Dmitry has in fact mentioned that I gave a presentation, but I did outline why the reform launched in October 2008 is conceptually over; the trouble with officer downsizing; constant zigzagging on manpower; the chaos in “reform” planning; and drew attention to the CGS Makarov identifiying that the reform was launched “in the absense of a military-scientific basis.” Such an approach would logically only take them so far, allowing plenty of scope for adjustment and opposed parties to gameplay. I had hoped for serious discussion, what transpired was certainly not “open.” The brigades have only questionable deployment capabilties, if any, and the mess is their own making –but this was not open for discussion, but participants from European capitals noted that my presentation was not referred to nor was I included in the Q&A. On the other hand, we can understand why they are sensitive to this.
    Serdyukov is a disaster as a minister, he fails even to meet the Duma defense committee, and has an arrogant hatred of officers. That again will only get them so far –Russian officers have had to stomach this clown for three years. Once the respect is breached, it cannot be repaired.

    Roger McDermott

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