Problems of Post-Communism, July 2011 Table of Contents

Volume 58 Numbers   4-5 / July-October 2011 of Problems of Post-Communism is now available on the web site at

This issue contains:

 The Surprisingly Nonviolent Aftermath of the Beslan School Hostage Taking p.3
Debra Javeline and Vanessa A. Baird
Introduction: Coup de Grâce? p.23
Ann E. Robertson
Beyond the Nationalities Question? p.35
Mark R. Beissinger
Revisiting the End of the Soviet Union p.46
Anders Åslund
The Gorbachev Factor Revisited p.56
Archie Brown
The Coup That Never Was: Gorbachev and the Forces of Reaction p.66
Amy Knight
Documents from 1990-1991 p.75
The Last Year of the USSR: A Timeline p.96
Seventeen Moments in Soviet History p.121
Ann E. Robertson and James von Geldern
Robert T. Huber, 1955-2011 p. 123
Dana Ponte and Ann E. Robertson
Dmitry P. Gorenburg Appointed to Succeed Robert T. Huber as Editor of Problems of Post-Communism p. 124

Observations on Center-2011

The Center-2011 exercise is officially concluding today. What follows are some observations culled from the Russian newspapers, not necessarily all connected. I’ll try to put together an assessment of the exercise in a few days, once more reports from the field come in.

1. There was an interesting article in Moskovskii Komsomolets that addressed the question of threat, as in “who is this exercise really aimed at?” The author argued that the exercise planners’ internal documents show that the part of the exercise conducted in Kazakhstan near Aktau and on the Caspian Sea was aimed at Iran. The exercise storyline was based on a hypothetical decision by Iran’s leadership to respond to an American airstrike by targeting oil fields in Kazakhstan’s Mangystau oblast that are operated by American corporations (especially Exxon-Mobil). The idea was that since Kazakhstan would not be able to singlehandedly repel an Iranian attack, it would request assistance from Russia through CSTO channels and together the two armies would repel the Iranian land and sea attack. Of course, military and government officials in both countries have rejected the notion that Iran is the opponent in the exercise, sticking to the usual storyline that the opponent is fictitious and represents no specific country.

A second, and more publicly acknowledged, opponent for the exercise as a whole is “international radical Islamic terrorism.” Various parts of the overall exercise are designed to counter Islamist radicals seeking to overthrow various Central Asian governments. The concern here is clearly to prepare for the withdrawal of NATO forces from Afghanistan in 2014. Central Asian and Russian leaders fear that this withdrawal will be followed by a Taliban takeover and the spread of radical Islam into Central Asia, possibly with Iranian assistance. They hope to make sure that CSTO is prepared to counter any future moves of this type.

2. One of the goals of the exercise is to get the military to use new regulations that call for much more initiative on the part of battlefield commanders than the old regs left over from the Soviet era. According to Viktor Litovkin, the new rules require each brigade, battalion, and company commander to make his own decision on how to deal with specific situations, reporting to higher-level commanders but not waiting for them to make all decisions, as used to be the case.

At the same time, communication between field commanders and headquarters remains a weak point, with little information coming out about the use of automated tactical control systems. Given the publicly acknowledged efforts to increase C2 automation, it seems virtually certain that lack of information about the use of these systems means that they are not yet in widespread use among the troops. Without such systems, the use of UAVs and other high tech weaponry will remain quite limited.

3. Dedovshchina remains a problem, despite all sorts of efforts to stamp out hazing. An article in Rossiiskaia Gazeta reflects on a rash of suicide attempts in one unit involved in the exercise. While commanders sought to hide the extent of problems, it appears that most of the attempts were the result of conflicts among soldiers who were in the same draft cohort. In the past, hazing occurred primarily across cohorts, so this is perhaps a disturbing new development. Although the article did not discuss the ethnicity of the soldiers involved, many recent incidents of hazing in the military were the result of tensions within units along ethnic lines.

4. The military’s shift to civilian contractors for logistics, including food, has caused some problems of its own. While the quality of the food served on base has improved, civilian contractors by and large do not provide the food when units are deployed or out on exercise. This means that the military has to continue to train cooks, who make the food when the unit is away from its base. However, this food remains poor in quality and furthermore, the cooks have nothing to do the rest of the time, when the unit is on base. In addition, the continued training of cooks increases costs.

During Center-2011, some units are being fed by contractors, so this may be a temporary problem. However, so far there have been no signals that the training of soldier-cooks will be eliminated.



Quick reaction to Putin’s announcement

Josh Tucker over at the Monkey Cage asked me to comment on yesterday’s announcement that Putin will run for President next year. My comments can be found at his blog, together with those by several other PONARS members. I focused on the potential impact of the decision on foreign policy, and particularly U.S.-Russian bilateral relations. Here’s my comment.

There has already been some loose talk about the potential negative impact of Putin’s return on U.S.-Russian relations. On the contrary, I think this move in and of itself will have very little impact on bilateral relations or on overall Russian foreign policy, for that matter. Russia was not ruled by Medvedev over the last 3.5 years, and it will not be ruled exclusively by Putin over the next six. The Russian leadership is in some sense a collectivity, with Putin acting (in the words of Olga Kryshtanovskaia) as primus inter pares among a group of 4-6 top leaders who together make the decisions. In this environment, the current foreign policy course has to have been supported by the leadership, and by Putin in particular. There’s no reason to think he will want to change it as president. Russia will continue to seek to cooperate with the United States on counter-terrorism and counter-proliferation activities and will provide an increasingly important transit route to Afghanistan. At the same time, Russian leaders will continue their sporadic efforts to find a way to integrate their country into Western security institutions, though most likely with no more success than they’ve achieved to date.

To be sure, the atmospherics may be somewhat different. Several Russians I’ve spoken to about Putin’s decision argue that the main difference between him and Medvedev is in their style, rather than their substance. I have no doubt that Putin’s rhetoric will at times cause a great deal of consternation in the West and in the United States in particular. In these circumstances, it will be especially important to focus on Russian actions, rather than their rhetoric, in order to avoid an over-reaction that would derail aspects of the relationship that provide concrete and significant benefits to the United States.

Again, please make sure to go over to The Monkey Cage and read the comments there, especially if you’re interested in the potential impact on Russian domestic politics.

The death of Tupolev

To continue the aircraft theme of the last few weeks, I just read a very informative article by Ruslan Pukhov that appeared in last week’s NVO. In this article, Pukhov contrasts the state of Russian aircraft design bureaus that have successfully made the transition to the post-Soviet economic environment, such as Sukhoi and (to a lesser extent) MiG, with those that haven’t, such as Ilyushin and (especially) Tupolev.

One might have expected quite the opposite situation, as MiG and Sukhoi designed aircraft exclusively for the military during the Soviet period, while Ilyushin and Tupolev combined military and commercial aviation. Given the complete lack of government financing for military procurement during the 1990s, one might have thought that a greater diversity of projects and clientele might have helped the latter two companies to come out of the 1990s in better shape than the purely military design bureaus.

Pukhov describes the many false starts made by Tupolev in its efforts to remain competitive in the commercial aircraft industry, including such recent howlers as a proposal for in-flight refueling of passenger aircraft. But the main source of its problems resulted from an inability to launch full serial production of its Tu-204/214 medium-range passenger airliner, which was designed in the late 1980s and has now become somewhat outdated. The situation was made worse by Tupolev’s difficulties in servicing these aircraft. Other potential projects, such as the Tu-334 regional jet and the supersonic Tu-444 business jet have fared even worse. The Tu-334 was recently canceled with only two prototypes built after two decades of effort, while the Tu-444 is unlikely to ever move beyond the concept stage. As a result, Tupolev seems poised to be completely shut out of the commercial airliner market in the very near future

Tupolev’s position in military procurement is not much better. Tupolev’s core military business was in long range and strategic bombers. While there are ongoing plans to modernize existing aircraft, these programs are proceeding very slowly. Pukhov believes that if the military ever decides to develop a new long range bomber, it is unlikely that Tupolev would get the contract for this work. Tupolev’s Soviet-era efforts to develop UAVs is largely useless for the types of missions required of 21st century UAVs. There is no chance that Russian efforts to design UAVs would be based on Tupolev’s experience in this field.

By contrast, Sukhoi in the last decade has not only developed a number of successful new combat aircraft, but has also entered the commercial aircraft market with the SSJ-100. The difference between these manufacturers goes a long way toward explaining the differences in the Russian military’s ability to relatively quickly restore the potential of its combat aircraft, versus the problems it is having in modernizing its transport aviation and developing an indigenous UAV capability. As Pukhov argues in his conclusion, the failure of companies such as Tupolev and Ilyushin to adapt has opened the door for new entrants to take over the commercial and military transport aircraft sectors. In addition to Sukhoi, the leading candidate for this role is Irkut, formerly just a manufacturing concern, which has now entered the design field with a new mid-range commercial airliner currently in developed and expected to enter production in 3-4 years. Tupolev, for its part, is likely to face closure in the next few years as United Aircraft Corporation consolidates its holdings.


Center-2011 begins today

The most important event of the Russian military’s annual training calendar begins today. Major fall exercises have a long history in the Russian military, but in recent years they have begun to attract more and more publicity. In large part, this is because top military commanders have sought to publicize them to a greater extent than in the past, when exercises were surrounded by a veil of secrecy.

The current exercise is entitled Center-2011 and will take place primarily in the Central Unified Strategic Command and in several Central Asian states. The active phase of the exercise begins today and will continue through September 27, though some phases of the exercise began several weeks ago. Participation will include 12,000 soldiers from Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan. Events will take place in all four countries, including a tabletop command-level exercise in Tajikistan for the CSTO’s rapid reaction force that will simulate an effort to stop an attempted coup. The rapid reaction force will concurrently conduct tactical training in Kyrgyzstan. There will also be a naval component: the Caspian Flotilla will work with the Kazakhstani military and security forces to secure offshore energy infrastructure of the Kazakhstan coast. Concurrently, a Russian-Belarusian bilateral exercise called Union Shield-2011 will activate another 12,000 soldiers for roughly similar goals.

For the first time in at least several years, the exercise is focused on fighting local wars, with a major emphasis on defeating irregular combatants and terrorists. Part of the scenario will include the liberation of a town captured by terrorists or rebels. The high command has described the exercises as focusing on the action of small combat units, the use of precision guided munitions and the ability to use automated command and control systems at the tactical level. Of course, high weaponry and equipment is still quite sparse in the Russian military and completely absent among the other participants in the exercise. While the Russian military is planning to use its Israeli UAVs during the exercise, these UAVs are designed for reconnaissance and are not capable of launching missiles or otherwise attacking targets.

Russia and its CSTO partners are becoming increasingly concerned about the possibility of an influx of Islamic terrorists from Afghanistan after NATO withdraws most of its troops over the next several years. A second factor is concern about internal instability, fanned both by revolts throughout the Arab world over the last year and by events in Kyrgyzstan last summer. Russian and CSTO leaders view that episode with a fair bit of embarrassment, given that they could not respond to the Kyrgyz government’s request for assistance in large part because of a lack of troops trained in quelling rioting and other forms of internal conflict.

This exercise scenario shows that the Russian high command’s talk in recent years about shifting the army’s emphasis from preparing for large scale conventional warfare to local conflicts has now gone beyond just talk. The shift  has led to a change in training at the local command level. While last year’s Vostok-2010 exercise was described by officials as also focused on local conflicts, descriptions of the events conducted during the exercise showed that the possibility of a large scale conventional war with a major East Asian power (read: China) was a major (though unstated) part of the exercise scenario.

Of course, for the moment these are just declarations. As the exercise’s active phase progresses over the next week, we shall how events actually square with the stated goals outlined above. I’ll have some initial thoughts on this toward the end of the week, and more next week.

An Interactive Planning Approach to Shaping U.S.-Russian Relations

The annual PONARS policy conference in Washington DC took place Friday. I usually post my memos for it a week or two in advance, but I was hiking in the wilds of Utah in late August and away from the internets, returning just in time for the conference. So here it is after the fact. Other memos, including several related to the Russian military and arms control, may be found here.

U.S. policy toward Russia, as toward the rest of the world, tends to be highly reactive. Analysts and policy-makers usually spend their time discussing what the Russian government might do in the future and how the United States will (or should) react. This is not actually a useful model for foreign policy planning. Over thirty years ago, Russell Ackoff, one of the pioneers in operational planning research, described reactive planning as walking into the future while facing the past. In his words, a reactive planner “has a good view of where the organization has been and is, but no view of where it is going.”[1] In this memo, I will describe the three forms of planning outlined by Ackoff and make the case for the advantage of developing a Russia policy based on the principles of interactive planning.


Three Types of Planning

In his article, Ackoff describes most planning as a form of “ritual rain dance performed at the end of the dry season to which any rain that follows is attributed.” Rather than having some effect on subsequent outcomes, it makes the planners feel better about any future successes that come their way, while allowing any failures to be attributed to externalities or unforeseen circumstances. The main reason for this lack of impact is that while most planning is designed to address existing or expected problems, problems as such do not exist in the real world. Rather than face finite and well-defined problems, decisionmakers confront what Ackoff calls messes—systems of problems in which all the problems interact with each other. With such systems, solving each problem only creates new ones and may only make the situation as a whole worse.

The most common type of planning is of the reactive or retrospective variety. Policymakers who use this form of planning are focused primarily with “identifying and fixing up bad situations.” The goal of reactive planners is to try to maintain the status quo as much as possible. Government action officers generally spend the vast majority of their time in this mode, dealing with crises that in one way or another imperil the functioning of the programs for which they are responsible. In large part because of limits on time and resources, they are preoccupied with tactical questions and ignore strategic issues.

Prospective planning is the second type of planning commonly used by policymakers. This approach consists of attempting to predict what the world will be like at some point in the future and then preparing to deal with that future. In Ackoff’s words, “it doesn’t try to buck the tide, but rides on its leading edge, so as to get where the tide is going before anyone else does.” The key tools of prospective planners include forecasting and scenario-building. While reactive planners focus on short-term issues, prospective planners focus on long-range programs that attempt to optimize a particular set of policies given a set of assumptions about the external environment at some future point. While this approach is less commonly used in government, it does feature in departments that focus on long-range planning. An improvement over reactive planning, this approach suffers from two critical problems. First of all, the scenarios used by prospective planners are generally based on some combination of past experience and current trends. However, as any stock market analyst can tell you, past results are no guarantee of future performance. The only time that the future can be forecast accurately is when it is completely determined by the past. As Ackoff points out, that is also the condition under which no amount of planning can change the situation. Second, it makes no effort to affect the external environment, assuming that this is not something that can be influenced by policymakers.

This willingness to change the external environment is what sets apart the interactive planner. He or she “believes that the future is largely under an organization’s control” and depends largely on actions and events that occur going forward than on the events of the past. Therefore, the goal of planning is to design a desirable future and invent ways to bring that future about. Ackoff calls this type of planning “the art of the impossible.” He argues that the goal of planning should be “to convert what is initially considered to be impossible into what is subsequently accepted as possible.” The most effective way of accomplishing this is to change the environment in a direction that makes the preferred future end-state more likely to come about. Unfortunately, this approach to planning is hardly ever used by the policymaking community because they feel they will be able to deal with the future simply by doing a better job of predicting it and preparing for it.

In order to make the impossible possible, Ackoff advocates starting by developing an idealized vision of the future as the planners would like to see it, “if they were free to replace the current system with whatever they wanted most.” The only constraints on this “idealized redesign” are technological feasibility and operational viability. The idea is to stop planning away from a current state and start planning toward a desired state. Ackoff is careful to note that he is not advocating trying to design a future utopia. In his words, an idealized design “is built on the realization that our concept of the ideal is subject to continuous change…” Therefore, the planners have to include a capability for the system to be able to adapt to shifts both in the environment and in the policymakers’ preferences.

Once an interactive planner has developed a vision of a desired future, she or he can work backwards to find potential critical juncture points that can help change the current environment in a direction that would bring it closer to the ideal state. Some of these efforts will succeed, while others will fail. As a result, the conception of the ideal state is likely to change over time and the planning process has to be sufficiently flexible to take such changes into account. But the end result is that planners stop focusing on how to modify the existing world at the margins and start thinking creatively about how to bring about their ideal future.


Building toward an Idealized Redesign of U.S.-Russian Relations

The agenda in relations between Russia and the United States appears to be permanently stuck in reactive mode on both sides. Residual fear of the other side’s intentions, seemingly left over from Cold War days that ended 20 years ago, continues to exert an influence on policy planning in both countries. Many American policy planners continue to worry about the possibility that Russian leaders harbor aggressive intentions toward the other countries that became independent when the Soviet Union broke up in 1991. Russian planners, in turn, still seem to genuinely fear the possibility of a NATO invasion of Russian territory, at least if one were to take at face value documents such as the 2010 Russian military strategy.

As a result, policy planning on U.S.-Russian relations usually revolves around an agenda based on the past. The dominant issues—NATO-Russia relations, nuclear arms control and proliferation, even missile defense—would be completely familiar to policymakers working in the 1960s and 70s. The few truly new areas of cooperation, such as transit of supplies to Afghanistan via Russian territory and intelligence sharing in counter-terrorism, are often treated with suspicion by analysts and politicians on both sides.

There have been some efforts to engage in prospective planning in the relationship. This has primarily taken the form of efforts to adapt existing institutions to new realities. In some cases, these efforts have had some positive impact, such as the establishment of the NATO-Russia Council as a step to prevent the creation of new dividing lines in European security. Similarly, arms control efforts over the last twenty years have led to fairly significant cuts in the two countries’ nuclear weapons arsenals. And planners on both sides continue to look for ways to reduce distrust and increase cooperation in the bilateral relationship, including through the well-publicized attempt to “reset” the relationship after the 2008 elections in both countries. The various bilateral commissions set up by President Obama and President Medvedev are relatively successful aspects of this effort.

But these efforts, while laudable, suffer from the faults common to all prospective planning. They take the current environment as the starting point and attempt to build the relationship from there. They also focus cooperative initiatives on dealing with the threats that exist today or that seem likely to exist in the future based on current trends. In doing so, they are inevitably doomed to do little more than modify the existing relationship at the margins. What is needed instead is a new paradigm for the bilateral relationship, akin to the ideas that in the aftermath of World War II envisioned a full partnership between the Allied states and Germany and led to German participation in NATO just ten years after its defeat in the war.

What might such a new paradigm look like? The rest of this memo is obviously speculative, and presents a personal point of view of what an ideal Russian-American relationship might look like twenty or thirty years in the future.[2]

  1. Russia and the United States would be partners in a new European (or perhaps even worldwide) security architecture. They would cooperate with other states in ensuring stability and strengthening governance in potentially unstable parts of the world.[3]
  2. The nuclear relationship between the two countries would be similar to that of the United States and Great Britain. In this environment, bilateral nuclear arms control would no longer be relevant. Instead, Russia and the United States would focus on counter-proliferation and multilateral nuclear arms reductions that include all states that possess nuclear weapons.
  3. Both countries would be working together to adjust the international security system to deal with China’s rising power. The ideal would be to incorporate China seamlessly into existing international security structures or to establish new structures in which China is a full partner.
  4. Russia and the United States would be partners in developing technologies to intercept long-range ballistic missiles that could threaten international security. This partnership would be extended to other potential partners, including the European Union and perhaps China and India.
  5. Both countries will work together to stem the potential danger from transnational threats such as terrorism, narcotics trafficking, and smuggling. They will also cooperate in dealing with the potential security effects of global climate change.

Given this set of aspects of an ideal security relationship between the United States and Russia, policymakers could work backward to develop a set of policies that could shift the world in a direction that would make some or all of them more likely to occur. For example, it may turn out that thinking along these lines leads to the realization that maintaining NATO in its current form is actually damaging to European security in the long run, leading to efforts to replace it with another organization that includes a broader range of states and does not carry the burden of NATO’s Cold War legacy. On the other hand, Russian planners may realize that their country does not face any threat from the West and can therefore transfer their military forces away from European borders and toward more likely security threats on its southern borders. Both of these scenarios seem to be completely unrealistic given today’s security environment, but interactive planners may find that they provide the best way to maximize their countries’ security in the long run.

Again, in this brief memo I have simply sought to provide some illustrative examples of this approach. The main point is not to focus on the specifics of the particular ideal state of the relationship but to make the case that an interactive planning perspective will be more likely to lead to improvements in security for both the United States and Russia than approaches based on a combination of continued mistrust due to Cold War legacies and piecemeal efforts to adapt existing institutions to new realities.

[1] All quotations in this memo are from Russell L. Ackoff, “The Corporate Rain Dance,” The Wharton Magazine, winter 1977. My thinking about this topic was greatly stimulated by Peter Perla, “Beyond alternative futures: Thinking about designing the future Navy,” CNA Quick Response Study CQR D0024818.A1, March 2011.

[2] Due to space constraints, I focus here only on security issues. A full analysis would also look at economic relations between the two states.

[3] Based on current trends, such areas might include Central Asia, the Caucasus, and the Middle East, but of course the zones of instability might be in completely different areas by that point in time.