Medvedev’s year-end assessment and Rogozin’s arrival

Yesterday, President Medvedev gave his annual state of the country address to the Federation Council. He spoke for a fair bit about the military, although there was little new information in what he said. Mostly, he just talked about how everything was getting better all the time and according to the government’s plan. But along the way, little facts crept in that paint a somewhat different picture.

First of all, Medvedev mentions that next year, there will be 220,000 officers and 180,000 contract soldiers (including professional sergeants) serving in the military. That’s the same number of contract soldiers as were mentioned as serving at the beginning of this year. What happened to the plan to recruit 50,000 new contract soldiers every year? Furthermore, a bit of simple arithmetic will show that the supposed 1 million man Russian army is a fiction. The total number of conscripts serving right now is approximately 350,000. That means the total strength of the military is 750,000, not 1 million. Or am I missing something? And given that the fall call-up was only 136,000 (compared to 218,000 last spring), if the spring call-up is about the same, by next summer we’ll be looking at a military where over 30 percent of all posts are actually vacant. Unless an extra 100,000 contract soldiers materialize between now and then because of the coming salary increase. Somehow I don’t see this as very likely.

Medvedev’s second point had to do with progress in the modernization of military equipment and weapons. I covered this in my last post, so I don’t think there any more to say on the problems facing that direction of reform.

Next came two areas where some progress has actually been made — making the military more mobile and compact and increasing salaries and social protection for people serving in the military. While there is still much left to be desired in both areas, at least there is movement in the right direction on both counts. The military’s reorganization over the last couple of years has increased mobility and (at least theoretically) improved combat readiness. Changes in training and exercises are also positive, especially in terms of the scenarios being exercised, though more can be done on that score. Salaries and pensions are increasing substantially, starting in January.

Medvedev concluded his discussion of the military by addressing problems with housing. He mentioned progress in building apartments for those on waiting lists, though not the problems that have surrounded the actual construction of the apartments. Furthermore, and not at all surprisingly, the deadlines have continued to slip, this time to 2014. The complete resolution of the housing problems always seems to be about 3-4 years in the future, ever since Sergei Ivanov’s claim in 2006 that everyone on the waiting list will have an apartment by 2010. Of course the mass forced retirements significantly added to the queue, but nevertheless, and especially given the problems with some of the construction, I would wager that 2016 is a more realistic estimate.

Finally, in addition to Medvedev’s statement, there were also some important personnel changes announced today. In conjunction with the game of musical chairs being carried out in the aftermath of the post-election protests that began earlier this month, Sergei Ivanov was appointed to be Chief of Staff in the Presidential Administration. This freed up his previous position — deputy prime minister in charge of the defense industry and military procurement, a position that has now been given to Dmitry Rogozin, who was previously Russia’s ambassador to NATO.

This appointment serves two purposes. First of all, it will (if only temporarily) quell the rumors that Rogozin was about to replace Defense Minister Serdiukov. Second, it will give Rogozin an opportunity to show his managerial qualities (if he has any). Ivanov was about as bad at the military procurement position as he was at being defense minister, so it may be that Rogozin’s penchant for strong language comes in useful in pushing for defense industrial reform. Though it’s far more likely that Rogozin will continue his tendency to make big controversial statements that generate a lot of publicity, without actually doing much of anything.