Friday, November 28, 2014

The Power Vertical

Dissent In The Ranks

Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov's military-reform plan is sparking discord in the armed forces. Could it lead to social unrest as well?

As part of the reform, Serdyukov plans a massive downsizing of the officer corps. As many as 300,000 officers are expected to be either laid off or forced into retirement over the next three years. The Defense Ministry is committed to providing housing for more than 100,000 of them.

But in the December 18 edition of the "Eurasia Daily Monitor," Moscow-based defense analyst Pavel Felgenhauer makes an interesting observation:

"Unemployment and mass social distress are, in fact, highly possible. [Prime Minister Vladimir] Putin has acknowledged that housing in big cities like Moscow and St. Petersburg is too expensive to provide for retired officers. Most will be given housing in the Russian provinces, where real estate prices are much lower but there are also many fewer opportunities for employment, especially during the current depression. Retired officers may be stuck in economically depressed areas, with insufficient or no pensions and housing that is virtually worthless on the free market."

As I have written here, the Communist Party has already latched on to the issue and is threatening massive street protests against Serdyukov's reform.

Meanwhile, there are more signs that opposition to the changes is growing in the national security bureaucracy.

Security Council Secretary Nikolai Patrushev announced that a new national security doctrine would be adopted in February. General Yury Baluyevsky, the former head of the General Staff, will chair the working group charged with drafting the new doctrine.

In a commentary published in "The Moscow Times" on December 16, military analyst Aleksandr Golts notes that Baluyevsky, "who resigned in March reportedly over opposition to Serdyukov's reforms, will not support the minister's plan to downsize the army."

So what is going on here? Golts has an explanation:

"Baluyevsky's project to produce a new military doctrine is an old trick that has used by generals to bog down reforms indefinitely. This is how it works: First, they argue that a doctrine is required before any reforms can be implemented. Then they construct a doctrine suggesting that the United States and NATO are the main military threats to Russia, which jibes with many of Prime Minister Vladimir Putin's and President Dmitry Medvedev's positions. In this way, the generals can oppose Serdyukov at any moment by saying, 'Your ambitious plans to downsize the armed forces violate the letter and spirit of our military doctrine.'"

And if that's not enough, General Nikolai Makarov, who succeeded Baluyevsky as head of the General Staff, has gotten into a public feud with a leading member of the State Duma over the reforms.

Speaking to Russia's Academy of Military Sciences on December 16, Makarov said that Russia's war with Georgia exposed severe weaknesses in the capabilities of the current officer corps:

"To find a lieutenant colonel, colonel, or general able to lead troops with a sure hand, you had to chase down officers one by one throughout the armed forces, because those career commanders in charge of 'paper regiments and divisions' just could not resolve the tasks set. When they were given personnel and equipment, they simply lost their heads, while some even refused to fulfill the given tasks. So I have a question: 'Do we need such officers?'"

That sparked a stern rebuke from Mikhail Babich, deputy chairman of the State Duma's Defense Committee:

"It seems to me that with this statement Makarov is trying to gloss over the inefficiency of General Staff structures that were in charge of the operation in South Ossetia. There had been more than enough time to get ready for hostilities because it was clear several months in advance that the conflict was inevitable.... So why lay the blame at somebody else's door? Officers put up their best performance, and, once again, it was the human element that meant we won our victory. On the other hand, mobilization, intelligence, reconnaissance, setting of tasks and promptly giving orders to the units that were to carry out those tasks were the elements that were bungled."

So we have disgruntled and soon-to-be-unemployed officers, feuding generals and politicians, and Communist agitation -- just as the economy is about to nosedive as oil prices continue to tank. The coming year could turn out to be very interesting indeed.

-- Brian Whitmore

Tags: serdyukov,baluyevsky,makarov,reform,military,Russia

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15:34 November 26, 2014


So by now, we've all seen how passengers in Krasnoyarsk had to get out and push their flight out of the snow...

...and we've all seen the snarky Twitter memes this has inspired...

...but have you heard about onboard drunken onboard brawl that grounded a flight in Novosibirsk?

12:41 November 26, 2014


12:33 November 26, 2014


Via The Moscow Times:

A lawmaker on the State Duma's Defense Committee has proposed banning the import of French wines in response to Paris' decision to suspend delivery of the first of two helicopter carriers to Russia.

"Let's ban the sale of French wine in Russia," Deputy Vladimir Bessonov told Russian News Service radio on Tuesday. "Even talking about this can bring about desired results," he said, without specifying what these would be.

France, under pressure from its Western allies to cancel a 1.2 billion euro contract ($1.58 billion) with Russia for Mistral-class warships, said earlier Tuesday that it was suspending delivery of the first of two carriers because of Russia's meddling in eastern Ukraine.


12:21 November 26, 2014
12:20 November 26, 2014


12:18 November 26, 2014


From RFE/RL's News Desk:


By RFE/RL's Russian Service

The editor-in-chief of an independent Russian news website says he will seek political asylum in the United States.

Oleg Potapenko told RFE/RL on November 26 that he has arrived in the United States despite efforts by Russian authorities to prevent him from leaving the country.

Potapenko is editor of, a news site in the Far Eastern city of Khabarovsk that has reported about the presence of Russian troops in eastern Ukraine.

On November 12, the openly gay Potapenko and his partner were prevented from boarding a flight from Khabarovsk to Hong Kong after border guards said a page was missing from Potapenko's passport.

Potapenko says the page was cut out by a police officer who requested his passport for a check earlier that day.

He told RFE/RL that he had managed to leave Russia from another city, Vladivostok, on November 16.


German Chancellor Angela Merkel says Russia's actions in Ukraine are a violation of international law and a threat to peace in Europe.

Speaking bluntly in an address to Germany's parliament on November 26, Merkel said, "Nothing justifies the direct or indirect participation of Russia in the fighting in Donetsk and Luhansk."

She told the Bundestag that Russia's actions have "called the peaceful order in Europe into question and are a violation of international law."

But she suggested there was no swift solution, saying, "Our efforts to overcome this crisis will require patience and staying power."

Germany has become increasingly frustrated over Moscow's refusal to heed Western calls to stop supporting pro-Russian separatists who have seized control of large parts of the Donetsk and Luhansk provinces in eastern Ukraine.

Close ties between Russia and Germany have been strained by the Ukraine crisis.

(Based on reporting by Reuters)


Ukraine has leveled fresh charges that Russia is sending military support to pro-Russian separatists in the east.

A foreign ministry spokesman said five columns of heavy equipment were spotted crossing into Ukrainian territory on November 24.

Evhen Perebyinis told journalists on November 25 that a total of 85 vehicles had been detected in the five columns that entered at the Izvaryne border crossing point from Russia.

"The Russian side is continuing to provide the terrorist organizations of the Donetsk and Luhansk people's republics with heavy armaments," said Perebynisis.

Separately, the Ukrainian military said one soldier had been killed and five others wounded in the past 24 hours as a shaky cease-fire declared on September 5 continued to come under pressure.

The six-month conflict in the east of Ukraine has left more than 4,300 people dead, according to the United Nations.

(Based on reporting by AFP and Reuters)



Russia has rejected accusations that it is planning to annex Georgia’s breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

Deputy Foreign Minister Grigory Karasin told RFE/RL’s Current Time program on November 25: “There can be no question about any annexations.”

Georgia and the West have criticized a "strategic partnership" agreement between Russia and Abkhazia signed on November 24.

Tbilisi condemned the pact as an attempt by Moscow to annex the region.

Karasin also said Russia will “continue sparing no effort, nerves, financial expenses” to make sure its neighbors “do not feel endangered.”

"As a large state and a powerful country, Russia is constantly responsible for stability on its borders and everything that is under way along its borders," he added.

Under the "strategic partnership," Russian and Abkhaz forces in the territory will turn into a joint force led by a Russian commander.


19:16 November 21, 2014


On this week's Power Vertical Podcast, we use the one-year anniversary of the Euromaidan uprising to look at how it changed both Ukraine and Russia. My guests are Sean Guillory and Alexander Motyl.

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The Power Vertical is a blog written especially for Russia wonks and obsessive Kremlin watchers by Brian Whitmore. It covers emerging and developing trends in Russian politics, shining a spotlight on the high-stakes power struggles, machinations, and clashing interests that shape Kremlin policy today. Check out The Power Vertical Facebook page or