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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

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The Power Vertical
The Power Vertical

The Power Vertical is a blog written especially for Russia wonks and obsessive Kremlin watchers by Brian Whitmore. It offers Brian's personal take on 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


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