Publication: The Military Balance 2012
07 March 2012
Chief of the Russian General Staff Nikolay Makarov said in mid-September 2011 that most goals of the modernisation process launched by President Dmitry Medvedev in late 2008 had already been achieved or were nearing completion. However, the reforms have not always run smoothly. Changing requirements and budgeting difficulties mean some ambitions have not been realised on schedule and others not at all. The army’s transformation to a combined-arms brigade-based structure is proceeding, albeit more slowly than the ministry initially envisaged. The internal composition of these units continues to be refined in organisational terms, and the precise number of permanent-readiness brigades remains a matter of debate.
Personnel issues continue to bedevil the modernisation process, with poor manpower planning and poor conditions for contract servicemen and conscripts, as well as difficulties in the creation and maintenance of an effective senior NCO cadre. Lack of foresight in the management of officer recruitment prompted a recruitment freeze last year, but there is still a temporary glut of junior officers (see text box). However, there has been some progress in modernising certain defence and ministry processes.As noted in The Military Balance 2011 (p. 173), some commercial practices are being imposed. For instance, base catering and other services have been outsourced, as has ground refuelling at air bases and airfields. Meanwhile, the purchase, from France, of Mistral amphibious-assault vessels was a significant development in Russian defence procurement.
Modernising the equipment used by military personnel is another challenge. President Medvedev criticised the failure to place several orders detailed under the 2010 State Defence Order, and several officials in the ministry and some state enterprises were eventually sacked. In July, Medvedev apparently demanded a report from the defence minister on similar problems with the 2011 order. Administrative delays such as this have compounded the often low rate of production seen across some defence industries, all hampering the ambition to field more ‘modern’ military hardware for changing military forces.
Efforts continue to overhaul not only command structures, but also command philosophy. Initiative, and devolution of command authority, are intended to be written into field manuals. In June 2011, Makarov told a course graduating from a higher military academy that the armed forces had changed during their two years of study, and now required ‘highly intellectual managers’. In September, his explanation of the Centre 2011 strategic military exercise – with its focus on independent action by brigade-level units and interoperability with other government agencies practising post-conflict stabilisation – carried echoes of the ‘Comprehensive Approach’ to stabilisation. The extent to which joint strategic commands are authorised to take action without reference to Moscow remains the subject of debate; at the same time, it is argued by senior Russian service personnel that part of their purpose is to maintain closer control over the troops in their areas, to prevent uncoordinated and unauthorised action such as occurred in the early stages of the armed conflict with Georgia in August 2008.
Vladimir Putin’s decision to stand for election as president again in 2012 is not expected to have a significant effect on the military transformation process; the forcing through of reform against substantial opposition has shown that Defence Minister Anatoliy Serdyukov enjoys considerable support across the Putin–Medvedev team.