NEWSLINK: Russian defence: Reform and be sacked: The firing of Russia’s defence minister may be a setback for military reform

File Photo of Segei Serdyukov with Bob Gates

(Russian defence: Reform and be sacked: The firing of Russia’s defence minister may be a setback for military reform – The Economist – November 10, 2012 –

The Economist covers the sacking of former Russian defense minister Anatoly Serdyukov:

“Anatoly Serdyukov, Russia’s defence minister from 2007 until November 6th when President Vladimir Putin fired him, was never much of a military man. He had previously sold furniture in St Petersburg and served as a tax minister. With little patience for the top brass (whom he called little green men)…. Many officers whose privileges Mr Serdyukov threatened rejoiced at his downfall.

Mr. Serdyukov was caught up in a corruption scandal over Oboronservis, a company that manages property and other assets owned by the armed forces of which he was chairman until last year. Investigators claim the company was involved in the fraudulent sale of some $100m in state property. Yet murky business dealings are rarely a cause for dismissal in Mr Putin’s Russia.

What may have undone Mr Serdyukov was the addition of a familial offence. He is married to the daughter of Viktor Zubkov, a Putin intimate and former prime minister who is chairman of Gazprom. But Mr Serdyukov struck up a liaison with Yevgenia Vasilyeva, an aide and board member at Oboronservis. A tabloid internet site with connections to the security services reported that, when investigators arrived to search Ms Vasilyeva’s flat at 6am on October 25th, Mr Serdyukov was also there.

The issue of military reforms remains:

His replacement by Sergei Shoigu, a loyal Mr Fix-it for Mr Putin, raises questions over military reform. Mr Serdyukov was a competent administrator, able to overcome resistance to change. Under his predecessor, Sergei Ivanov, now Mr Putin’s chief-of-staff, the defence budget rose with little impact on effectiveness: it was the old Soviet army, just smaller….

… [The Russian military] was to be refashioned for missions it might have to undertake: interventions in post-Soviet neighbours, counterterrorism and antipiracy operations, and fighting insurgencies. Gone was the notion of fighting a big land war in Europe. That also pointed to a phasing out of conscription and a gradual move towards a professional army.

Mr Serdyukov was meant to make the numbers work. In shrinking the bloated officer corps and closing down units … number of officers shrunk from 400,000 to 220,000. A structure based on unwieldy divisions was swapped for one based on smaller, nimbler brigades.

The 2008 war with Georgia also offered lessons. Although Russia won, victory was messier and harder than it should have been. The armed forces struggled to co-ordinate with each other, with pilots taking orders from one headquarters and ground troops from another. In 2009 they moved to a unified command structure that eliminated duplication and streamlined battlefield communication.

Much remains to be done  …”

The defense industry is a major factor for reform, as is the state of the economy:

… the weakest link in Russian military reform [is] the defence industry. Although aerospace is impressive, many factories making hardware for the armed forces rely on outdated technology and production methods that prop up jobs but do little for the armed forces’ needs….

Another question is what Russia can afford. Alexei Kudrin, a former finance minister, says new weapons may cost 3% of GDP in the next three years, which means either higher taxes or freezing health and education spending ….”

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