Thursday, November 15, 2007

Window on Eurasia: Russia’s Military Decaying Under Putin, New Study Says

Paul Goble

Vienna, November 15 – Russian President Vladimir Putin has repeatedly claimed that his country’s armed services are on the rebound from the disastrous 1990s, but a new study prepared by Russian researchers argues that in fact the Russian army continues to decay and is not able to meet the most important emerging security challenges.
Because the Moscow Institute of National Strategy experts who prepared this report have often been critical of Putin and his approaches to national security in the past, many in Moscow and elsewhere are likely to dismiss its overall conclusions as nothing more than a pre-election attack on the Russian leader.
But even if some of their conclusions are overstated, the specific data they offer in support of them nonetheless provide a disturbing picture of a military in decline and thus merit reporting and the attention of all those concerned about Russia’s national security strategy.
The full text of the report has not yet been posted online, but Russia’s New Region News Agency provided a detailed summary of its contents yesterday (, and. Moscow’s “Gazeta” newspaper offered an overview (
The authors of the report focused on three inter-related topics: the adequacy of Moscow’s military doctrine in the face of rising threats, the adequacy of Russian government funding for materiel both strategic and conventional, and the condition of the military’s human capital, its officers and men.
In each case, they offered a devastating portrait of conditions, one at odds not only with the statements of President Putin but also with the assumptions of many foreign governments who need to be in a position to respond to what the government of the Russian Federation may do.
First, the Institute of National Strategy authors say, Russia’s current military doctrine is too wedded to the past and fails to address what the country needs to counter emerging threats from China or the Islamic south. As a result, Moscow is deploying resources in ways that will not promote national security now and in the future.
Second, despite Russia being “awash in oil money,” the Russian government under Putin has increased spending on the military only 15 percent as of 2006 from the low average of the 1990s. As a result, the report’s authors say, the Russian military is increasingly far beyond in the deployment of new strategic and conventional weaponry.
Since Putin came to power, they note, the Russian military has put into service only 27 new rockets, one-third fewer than his predecessor Boris Yeltsin did, and the armed forces have suffered if anything even more in the conventional area because the government has not replaced equipment lost in the fighting in the North Caucasus.
And third, the Russian military faces a crisis in personnel. In the past, the report suggests, Russian officers and men have often behaved heroically even when they have not had equipment equivalent to what their opponents did. But now, the likelihood they would do so in the future is reduced because of their sad conditions.
Some of the problems in the officer corps they call attention to – the aging of Russian pilots and the departure of top officers for civilian life -- have been widely reported in the past. But others, which may have an even greater impact, have not been the object of as much attention, at least when presented together as in this report.
Draft resistance is increasing, they report, because of the low status and bad conditions soldiers in the ranks face. And consequently, the report notes, the military has been forced to induct people whose health, mental state, or criminal background would have kept them out before.
Problems among contract soldiers were also highlighted this week in a statement by the Coordinating Council of Law Enforcement Organs of the Military in which it was reported that these people alone had committed more than 3500 crimes during the first ten months of this year, 25 percent more than in the same period last year.
Aleksandr Golts, the military observer of Moscow’s Yezhednevniy zhurnal, traced this problem to the failure of the Russian military to produce professional sergeants and said that most of the “professional” soldiers were little more than “mercenaries” (
As for the officers, who in the Russian military still form its backbone, the report notes, two-thirds of officer training school graduates leave the service as soon as they can, according to the military’s own data, and an even higher percentage – 83.3 percent – of them say they have no intention of making the military a career.
Those who do remain face a bleak life, the report says. Thirty-six percent of the families of those in the Russian military live below the poverty line. More than half – 52 percent – of Russian officers have to take a second job to make ends meet, and almost one in five now relies on his wife for the greater share of total family income.
And for those who do make the military a career, their future as retirees is appalling. According to the report’s authors, someone who retires as a colonel in the army receives a pension that is only a third that of his counterpart in the Interior Ministry and only a quarter of what an FSB colonel would receive.
Not only does that make cooperation among these security services more difficult and guarantee that many officers are the way up will think about leaving the service in order not to face such a future, but it also means that the Russian army is an ever less effective force, the authors of this study conclude.
Indeed, they say, the condition to which Putin has reduced the military likely means that the only enemy the Russian armed services will be able to take on is the people of the Russian Federation. But that, they imply, may be the most dangerous opponent the current Russian president now faces.

UPDATE FOR NOVEMBER 28; The full text of the report is now available as a PDF file at

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