Monday, February 23, 2009

Window on Eurasia: Was Start of the Georgian War Linked to Russian Defense Reorganization?

Paul Goble

Vienna, February 23 – Georgia may not have known in advance, but Tbilisi could hardly have chosen a better time to send its forces into South Ossetia last August given that Russian Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov began to reorganize Russia’s military on August 8 without waiting for the Duma to approve a new military doctrine, according to a Moscow defense expert.
In an expanded version of an article he published in “Sovetskaya Rossiya” last week, Anatoly Tsyganok, who heads the Moscow Center for Military Forecasting, pointed out that the “Serdyukov’s ‘reforms’ precisely corresponded” with the launch of Georgia’s military operation (
“It is difficult to say whether they knew in Tbilisi that in fulfilling the strictest orders of Mr. Serdyukov,” Tsyganok writes, “the Main Operational Administration and the Main Mobilization Administration on the morning of August 8th began to shift their property into the headquarters of the former Warsaw Pact.”
And thus, “by selecting [this] date for the intervention,” he continues, Tbilisi was not so much timing its action to correspond with the opening of the Beijing Olympics as many have thought but rather doing so in order to take advantage of the disorder that inevitably accompanies such moves.
And Tsyganok says, it is thus not surprising that, as a result of this coincidence, “many officers of the Russian General Staff found out that Georgia had begun an operation against South Ossetia only from television news.” And he pointedlhy adds that “the situation of August 8th recalls the events of June 22, 1941,” given Moscow’s inability to counter on the same day.
Tsyganok, who is a frequent critic of Serdyukov and the military suggests that “at a minimum,” three people should “bear responsibility for this:” Serdyukov, Army General Nikolay Makarov, the chief of the Russian Federation General Staff, and Maj. Gen. Oleg Eskin, the deputy defense minister in charge of information systems.
Whether the Moscow analyst is correct in his surmise or whether his extensive sources in the Russian military and defense ministry are feeding him with stories intended to reinforce Moscow’s repeated claims that Georgia rather than Russia began this conflict, of course, is difficult to say.
But his charges in this respect will certainly attract attention to his broader argument that the Russian defense minister is carrying out reforms without the foundations they need, something that Tsyganok suggests could leave Russia in a far more difficult military position than it is now in (
In his extraordinarily detailed article, Tsyganok makes three main points: First, he says, Serdyukov began carrying out reforms before the government approved a military doctrine or a concept of national security, proceeding exactly in the reverse order to what logic requires. As a result, many of the thing he is doing may have to be reversed, at great expense.
Moreover, the defense minister has carried out this reform with little or no input from the officer corps, thus adding to the anger and fears many of them have because they are at risked of being forcibly retired as Moscow reduces the size of its military across the board over the next decade.
Second, Serdyukov’s plan to move from the traditional four-level division of forces to a three-level system not only ignores the experience and training of current officers, Tsyganok says, but the rapidity of such a move guarantees breakdowns in communication and command and control that will undercut the ability of the military to defend the country.
And third, the defense ministry’s relationship with business – the minister routinely says that “business and the military are one” – not only increases corruption but means that there is the strong suspicion that many of the current Serdyukov “reforms” are designed not to enhance defense capability but enrich people in the ministry and elsewhere.
To address these issues, Tsyganok calls for the Duma and Federation Council to create “a special commission on military reform” not only to examine what has been done up to now but also to monitor on a day-to-day basis what is happening in the defense ministry and ensure that money appropriated for defense purposes goes for that rather than for anything else.

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