01.02.2012, Kaarel Kaas
In “Russian Federation 2012. Short-term Prognosis.” , Karmo Tüür (Ed.), “Politica” series Vol. 11, Tartu University Press, 2012. Pp. 40-44
The assessment of possible developments in the Russian Armed Forces and defence sphere given in the previous edition of this symposium may be considered partially correct.
Contrary to the prediction, at the moment when this forecast was written (December 2011) both Defence Minister Anatoly Serdyukov and Chief of the General Staff General of the Army Nikolai Makarov continued to hold their offices. Nevertheless, in the author’s opinion, replacement of Messrs Serdyukov and Makarov is still probable and may happen within the next few months or after the 2012 presidential election, at the latest.
In the fall of 2011, the candidacy of Dmitri Rogozin, the Russian ambassador to NATO, was aired in Russian media for the minister of defence position. The current Commander of Airborne Troops Lt. Gen. Vladimir Shamanov was earlier predicted to become a new Chief of the General Staff. Insofar as political situation in Russia remains volatile in the aftermath of the State Duma elections held in December 2011, all kinds of staff decisions are subject to change over time.
The strengthening and reinforcement of the Black Sea Fleet with new vessels (partly by transfer of surface ships from the Baltic Sea Fleet) has not started yet either. It was caused by delays in Russia-Ukraine negotiations on treaty provisions regulating the reinforcement, arming and supply of the Black Sea Fleet. According to Russian officials, there was a very high probability of finding a mutually acceptable solution with Kiev in the fall of 2011; the failure tellingly illustrates the dependence of assumptions about the Russian defence planning on short-term political circumstances. According to Russian media, if the negotiations with Kiev reach a deadlock, vessels intended for the Black Sea Fleet will be used to reinforce the Baltic Sea Fleet instead.
Yuri Dolgorukiy, a new Borei-class (Project 955) strategic nuclear submarine, has finally entered service in 2011 and Alexander Nevsky, the second submarine of this class, has started sea trials, but the last trial launches and entry into service of the new strategic nuclear missile Bulava which is intended for deployment on Borei-class submarines have been postponed until 2012.
Contrary to the prediction in the last forecast, commissioning of Severodvinsk, the first Yasen-class (Project 885) nuclear attack submarine, has been postponed until the second half of 2012.
Developments in the Ground Forces, Air Force and other service branches mostly went as predicted. On the whole, in 2011 the Russian leadership managed to achieve a degree of stabilisation in the military shaken by radical reforms.
Shift to a professional army
The most important principal change, however, occurred in the enlistment policy of the armed forces. Since the launch of the military reform in the fall of 2008, conscription was emphasised as the enlistment principle of the Russian Armed Forces: of the total of one million-strong military personnel, 65–70% had to be composed of conscripts serving 12-month periods and the number of contract privates and sergeants (kontraktniki) had to be cut to the minimum, i.e. to approximately 100,000 men.
However, by the fall of 2011 a new and radically different approach was adopted – a gradual decrease of the share of conscripts to 10–20% of the total military personnel and a prioritised increase of the number of contract privates and sergeants to approximately 425,000 men by 2016–2017.
A systemic reform programme of the mobilisation reserve of the Russian Armed Forces played a background for the decision to increase drastically the number of contract soldiers. According to current plans, the reserve component of the armed forces will be cut to 700,000 men who will be financially compensated for maintaining constant readiness and participation in training exercises. Actually, it is an attempt to introduce a professional army’s reserve model, basically copying modern models generally accepted in the Western countries.
Thus, it means a turn to the professional army model. It is too early to say whether this decision will be upheld in the future. Russia is known for making similar strategic decisions carelessly in the past only to overrule in the same careless manner choices presented as final a couple of years before.
Expansion of officer corps
Another important principal change in 2011 was to give up an initial reform objective to cut down the number of officers in the Russian Armed Forces to 150,000 men. According to new plans, the total number of the officer corps shall reach approximately 220,000; the need for the increase was substantiated by the bigger personnel requirements imposed by a new service branch – Air and Space Defence Forces. According to Russian analysts, the need to adjust the officer corps’ size was actually caused by a simple fact that the initial calculations did not take into account some elementary things such as scheduled vacations, sick leave, training leave etc.
At the same time, a successful motivation of the officer corps and enlistment of contract privates and sergeants directly depends on whether the federal budget for 2012–2014, approved at the end of 2011, will be kept in its current form.
The current budget provides for the allocation of massive amounts on defence spending, salary increases for military personnel and weapons procurement. The total Russian defence budget will increase to 1.853 trillion roubles in 2012 (20.5% increase compared to 2011), to 2.329 trillion roubles in 2013 and to 2.737 trillion roubles in 2014. This growth is also remarkable considering the share of defence spending in the total Russian federal budget – 13.9% in 2011 and rising to 18.8% in 2014. Financial resources intended for the implementation of the state rearmament programme – 1.109 trillion roubles in 2012 alone – shall be added to the aforesaid amounts.
Huge salary increases for the Russian military personnel are planned from the beginning of 2012. Until now the average salary of contract privates and sergeants has been 8,000–10,000 roubles, but starting from 2012 a contract private shall receive 30,000 roubles and a lieutenant newly graduated from a military school shall receive 50,000 roubles.
According to Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, the increase of military salaries and pensions will require approximately 1.5 trillion roubles in 2012. So far low salaries and pitiful living conditions were one (but not the single) reason why the enlistment of contract soldiers has run into problems.
Thus, salary increase is an important factor to attract sufficient numbers of qualified personnel to the Russian Armed Forces which, in its turn, is a prerequisite for the achievement of overall military reform objectives.
Impact of domestic policy
Domestic political situation in Russia has become the most important external factor influencing developments in the military. The final outcome of the wave of protests that engulfed Russia after the recent State Duma elections is presently difficult to predict. Dissatisfaction with the incumbent regime is already starting to influence – and will probably increasingly influence – the budget policy of the current Russian leadership. According to this policy, the major spending items of the federal budget in 2012 and subsequent years will be the armed forces, state defence order, security services etc., whereas amounts allocated to education, health care and similar social spending will decrease even in absolute numbers.
The growing public discontent and pressure on the budget policy of the ruling regime might yet force Putin’s team to revise the current budget towards substantial cuts in defence spending. Another possibility is a significant change of power structure in the state’s top leadership which may also result in a revision of budget priorities. It would mean a setback for the Russian military.
Nevertheless, although direction of domestic developments in Russia is of key importance for the armed forces in 2012 and subsequent years, such prediction is outside the scope of this forecast.