Friday, 25 February 2011

Russian Army Reform- Roubles don’t count as Reinforcements

Russian Army Reform- Roubles don’t count as Reinforcements
Russia has ‘unveiled new army reform plans’, for the next ten years, according to a few news sources.
The story hasn’t caused much of a ripple this time, because it’s been heard so many times before.
What do the ‘reforms’ amount to now?
-600 new planes
-1000 new helicopters
-100 warships
-20 submarines
-a new model of ICBM to be revealed later this year, with 10 warheads to the current Topol’s three.
-10 brigades worth more Iskander tactical missiles over the next decade
-limited amounts of foreign hardware such as French ‘Mistral’ helicopter carrying ships will also be purchased where Russia can’t make the equipment itself.

Lots more buying of equipment, 650 billion dollars worth in fact. It’s not army reform though.

The legendarily opaque and labyrinthine Russian government structure does a good job of hiding the fact that armed forces reform seems to be going at a snail’s pace, if at all. And Russian commentators are some of those least amused. 


Far from trying to paint it in rosy colours, a Pravda article of the 17th February slammed what it sees as a regression in the Russian armed forces. 

It looked at a report by NATO experts made public by WikiLeaks. The experts concluded that Russia’s armed forces could only sustain ‘small or medium scale’ conflicts, had an inflexible officer corps and showed poor inter-branch coordination. Inability to cope with the weather was also identified.

However the conclusions of NATO experts were positively timid compared to those of home grown analysts. Russian military expert Vladimir Shurygin looked at some specific examples of actual attempts at military reform rather than just spending sprees-

Cadre divisions were replaced with ‘cadre brigades’. This was supposed to improve staffing levels but proved a mere name change, not improving combat readiness at all.

One of the most pressing needs for the Russian army is for a much smaller, much more professional officer corps. The response, perhaps from a petulantly resisting officer corps, has been the mass closure of military schools. The result is, in Shurygin’s own words, is ‘a virtual suspension of officer training’. So perhaps the numbers of new officers coming in will decrease, but all that’s left will be a shrinking, stagnated rump.
That’s far from all though. One of the biggest problems is the shameful treatment by officers and non-commissioned officers of their own men.

"It's already so bad, you wonder how much worse it can get… We'll continue to see thousands of people running away from their units every year. We'll continue to see the killings, the suicides, the physical injuries, the psychological damage."

A quote about Abu Ghraib prison perhaps? About Guantanamo Bay or a Taliban torture camp? Sadly not. This was taken from a report written in 2004 about conditions inside the Russian armed forces. That’s what’s done to new conscripts by others from their own side.

By 2007 the problem had become so horrific and ruinous to morale the Russian government lowered the term of service from 2 years to 1.5. Then in 2008 to 1 year. It’s hoped that although more conscripts may have to be rounded up as a result, the problem of systematic bullying may be alleviated. Partly for this reason, the Russian public is flatly opposed to conscription and wants to see it ended.

Militaries all over the world have experienced internal violence ever since war was around. But since the creation of truly industrial age, mass armies in the twentieth century, the nature of such violence has changed. In other armies oppression from seniors to juniors is called hazing, or a variety of other names. But specifics of time and place seem to give rise to particularly brutal manifestations of it. 

In the Soviet/Russian armed forces it became known as Dedovshchina, or ‘rule of the granddads’. It may have started in World War Two when the Red Army started putting prisoners in uniform as ‘penal battalions’ and sent them to clear minefields by walking over them, amongst other things. Or some say it started in 1967 when a new law in the Soviet Army meant some conscripts were serving two years at the same time as others were serving three. The ‘granddads’ were the conscripts in their final year and it came to operate like systems of bullying everywhere. The older conscripts viewed meeting out humiliating and vicious punishment to newcomers as ‘revenge’ for what they had suffered. Whereas there had most likely been oppression in the past in the Russian armed forces, this pushed it into bullying and on into outright torture

After the collapse of the Soviet Union the forces’ budget evapourated. The command structure was left as a shell and self respect amongst what remained of the chain of command disappeared. In place of the once strict rules governing military behaviour there grew an anarchic terror which destroyed the army from within. The level of violence which developed is truly staggering. 

Soldiers are made to beg to superiors and are forced to give them money and cigarettes sent from home. They are made to do all manner of humiliating and degrading tasks. Any infractions of a whimsical set of rules results in horrendous punishments. The ‘dried crocodile’ means a conscript has to hang with hands and feet against his bed’s boards. They are burnt with cigarettes or hit with wet towels wrapped around fists so it leaves no bruises. Some older conscripts decide to dispense with subtlety. Outright beatings have left soldiers with broken bones, chronic headaches and spinal injuries. Many of these injuries mean soldiers can’t even do their job any more. One soldier who had the telltale signs of a childhood limp could run with the others. But once the ‘deds’ (Dedushkas, Granddads) found out they beat him so relentlessly doctors said he would never have that ability again. Another had his jaw broken in a particularly vicious beating because he hadn’t left his ‘ded’ enough mashed potato at dinner.

One case which shocked the world as to how far standards had fallen was that of Andrey Sychyov. In December 2005 Sychyov and seven other soldiers were beaten for three hours by their seniors. Sychyov was then forced to squat for four hours with his hands tied behind his back while a sergeant continued to beat him. Only a few days later was Andrey transferred to a local hospital were doctors found he had numerous broken bones, trauma to his genitals and gangrene in his legs. As a result of his injuries, doctors had to amputate his legs, genitalia and a finger. There were allegations the army tried to cover up the story and keep doctors silent. However one of them told the Committee of Soldier’s Mothers, a charity campaigning for soldiers’ rights, and they told Andrey’s mother. She was told she couldn’t see Andrey until January 10th but on January 7th another doctor told her to come quickly as Andrey might not last the night. As it was he survived, but was crippled by the brutality of his fellow soldiers. In response to the case, one conscript was given a mere four years in prison. Andrey was nineteen years old. 

In 2006 the New York Times reported that at least 292 Russian soldiers were murdered whilst undergoing Dedovshchina (officially the figure is 16, still a national outrage in most countries), and that there had been 3500 reports of abuse up until August that year. The brutality also has huge knock on effects. Hundreds of soldiers, terrified of when their next (and possibly last beating) is coming commit suicide. Hundreds more try it, contemplate it, or are reduced to nervous wrecks by the experience. Thousands desert the army, some armed and having shot other soldiers in revenge or shoot others sent to bring them back. Some trek months across Russia to try and get back to their families or to charities. 

It’s hoped the reduction in terms of service will help to reduce the problem. But many agree that only major reforms, namely the creation of professional, experienced sergeants (they are currently chosen from amongst the men and serve no longer than them), and ultimately a professional, volunteer army will stop a situation were the average soldier is more at risk from his own side, than the supposed enemy. Counts in 2010 revealed that as many as three thousand soldiers die because of bullying in the Russian armed forces every year.

The only way armies can truly tell if they are effective is, regrettably, by fighting wars. The last war the Russian army fought was against Georgia in 2008. As Shurygin warns, “we should not brag that we defeated Georgia in less than a week. If the opponent was a little more serious it could have ended differently.” Specific examples of incompetence were incidents of friendly fire. Shurgyin points out that two out of the seven Russia aircraft shot down in the war were done so by their own anti-aircraft batteries. 

If those officers and their men were trained better, and cooperated better there might not be the need to buy so many new planes.