September 21, 2012:
The Russian armed forces are at war with themselves as they continue to fail in their efforts at reform. The government is trying to buy its way out of the problem. Russia is increasing defense spending from $115 billion this year to $135.5 billion next year.
This is not good news to many Russian commanders, who view the rampant corruption and poor morale as likely to absorb most of the additional money without changing much. Commanders are particularly upset at the failure of Russian defense industries to deliver worthwhile and reliable new weapons. The government has addressed this by purchasing Western gear and the manufacturing technology necessary to build it in Russia. In this way the government hopes to upgrade Russian defense industries and get the Russian military the equipment they need. What the generals and admirals really want is a return to the old system of specially trained procurement officers spending a lot of time at the factories and design bureaus, making sure the work was done correctly. But that system was destroyed in the last decade and is not coming back.
In modern times Russia has undergone four periods of major military reform. The first was in the early 18th century under Czar Peter the Great. The next was under Field Marshall Milyutin in the late 19th century. In the 1930s, over a dozen daring reformers made the military ready for modern warfare. However, most of these men were executed by a paranoid dictator, Josef Stalin, just before World War II. For over 60 years there was not much more reform, until 2008 when Defense Minister Anatoliy Serdyukov sought to recast the Russian military into a force similar to those found in the West. This meant fewer officers and conscripts, more NCOs and volunteers plus new equipment, weapons, training methods, and tactics.
Shrinking the officer corps proved bad for officer morale, as could be expected. Moreover, most of the good officers had left after the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, and the Russian military saw its budget slashed by 80 percent. Building an NCO corps was difficult because the 1930s reforms had got rid of it (because officers, all members of the Communist Party, were considered more politically reliable than NCOs). The big problem is the collapse of the Soviet era military industries. With orders from the Russian military disappearing in the 1990s, many of these firms disappeared or switched to civilian products. Those that survived did so with export orders. The defense industries lost their best people, who left for better paying jobs overseas or in new non-defense firms in Russia.
Then there's the corruption, which expanded in the military in the 1990s, as the size of the force shrunk over 70 percent. Officers and troops sold off a lot of unneeded military equipment and officers stole money they had control over. This caused all sorts of problems, from lack of maintenance for equipment and barracks to shortages of fuel (to stay warm during the severe Russian Winter) and food (causing hunger and even some starvation deaths among lower ranking troops). For most of the last decade military prosecutors have been busy sending corrupt officers to jail. But that has not eliminated the problem. Low troop morale also remains a problem. Thus it should be no surprise that the government has given priority to keeping nuclear weapons, and the missiles that deliver them, in good shape. As for the rest of the armed forces, change is coming very slowly.