The Moscow Times
PUTIN IN STALIN'S FOOTSTEPS
By Pavel Felgenhauer
It's official: President Vladimir Putin has declared the end of military reform in Russia. Meeting with military top brass in the Kremlin this week, he announced that any talk of a serious reorganization of the so-called power ministries should end. It is time to optimize and rearm the existing armed forces, the president said.
Military reforms that started in 2000 with promises to drastically cut personnel and at the same time boost the quality of troops and create a leaner, more efficient, better armed and trained force have been abandoned. The Defense Ministry in its official statements has not even used the term "military reform" for over a year.
The power ministries consist of four separate military bodies that are the successor organizations of the Soviet Defense Ministry: the Defense Ministry, the Emergency Situations Ministry, the Railroad Troops and Spetsstroi (a highly secretive department in charge of building bunkers and nuclear installations).
The overall number of personnel in these four departments is more than 2.5 million, including civilian employees. Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov is officially considered a civilian, although he has the rank of two-star general. Emergency Situations Minister Sergei Shoigu is in active service and has the rank of four-star general.
There are also four militarized agencies that are successor organizations of the KGB: The FSB counterintelligence service, that now commands the Federal Border Service with their separate air force and navy also; the Foreign Intelligence Service, or SVR; the Federal Guard Service; and the president's bodyguard. More than 600,000 people in total. The bodyguards alone are over 200,000 strong.
Unlike the KGB and the Soviet Defense Ministry, the Interior Ministry was never broken up and indeed the number of Interior Ministry military personnel has grown substantially since Soviet times. The Interior Ministry army consists of motor-rifle (armored) divisions and a separate combat airforce, as well as regional police and paramilitary forces that have been used as auxiliary infantry in the Chechnya war also. The total number of uniformed, armed Interior Ministry personnel is more than 2.5 million.
The Justice Ministry is also a militarized organization: Its special forces (spetsnaz) have been fighting in Chechnya.
Personnel of the Prosecutor General's Office also wear uniforms with epaulets. Military prosecutors in the army and the navy are also part of this office. Prosecutors in military fatigues are present en masse in Chechnya, taking part in antiterrorist operations.
A new militarized anti-drug agency is being created in Russia. Its military personnel may also be used in Chechnya in the future. The State Customs Committee is also a militarized department, but its personnel do not fight in Chechnya. The Foreign Ministry is, according to the Constitution, a power ministry. It has its own intelligence service and military personnel serve in it. All of these power ministries are directly subordinate to the Kremlin and do not report any of their activities to the Duma or the general public.
The actual number of federal employees, especially military personnel, is not regularly reported to the public. In many cases it is still considered a state secret. From time to time, this or that government official reports on personnel figures, but it's never possible to verify them and they seldom add up. Because of the lack of official statistics, I am using my own estimates in this column.
After the demise of the Soviet Union, Russia did not demilitarize or seriously cut the overall number of military personnel. The power ministries continue to be totally secretive and their activities remain out of the public's reach. Now it's clear that Putin does not want to change this situation.
When meeting Western leaders, Putin often talks of the need for partnership and integrating Russia with the West. Inside Russia, Putin emphasizes his desire to recreate and reinforce a great Soviet-style military derzhava. These two faces of Putin seem to contradict each other.
It's now clear that the Kremlin wants Western investments and technology to refurbish Russia's economy and double GDP, so that it will have money to rearm and recreate a Soviet-style global military machine that could in the future threaten the West. This is a strategy that was successfully employed by Josef Stalin in the 1930s -- Putin clearly wants to copycat.
Pavel Felgenhauer is an independent defense analyst.