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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

DEFENSE DOSSIER: Army Housing a Shambles




The Russian Military Prosecutor's Office did its best this week to show the public its drive to eradicate corruption in army ranks. Journalists from all Moscow-based television channels were invited to the headquarters of the 16th Air Army at Kubinka, 70 kilometers west of Moscow to see the guilty punished and justice done.


Kubinka is the biggest and the best known military air base in the Moscow region. Military attaches and foreign VIPs are regularly taken to Kubinka to observe Russian military air parades. When the Moscow weekly Moskovskiye Novosti recently reported widespread corruption and misuse of military property in Kubinka, the reaction of authorities was instant.


Last Tuesday, military prosecutors said several Air Force generals illegally occupied some nice apartments in Kubinka that were built by the German government for Russian officers withdrawn from former East Germany. The generals allegedly used forged documents to obtain them. Military courts-martial are under way to evict the mischievous generals and hand over the handful of apartments involved (no more than five) to needy officers' families. But apparently no criminal charges will be pressed, given that the apartments continue to be state-owned, and the prosecutors say they have no evidence that any bribes were paid.


Instead, the chief of the Kubinka base's public utilities, Colonel Leonid Abramov, was charged with negligence under Russian criminal code chapter 293. A local military prosecutor told me, however, that Abramov is "simply a scapegoat and will eventually get off scot-free, because all we have is evidence that he was rude to tenants and did not perform essential maintenance of living quarters. In any case, he did not have enough of a budget to do maintenance. Abramov was appointed only a year ago and cannot be responsible for all things rotten at the Kubinka base."


Many local Kubinka air base residents live in appalling conditions, but they told me that pressing charges against Abramov is not what they really want. "We need better housing and good remont [renovation] instead."


Many Kubinka-base pensioners and women also told me they are infuriated by the official decision to close the local food market after the Moskovskiye Novosti publication. The market sold cheap goods, but the traders were not government-employed, as required by law on military bases. Now the Kubinka residents will be forced to shop off the base or use the expensive and unreliable government-owned Voentorg, the military's general goods store.


Still the locals were obviously excited to see NTV, ORT, RTR and other television crews from Moscow swarming down on the desolate township of some 20,000 residents. They were asking the journalists: "When will you put us on the air? Will our life improve?"


The journalists tried to be as noncommittal as possible. They knew nothing good was coming these people's way.


The three-star general Viktor Vlasov, who heads the housing directorate in the Russian Defense Ministry, readily told me: "Defense Ministry housing is in bad shape and getting worse by the day. The Defense Ministry owns more than 40,000 blocks of flats all over Russia but has no money to maintain them. We need at least 13.5 trillion rubles [$2.27 billion] for housing maintenance per year, but the draft budget for next year allocates only 2.4 trillion rubles."


Soviet military officers were guaranteed free government-built apartments for services rendered to the state. This feudal system has over the years turned military bases into townships, in which two-thirds of the households are now civilian -- retired officers, their family members and other relatives. They all are no longer employed by the Defense Ministry, but they are unwilling or unable to leave their apartments. This creates an irrational situation. A high-ranking official from the Russian Defense Council told me that the Defense Ministry currently employs 400,000 active service officers and owns more than 1 million apartments, but still cannot find housing for 100,000 "homeless" officers.


The present-day military employment scheme is constantly producing more officers demanding free apartments. Meanwhile, previously built apartments are rapidly crumbling because of lack of maintenance. Apparently, some Russian generals are simply waiting to see tempers flare up in the ranks of the military. Then, they say, the government may find the necessary money.


Pavel Felgenhauer is Segodnya's defense and national security affairs editor.