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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

An Army You Can't Change

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There is clearly a serious conflict under way inside the Defense Ministry. First one newspaper then another ascribed plans for a major reorganization of the armed forces to the General Staff. The flow of leaks did not stop even after the possibility of large-scale changes was vigorously denied by both Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov and the chief of the General Staff, Yury Baluyevsky, to whom the project has been attributed. From this, one may conclude that the leaks are being organized by an opponent of the project -- for after the leadership of the Defense Ministry has spoken, any discussion of the chances for reorganization looks like a gross violation of discipline.

These reorganizations are hardly innovative. They run, in short, as follows: There is a proposal to make all nuclear weapons carriers -- submarines, strategic bombers and land-based missiles -- subject to a single command. Beyond this, all units and joint formations of the ground forces, Air Force and Navy should be brought together into three "sectors" (that is, strategic commands): west, east and south. And the main commands of the formations and branches of the armed forces, with the exception of the Strategic Missile Command, are to be disbanded. All six current military districts would be liquidated, as would the four naval commands.

In reading this, anyone who, like me, kept track of the armed forces during the course of the 1990s should feel deja vu. In 1998 a proposal for the creation of a strategic reserve force by Defense Minister Igor Sergeyev gave rise to bitter conflict with chief of the General Staff Anatoly Kvashnin, who held that that the removal of nuclear weapons from the normal armed services complement would result in the degradation of the services and the demotion of the General Staff. At the same time, Kvashnin torpedoed a proposal for the creation of operational and strategic commands by military districts. It should be noted that all these plans were developed under the leadership and with the direct participation of Baluyevsky, who at that time headed the main operational command of the General Staff. But at some point, having surveyed the opposing forces, Baluyevsky decided to line up with Kvashnin.

But the victory on the bureaucratic front of one military leader over another did not solve the problem that has troubled the armed forces for 30 years -- the inability to organize and carry out an operation involving several formations and branches of forces. It is indicative that there is not even a term in Russian for "joint operation." The only answer possible here is the creation of strategic sectors -- or, more precisely, strategic commands -- joining land forces with those of the Air Force and Navy. So it would be entirely logical to suppose that Baluyevsky would return to his old plans. The Western and Eastern Strategic Commands were created at the beginning of the 1980s on the initiative of Marshall Nikolai Ogargov, then chief of the General Staff.

But this wise idea was never realized because there is an essential difference between the functions of the strategic commands and those of military districts. The purpose of a strategic command is to plan and conduct military operations using only the forces and means at its command, land, air and naval. To this end, the command organizes the military training of the forces subordinate to it.

But a military district is the main strategic unit of the armed forces. It conducts mass mobilizations in case of war and musters reserves. In other words, a military district plans operations based on the military capabilities of divisions that exist only on paper; its command simply cannot do military planning or direct varied force formations.

The military establishment wants a large draftee army and almost no draft deferments. But if it prevails, there's no doing away with military districts and their archaic multistage command system. Without changes in the draft, the creation of sectors will only mean strengthening the military districts and another round of shake-ups in the higher echelons of the military bureaucracy.

From time to time, the military-political leadership has tried to introduce innovations characteristic of a modern military, such as contract service and a General Staff relieved of operational command. But elements of a new military machine cannot simply be stuck into a military model of Old Testament vintage. Attempts to do this will necessarily lead to a profanity of the military. The existing model, using universal military conscription, simply repels any changes based on the existence of a professional army. You can't change the army without changing its essence.

Alexander Golts is deputy editor of the online newspaper Yezhednevny Dzhurnal.