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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Civilian Control, Army Style

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It is unfair to say that Russia's leaders still live according to concepts inculcated during their KGB training and are incapable of learning anything new. A good case in point is the recent open-mindedness demonstrated by Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov.

Seven years ago, when he was secretary of the Security Council, Ivanov spoke at a seminar devoted to armed forces development. After listening to presentations by a number of prominent analysts, Ivanov, whose subordinates had already formulated the council's new military doctrine, said the advice was pretty much superfluous.

A year later, Ivanov was named minister of defense. Despite the fact that he is a retired security services general, this was branded a civilian appointment. It became clear last week, however, that Ivanov cannot guarantee civilian control of the army on his own. From now on, a new proposal suggests, civilian oversight will be performed by the Public Council created last November under military auspices. Ivanov told the council at its first meeting last week that a major part of the group's job would be to create an atmosphere of openness between the army and the public.

A leadership that wasn't willing to listen to anybody on the subject seven years ago is now prepared to hear recommendations from a group of actors, singers, businesspeople and journalists. Even Valentina Melnikova, head of the Soldiers Mothers' Committee, is part of the group, even though Ivanov recently accused the organization of taking money from foreign sources to promote the collapse of Russia's military.

The council's recommendations may not amount to much anyway. Even with Melnikova, there are few members who understand the problems within the army. The leading voices at the last meeting repeated the same hackneyed excuses for conditions in the military we are accustomed to hearing: Hazing is a result of the moral shortcomings of society in general; criminality in the armed forces can be eliminated with patriotic education; and suicides among servicemen are mostly due to unrequited love.

Another public association chimed in last week with suggestions concerning military policy. The Academy of Military Sciences held a conference devoted to developing a new military doctrine. The report from the academy's president, General Makhmut Gareyev, stated that "it is impossible to separate nonmilitary from military threats, and both should be considered as an organic unity." This means that anything can be interpreted as a threat, from the colored revolutions that so frightened the Kremlin to general criticism of the authorities.

Even more interestingly, Gareyev said the United States was no longer able to "bear the burden of world leadership," and that it is time for Russia to step forward to fill the role of a geopolitical arbiter. Given the academy's tradition of focusing on "large-scale" military operations, this new doctrine is a little alarming, if not provocative.

It's not hard to understand the new focus the Defense Ministry is paying to getting the public involved. The armed forces are in such deplorable shape that presidential hopeful Ivanov has to find someone with whom to share the blame. This also is part of the reason why the ministry is interested in hearing from the Academy of Military Science with regard to military doctrine.

But neither of these agencies is particularly suitable as a civil society body. Only one with real authority can effectively exercise civilian control and formulate military policy. In a democratic state, that role is exercised by the parliament. The vertical integration of power under President Vladimir Putin, however, has reduced the State Duma to nothing more than a subsidiary of his presidential administration. It is unable to perform this oversight function. The body that has been created to assume this role is referred to as the Public Council in an effort to mask its impotence. If it works, be prepared for this chamber model to be followed in a number of other government departments.

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