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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

A True Father to His Troops

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At first glance, it would seem that the Nov. 20 gathering of the military's top brass was filled with positive news only. At the meeting, the commander in chief, President Vladimir Putin, said he was generally satisfied with condition of the armed forces, and Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov stressed that the development of the army and navy has been achieved thanks to the president's tireless efforts.

Putin emphasized the growing threat that the country is facing: "In violation of previous agreements, military resources of NATO members are being built up next to our borders. Of course, we cannot allow ourselves to remain indifferent to this obvious muscle-flexing."

Putin's response to the threat was suspending Russia's participation in the Conventional Forces in Europe treaty, a renewal of long-range strategic bomber patrols and further increases to the battle-readiness of nuclear forces that Putin said "should be ready to give a quick and adequate response to any aggressor."

Moreover, Putin decided to play the role of the caring "father to his troops." Putin spoke at length about the thousands of apartments that would be provided for military personnel of planned pay hikes and of promises to increase military pensions.

According to script, the image of the caring father of the troops should be combined with a certain sternness that is suitable for the commander in chief. In this capacity, Putin fired the military's chief of construction, blaming him for the fact that officers are still living in "stinking slums." Putin also staged a public dressing-down of a senior general over this same housing issue, despite the fact that the general was responsible for health care in the military and had no connection whatsoever with housing.

This is one example of how the commander in chief is increasingly alienated from the real state of affairs in the military. We can only guess what he meant in referring to NATO's "muscle-flexing" on Russia's borders. Perhaps he meant the four jets that patrol the airspace of the Baltic states?

Putin's impassioned speech stood in sharp contrast to the report given by Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov at the same meeting. It seemed to me that Serdyukov tried hard to avoid lying, as much as this was possible considering the circumstances. Instead, he chose a strategy of evading the truth by quoting percentages rather than concrete figures when discussing the most important problems facing the army. Serdyukov said the military "intends to have 44 percent of the armed forces serving on a professional, contractual basis." This allowed him to avoid the embarrassing fact that the projected number of contract personnel has been reduced by 20,000 people. Serdyukov also quoted percentages in order to exaggerate declines in mortality, crime and hazing among military personnel.

At the same time, Serdyukov made no mention of any external threats to national security. This is either because he honestly feels that this threat -- presumably from the West -- does not exist, or it simply means that the defense minister has no idea how to respond to the threat.

The only concrete piece of information concerning the re-armament of the military was the announcement that a single squadron of the S-400 air-defense system was placed on combat alert. In effect, this means that the first year of the plan to re-equip the army fell very short of its goals. Of the 17 ballistic missiles that were budgeted, only three Topol-M missiles were delivered. In addition, there was nothing said about the promised and much-expected modernize equipment for a long-range aviation squadron, six aviation and helicopter squadrons and seven tank and 13 motorized infantry battalions.

But Serdyukov has completely different objectives in mind for the army for next year. Without saying a word about big-ticket purchases of modern weapons, he laid out a detailed plan for utilizing old, outdated military systems. In addition, he also spoke about improving financial management, increasing logistical support and introducing new standards for feeding the troops better.

As we can see, there is nothing heroic here. Serdyukov is trying to put the army in at least some kind of order and to improve the way the armed forces are managed. Russia urgently needs to do this now when there is no serious external threat to security. The main obstacle to achieving this, however, is that Putin doesn't need the armed forces for the purposes of defending the country. He needs the military for public relations and propaganda purposes.

It seems that Serdyukov, who is trying to put the military's financial affairs in order, does not understand this very important fact.

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