Written by Sergei Ischenko; Originally appeared Svpressa, translated by AlexD exclusively for SouthFront
What the Departmental Board Meeting with the Participation of the President Showed
Every New Year’s Eve, the Russian Federation’s Ministry of Defence turns red from all the generals’ stripes. At the annual extended board meeting in the last days of December the entire team of the Armed Forces, the General Staff, Arms and Services, military districts and fleets from across the country meet. And almost always, the President of Russia, members of the government and the Security Council of the Russian Federation and the representatives of the defence industry. Thus, the results of the past year are summarised from each participant and the challenges facing the troops in the near future.
Those who for some time observe attentively this gathering would certainly notice that in the current 2017, all was similar but not quite. The expanded board of the Ministry, which was held on Friday, December 22, clearly stood out from the common variety.
The first peculiarity was very conspicuous. It seems unclear why the current December general gathering was not held as usual on Arbat Street in Moscow in the main building of the military department, where the leadership of the country could get in a matter of minutes from the Kremlin. No, the total congress, top generals for the first time in history were held outside the Moscow ring road, in Balashikha. More precisely, at the Operational-Strategic Command for Missile-Space Defense in the name of Peter the Great, which moved to this suburban city in 2015.
The main secret reason for such a step, I believe, is hidden in the introductory speech from the Supreme Commander Vladimir Putin at the extended board meeting. Aside from the usual words of gratitude for the audience, skilfully conducted operations in Syria and for the great work done in 2017 to improve the defence of the country, the head of state made a number of strong foreign policy statements. In particular, the fact that on Russia’s borders in recent years the “high conflict potential” is increased by the United States. Putin considers, above all, the alarming developments on the Korean peninsula and the Middle East.
But of greatest concern of the Supreme Commander, judging by his introduction today is Europe, “where at an accelerated pace a build up of NATO and US infrastructure proceeds”, which “undoubtedly, carries an offensive character”. Putin directly accused Washington of actual violation of the treaty on the elimination of intermediate-range and shorter-range nuclear forces (INF) of 1987. According to the Russian President, “in Romania, they are already deployed, and in Poland, the American universal launchers of missile defence systems are being deployed. Technically they are dedicated as anti-missiles, but the fact is, that these are universal installations. They can be used for launching existing sea-based cruise missiles with a range of 2,500 kilometres, and in this case they cease to be sea-based missiles; they can be easily moved on land, on the territory. That is, launchers for missiles at any time may become launchers for cruise missiles of average range”.
Nevertheless, Putin warned several times about this. But, apparently, there is new evidence for the Kremlin’s greater concern: the military budget of the US for 2018 allocated money to create a mobile land-based missile system with a range of up to 5,500 kilometres. Even if it is known that the IFN Treaty directly prohibits the development and production of such weapons with a firing range of over 500 kilometres.
The President is confident that in the eyes of the world, Washington intents to unilaterally throw this document in the trash bin. Just as the USA did with the ABM Treaty.
All threats of this scale are directed at Russia only, but she has a quite effective and impressive answer with its strategic missile force. Thus, Putin confidently sent a new warning to Washington from the podium installed in the main institute of “Doomsday Troops”. For greater credibility and visibility. Overseas, I think, they could not ignore or appreciate it.
However, those in the Kremlin who planned such a meaningful and spectacular PR move, I think, have not considered one essential circumstance. The same Military Academy RVSN in the name of Peter the Great apparently is not in the best of fighting form. A big scandal had erupted around the relocation of the Academy to Balashikha from the embankment of the Moscow River, a stone’s throw away from the Kremlin, two years ago. Many authoritative military scientists warned that the consequences of the move to the suburbs would be a sharp decline in the level of training of officers of the strategic missile forces for years, which would be disastrous for the combat readiness of the strategic missile forces as a whole.
Let us recall briefly the arguments for this view as follows:
— at the time of the move in 2015, the Academy in the name of Peter the Great, had 112 PhDs and 412 candidates. There were 24 academic schools, including the five leading institutions in the country, six dissertation councils of the higher attestation commission with the right to conduct closed defences of doctoral and candidate dissertations in five science fields and 17 academic disciplines. The majority of the scientific and teaching staff, as usual were of an advanced age. The majority clearly were not going to go to work in the Zamkadye in Balashikha instead of the centre of Moscow. Moreover, practically any of these famous-in-their-own-circles-of-scholars would be received with open arms by any technical institute and university of the capital.
How many of the once brilliant scientific constellation of academics are teaching today at the new location, the Ministry of Defence for obvious reasons does not advertise. We can assume no more than a third. And this means that many unique scientific schools in the most important spheres of defence for the country simply fell apart;
— the academy in the name of Peter the Great is simply a unique learning base. First of all, it has huge specimens of strategic intercontinental ballistic missiles. Or, for example, an impressive aeroballistics track complex for the development of laser technology, a unique armoured chamber where scientific experiments were carried out on explosions. There was simply no space for all these goods in Balashikha. Major construction work, hastily deployed, attracted 2.3 million people and 250 units of special equipment, as successfully reports today the Ministry of Defence of the Russian Federation, there is little change in this regard. The restoration of the educational material bases of this magnitude from scratch in any rush work and any expenses requires many years, and to prepare strategic missile forces in Balashikha must be done today. Many of the most difficult things explained to them were probably just on “fingers” or as pictures on computers.
Why, despite a lot of very justified protests by the military, addressed to Putin personally, was all this done two years ago? No one explained anything to the country or the military publicly. Although, of course, everything is very transparent considering the fact that before September 2015, the Academy of the Strategic Missile Forces stationed on the territory of the historical complex of the former Imperial orphanage, built in the year 1764-1770, and then as the Tsarist Mikhailovsky Artillery Academy. This site according to various estimates is ranging from 11 to 20 hectares. According to experts, each hectare here at the auction is capable to “pull” up to $250 million. Then on this piece of land a new construction mega-project can be developed, such as the reconstruction of the hotel Rossiya located nearby and developing in its place the wasteland park “Zaryadye”. Everything is close by. And at the Kremlin’s doorstep.
Perhaps to convince the President two years ago that everything has been done correctly in Balashikha before the Board of the Supreme Commander held on the new facilities, erected in record speed, where in Russia now the Crimean Bridge is being built. A new laboratory in the “Hi-Tech” style and still-smelling-of-paint sports complex with a sparkling pool, a spacious gym, locker rooms and training equipment. The only thing that is unknown is, did they explain to Putin, for instance, where are the armoured chamber and the aeroballistics track, which were a few steps away from the Kremlin residence of the head of state?
Talking about the full Board-2017, one cannot but mention another surprising development, one that somehow does not have any precedent. When the turn came for the Minister of Defence of Russia, Sergei Shoigu to report, in a break with tradition, decided not to be limited to the narrative about the path traversed by the Armed Force of Russia over the year. No, the backswing was wider as Sergei Shoigu suddenly at once reported on the five years, which he spent at the head of the defence department (from November 2012). Briefly, the essence of these outcomes can be expressed by the succinct formula: “Some victories!”.
— “In the past five years the Armed Forces received: 80 intercontinental ballistics missiles, 102 ballistics missiles for submarines, three submarine cruisers of the strategic class “Borei”, 55 satellites, 3237 tanks and other armoured fighting vehicles, more than one thousand aircraft and helicopters, 150 ships, six submarines, 13 coastal “Bal” and “Bastion” missile systems;
— “significantly changed the personnel of the Armed Forces. The number of conscript soldiers decreased by 50 thousand from 290 thousand to 240 thousand people, and the strength of the military men passing military service through contract, increased from 162 thousand in 2012 to 384 thousand at the present time”;
— “457 thousand people were provided with housing, of which, 149 thousand have secured service apartments, 120,900 received permanent housing, 107,700 troops received compensation for housing rent, and 79,400 people were eligible for mortgages”;
— “since 2012, in Russian society there is a progressive increase in the approval of Armed Forces’ activities. Thus, negative evaluations have decreased by 4,5 times: from 31 to 7 percent. Today, 64 percent of Russian citizens believe that military service is a good life school for young people. Currently the Russian Army is trusted by 93 percent of the population, the highest in the entire history of sociological measurements”.
We will leave on the side the question whether Shoigu as Minister of Defence was blessed with some victories. We will note as well that normally the report on the work done is presented to the authorities when they are about to leave the old chair and move to a new one. Usually a higher one.
If so, unwittingly the suspicion is laid that Sergei Shoigu these days is preoccupied. And what? The presidential elections are around the corner. Putin’s victory is almost predetermined. Many believe the dismissal of the not too popular among the people Dmitri Medvedev from the Prime Minister post is as well. Then the Kremlin will have to find a replacement. So is Shoigu not suitable for this role, the main veteran of the Russian government, sitting in since the early days of Boris Yeltsin?
In this case, the final Board meeting of the Ministry of Defence, though non-traditional, but is still an understandable reason to remind the head of state about his own “some victories” over the past five years. But other reasons for the departure from the established canons of the final Board meeting of the Ministry of Defence are somehow inconceivable. But we will see, the wait is not that long.