Prospects of Military Reform in Russia Are Bleak

Yevgeny Volk /

Russian military (Photo by Newscom)

MOSCOW — The drastic military reform plans articulated by Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov in mid-October are meeting with a sweeping opposition in the armed forces. The planned cuts among officers more than twofold — from 315,000 to 150,000 — are a matter of grave concern among mid-ranking officers that are going to be the reform’s main victims. Unrest in the officer corps is translating into open protest here and there.

What measures is the Russian military leadership taking to ease the situation? They are typical of the Soviet-era approach to addressing problems — classifying all information about adverse developments. In mid-November Chief of the General Staff, Army General Nikolay Makarov signed a directive titled “On Prohibiting Disclosure of Information Concerning Revamping the Russian Military.” In fact, it introduces harsh censorship over disseminating and publishing information about the military reform and prohibits unveiling the data concerning the military’s problems and the troops’ attitudes.

Clearly, classifying the information about the opposition to the military reform will hardly contribute to pushing it through. The overhaul is affecting the interests of the military elite by clipping their influence and opportunities. Russia’s economic crisis will only exacerbate discontent and protest moods among officers. With the military and secret services serving as the principal pillars of the incumbent regime, abusing their interests could undermine its social base. It is worth recalling that it was Nikita Khrushchev and Mikhail Gorbachev-initiated radical military cuts deprived them of the top brass backing and eventually resulted in their demise.

Both Medvedev and Putin could be fully aware of the lessons. Thus, the chances that the military reform in its current format will be implemented are bleak. But should Medvedev unexpectedly show too much zeal in pressing ahead on the reform, it could cost him dear. Then Putin’s comeback as president could occur much faster than anticipated.