Last Chance of Russia's Defense Minister

The president does not like to be humbugged
On Monday, Russia President Vladimir Putin ordered to look into the abortive launching of ballistic missiles in the Barents Sea during the recently conducted military exercises. In fact, it means the president ordered Defense Minister Sergey Ivanov to conduct new exercises and said he would inspect them, Russia's NTV television reports.

Vladimir Putin said: "It is important to set up a commission to look into the reasons of the failure, to have a thorough research within a rather short period of time and report elimination of all defects. It makes sense to plan activities of a narrower scale than it was last time, however the activities must be practical so that I could see that defects are eliminated."
The Bezopasnost - 2004 (Security-2004) military exercises dated for the presidential election were at first considered to be a PR action purposing three aims. First, the exercises were to become some kind of a report from Defense Minister Sergey Ivanov to Supreme Commander-in-Chief Vladimir Putin on the alertness of the armed forces.

It is rumored that Sergey Ivanov will hold a different position in a new Cabinet. That is why it is important for him to demonstrate achievements in the sphere of military reforming and armed forces modernization. It is no wonder that failures are obvious in both spheres. It is more important just to proclaim that there are some achievements. Russia has an elite paratrooper division where the process of switching to contractual service has been lasting for two years already. The division is Russia's pride demonstrated to all foreign delegations. Unfortunately the situation is unfavorable in other army branches; the situation may be saved thanks to Sergey Ivanov's idea to recruit contract soldiers from former Soviet republics to serve in the Russian army for the Russian citizenship.

Little success has been achieved with the army modernization as well: there are just few samples of new-generation arms that are of practically no use there. However, Sergey Ivanov is taking much effort to increase the Defense Ministry budget from year to year.

Second, any military exercises are traditionally treated as demonstration of the country's force. Third, military exercises conducted before the presidential election is a good measure to draw attention of the patriotic electorate.

But the exercises turned out to be absolute failure, as three planned launching of ballistic missiles were not a success. The military experienced failure in front of numerous TV cameras and in the presence of the president who inspected the manouevres. Two launchings of RSM-54 Sineva ballistic missiles were not a success at one of the stages of the exercises on February 17-18. Experts suppose the missile start from the Novomoskovsk missile cruiser was blocked with the navigation satellite. Others say the failure occurred owing to the disrepair of the Tobol-M navigation complex, the missile itself or the launcher. Next day, a missile was successfully launched from the Karelia submarine, but swerved from the trajectory in 98 seconds and self-destructed. Seamen explain the failure with errors in the missile control system and with wrong aiming.

In any case, the whole of the world had a chance to see the fighting efficiency of Russia's missiles. Recently, Acting Defense Minister Sergey Ivanov admitted at a session in the Kremlin that even more problems were revealed during the military exercises. At the same time, Sergey Ivanov assured the supreme commander-in-chief that a special commission had started an investigation in the Northern Fleet. The commission consists of groups representing the interests of science, industry and army. The Navy commander-in-chief is to leave for the Northern Fleet inspection in the nearest time as well.

The recent session in the Kremlin became an obvious confrontation between the supreme commander-in-chief and high-ranking military men. This time, Vladimir Putin did not shield Navy Commander-in-Chief Vladimir Kuroyedov the way it was after the tragic demises of the Kursk and K-159 submarines. The very fact that statements of the president and generals contradicted each other revealed that the military traditionally concealed facts which made no sense to conceal at all. For example, First Deputy Chief of the General Staff Commander Yury Baluyevsky made attempts to persuade journalists that strategic exercises were traditionally conducted every year and were no sensation at all. At the same time, Vladimir Putin said being on a visit to Plesetsk that military exercises of this scale had not been conducted within the past twenty years. After the failed missile launching, Navy Commander-in-Chief Vladimir Kuroyedov officially declared that those were planned conventional launchings and the missiles were not to get out of the silos. The Vremya Novostei newspaper reports that the legend of the Navy commander-in-chief was destroyed with Putin's order to find out the reasons of the failure.

Expert Opinion

Army expert Alexander Golts said in an interview to Germany's Die Welt that Russian military yield to "the instinctive temptation of lying" each time they experience failures. "This fact reveals degeneration of army men," the expert thinks. He adds, it is sad that they at the same time make a laughing-stock of the president when they do not report truth. Thus, Vladimir Putin looks a puppet in the hands of the military.

Another army expert, Deputy Director of the Center for Analysis, Strategy and Technology Maksim Pryadushkin says the image of the Russian armed forces has been seriously marred no matter if the fact of an emergency incident is proven or not. Indeed, the military exercises were supposed to demonstrate Russia's power.

This does President Putin credit that he has ordered to look into the failure of the military exercises no matter that the military insisted the action was a success. However, it is not quite clear what exactly is to be improved. The incident is obviously the result of unfavorable situation in the army which requires thorough and serious measures to be taken. Vladimir Putin ordered to conduct repeated exercises of a narrower scale within the nearest time. This probably means the authority is anxious not about security of the country but about high-quality PR campaigns.

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Author`s name Michael Simpson