Monday, June 15, 2009

Russian Military Cuts Leave Soldiers Adrift

Col. Oleg G. Malgin and other Russian officers are housed in a former flophouse near Moscow

Published: June 11, 2009
NY Times

KUBINKA, Russia — Next to a parking lot here is an orphan of a building that could be mistaken for a large toolshed. It was once used as a flophouse by transient workers who put up nearby apartments, but was then deemed by health inspectors to be unfit for humans. Mold coats the walls like graffiti, ceilings are crumpling and rats skulk about.

Yet for the last seven years, the building has been home to several high-ranking Russian Air Force officers, their wives and their children. “In truth,” said one of them, Col. Vyacheslav V. Solyakov, “the military has turned us into vagrants.”

The dismal condition of the assigned housing for the officers is a telling sign of the state of the armed forces nearly two decades after the Soviet Union’s fall. And now, the officers are facing what they view as a final humiliation: they are to be discharged in the coming months as part of the most significant military overhaul in generations.

The Kremlin wants to revamp a top-heavy institution by sharply cutting the number of officers and carrying out a long overdue transition from a cumbersome military machine designed for a land war in Europe to a lithe force that would handle regional wars and terrorism.

Though praised by military analysts, the plan seems likely to create a corps of tens of thousands of disgruntled former officers who are entering an economy suffering from the financial crisis.

With Russia’s economy strong in the years before the crisis, the Kremlin tried to improve the military by increasing spending on equipment and training. But senior officials acknowledge that the war in Georgia last August exposed severe deficiencies, despite Russia’s easy victory.

The armed forces have 1.1 million people now, including 360,000 officers, and the plan is to cut the officer corps to 150,000, officials said. The reductions, first announced last year, have stirred sporadic demonstrations by officers, and some longtime generals have resigned in protest or been pushed out.

Officers who served in East Germany or fought in Afghanistan in the last days of the Soviet empire, who waged Russia’s ferocious campaign to suppress a Muslim insurgency in Chechnya — no matter, they are being let go.

And the men here in Kubinka said they were convinced that the government, which had already let them down by housing them in the shed, would completely abandon them by refusing them the benefits that they deserved.

“Everyone is very upset,” said Col. Yevgeny S. Ugolnikov, 49, an aviation engineer who joined the military in 1983. “There are no prospects for our futures. We have no apartment, no possibility of finding a job. How are we going to get by? It’s totally impossible to know.” [...]

The officers, who are assigned to an air force base in Kubinka, said they were no longer reluctant to speak out, despite military restrictions on going public with their problems. They said they suspected that the only way they would receive proper benefits would be to pay bribes. Corruption iswidespread in Russia, and the military is considered to be especially afflicted.

Salaries in the Russian military have long been low — some of the officers here said they were paid $600 a month — but one perquisite that seemed to compensate for the pay was a rule that long-serving officers received a proper apartment when discharged.

Col. Anatoly N. Zhuravlyov, 46, a tenant in the building until recently, said his superiors told him that he would get an apartment only if he paid a kickback of $18,500. [...]

No comments: