Saturday, June 23, 2018

Officer Shortage in Russian Army Leads to Commissioning of Two Classes of Lieutenants This Year

Paul Goble

            Staunton, June 23 – Historically, the Russian military has commissioned a single class of lieutenants each year; but this year, because of changes in training arrangements for those in higher educational institutions and because of a shortage of officers in the Russian army, it is commissioning two classes, one last March and a second in October, Izvestiya reports.

            As a result, the Moscow paper continues, there will be approximately 2,000 newly-minted lieutenants entering service, “three times more than last year,” with experts insisting the “accelerated” program “will not reduce the quality of the preparation of officers” (

            The defense ministry says it plans to have two classes next year as well but then to return to a single class in the following years once the shift in the preparation of officers enrolled in higher educational institutions from five years to four has been fully achieved. This four-year program represents a return to what was standard at the end of Soviet times.

            Many will likely see this boost in the number of new officers as an indication of the Kremlin’s future military plans. After all, as Izvestiya points out, “the last time” there were such additional classes was in 1999 and 2000 when the army needed more officers “for conducting the counter-terrorist operation in Chechnya.”

Caspian Littoral States Reportedly Agree on Division of Inland Sea

Paul Goble

            Staunton, June 23 – The Russian government has approved a draft agreement on the legal status of the Caspian and urged Vladimir Putin to sign it, Kommersant reports today. The government’s action and the accord itself were put up on the government’s portal yesterday, but then the agreement was removed, a possible indication there may be more drama ahead.

            But if the accord it approved, the paper says, it will make it possible for any of the five littoral states to build a pipeline on the seabed without having to obtain the approval of the other four before doing so, thus opening the way to one between Turkmenistan and Azerbaijan that Moscow has long opposed (

                The accord may create another problem, however. It specifies that no armed forces of third countries may use the sea or the ports on it. If understood in the way Moscow almost certainly will insist, that would complicate the agreement between Kazakhstan and the United States on the use of the port of Aktau for transshipment of military materiel to Afghanistan.   

                The issue of the delimitation of the Caspian arose after the disintegration of the USSR when instead of the inland sea being divided between the Soviet Union and Iran, it had to be divided among Russia, Iran, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan.  Negotiations over its terms have been going on for more than 20 years. 

            According to the Moscow newspaper, the chiefs of state of the five are slated to sign the 18-page accord at the Fifth Caspian Summit now set to take place in the Kazakhstan port of Aktau on August 12.  The five governments have given preliminary approval, it says; but it reports there may be yet another round of talks before August.

            The draft accord, as put up and then taken down from the Russian government portal, specifies that the five littoral states have exclusive rights to use the sea and calls for the recognition of territorial waters extending up to 15 nautical miles from shore for each and an additional 10 nautical miles of protected economic zones.

            The rest of the sea is to be defined as a water space for common use. The seabed is also to be divided into national sectors; and for much of the last quarter century, that has been the major sticking point to an agreement because it is under the seabed that rich deposits of oil and gas are located.

            Russia and the three post-Soviet states agreed to the division of the northern portion of the sea according to what is called “the modified median line” rule, but Iran has insisted on having control over 20 percent of the seabed and not the 13 to 14 percent that rule would leave for its exclusive use.

             Significantly, the draft convention, Kommersant reports, “does not introduce complete clarity on the issue of the delimitation of the seabed. Instead,  it says that the sides will reach agreement the basis of negotiations and in accord with “generally recognized principles and legal norms.”

            But because multiple principles and norms exist, that suggests there is no real agreement on this critical issue at all. Stanislav Pritchin of the Moscow Institute of Oriental Studies says that this is no surprise given that divisions still exist over that issue and that this will allow for a division of the sea in the north where there is an agreement and the south where there isn’t.

            In addition to establishing the principle that the Caspian is a sea and not a lake, however, the five littoral states would appear to be tending toward the principles the four countries led by Russia favor as opposed to those pushed by Iran. But that in turn means that the debate about the Caspian seabed will continue even if an agreement on the surface appears to have been reached.

Russia’s Civil and Military Shipbuilding Collapsing

Paul Goble

            Staunton, June 23 – Russia’s shipbuilding sector, both civilian and military, has significantly contracted over the last four years and appears certain to continue that trend at least this year and next, according to a detailed new 73-page report prepared by Moscow’s Higher School of Economics.

            In 2014, the study says, Russian yards produced 252 large ships (those over 20,000 tons). In 2015, that number fell to 200; in 2016, to 168; and in 2017 to 150. The Higher School projects that it will produce 108 and that in 2019, it will launch only 79, less than a third of the number it completed only five years earlier.

            The number of civilian ships produced fell at a more rapid rate than the number of military ones, the report continues; but the latter number fell as well. Nonetheless, of the 770 ships produced in the last four years, 434 of them were for the Russian military, both the navy and other siloviki. 

            In three of the five Russian shipyards, building vessels for the navy and for government projects like the Northern Sea Route now predominates, driving out civilian production which has been having a hard time attracting investors in any case.

            Russia now is not among the world leaders in shipbuilding. It lags far behind China, South Korea and Japan, which together produce more than 90 percent of the world’s commercial vessels. Russia in 2016, the Higher School of Economics study says, produced only 0.5 percent of them.