Friday, January 13, 2012

Window on Eurasia: Most Officers in Russia’s Force Structures Unhappy with Regime, Security Council-Ordered Poll Finds

Paul Goble

            Staunton, January 12 – As many as nine out of ten officers in Russia’s force structures are “dissatisfied” with the decisions of the president and prime minister, according to a poll conducted by the country’s Security Council on the eve of the upcoming presidential elections and despite being marked “for official use only” published by “Argumenty i fakty” today.

            That figure would not be significantly lowered, the Moscow weekly reported, even if the government were to boost the pay and benefits of these officers as some have proposed, and this pattern, the publication suggested, justifies asking the question whether “the siloviki are ready for an ‘orange’ revolution” in Russia (

            This survey, “Argumenty i fakty” continued, was conducted in almost all branches of the Russian force structures, and the publication suggested that there was little good news for the regime in any of them, although the findings clearly do not necessarily mean that the Kremlin could not on these structures in the event of serious social and political unrest.

            The weekly reported that employees of the newly formed “police,” despite having had their pay boosted, don’t like the new name.  It cited the report as saying that “a general lowering of the moral basis for service” had been noted and that “no one of the officers queried support the new name.” Instead, they say “it is shameful to serve in the police.”

            Moreover, the report noted that the process of re-testing employees of the former militia was being used by “leading cadres to settle accounts with their subordinates” and that much of the intelligence capacity of the Interior Ministry had been lost following this change given “the departure of experienced specialists.”

            Officers surveyed and the SVR, Russia’s foreign intelligence arm, said they were “concerned” by the reduction in the status of their service “and the constant reduction in the number of operations carried out.”  Some officers said that “highly placed officials in private conversation say that our leadership is not interested in our work.”

            Officers at the FSB, the successor to the KGB from which Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and many of his associates sprang, were equally upset. According to “Argumenty i fakty,” the survey found that “senior officers” are upset by “the economic involvement of certain leaders” in what are at least nominally “private commercial structures.”

            As far as officers in the Russian armed services are concerned, the poll found that “the overwhelming majority of officers, despite an increase in their pay, are upset by the situation with respect to the distribution of housing” and also by “the lack of thought and consistency in the carrying out of reforms” in the armed services which they say have “weakened” the military.

            The news weekly concluded its report by saying that “it is still unknown whether the [Russian] president and prime minister had yet become acquainted with this sensational document,” one that “Argumenty i fakty” implied should be the cause of serious concern for the regime if the protest movement grows.

            If indeed the commanders of the Russian force structures are as unhappy with the regime as this report suggests, then that is a reasonable implication. But there are at least two reasons why such a reading may be overstated.

            On the one hand, the complaints of the officers are not yet about general policies but rather about the Kremlin’s decisions directly concerning them.  Consequently, even if the officers are upset with those, most of them are probably prepared to follow orders even if push comes to shove in clashes between the regime and the Russian population.

            And on the other, the unhappiness the officers exhibit may reflect nothing more than a corporate attempt to extract more resources or a freer hand from the regime in the run-up to the presidential election, given that Putin is clearly counting on overwhelming support from those in uniform at the time of the vote.

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