Tuesday, May 29, 2018

One Step Forward, Two Steps Back in Russian Military

Paul Goble

            Staunton, May 29 – Today brings three reports about new developments in the Russian military. One, a new focus on non-commissioned officers, represents an important step forward; but two, an attack on tolerance programs in the military and an admission Moscow is developing its new weapons systems by copying US ones captured in Syria point in the opposite direction. 

            In today’s Izvestiya, Bogdan Stepovoy and Aleksandr Kruglov describe what they say is “a quiet cadres revolution in the armed forces of the Russian Federation,” involving the professionalization and elevation of the status of sergeants in the command structure (iz.ru/745001/bogdan-stepovoi-aleksandr-kruglov/serzhanty-dogoniaiut-ofitcerov).

            The benefits for sergeants and especially for their wives are being increased dramatically in order to hold these men in the service because the Russian defense ministry now recognizes that “sergeants are the foundation of the military preparation of any army in the world” and need to be treated as such.

            This represents a remarkable shift, at least at the level of intention, of the Russian military, which was notorious in Soviet times for having junior officers do what sergeants did in NATO armies.  That undermined discipline and left the Warsaw Pact militaries in a far less capable position than their opposite numbers.

            Indeed, one of the most obvious vectors in the development of military structures in the countries of the former Warsaw Pact and the former Soviet republics and occupied Baltic countries has been the elevation of sergeants as key players in military units. The Izvestiya article suggests that Russia is now following in their wake.

            But if this a step forward for the Russian military and the soldiers serving in it, two other developments reported today are definitely retreats. The first of these is an attack by Dmitry Nesterov, a military retiree who serves on the Education Ministry’s advisory board, on the entire notion of introducing lessons in “tolerance” in the army (beregrus.ru/?p=11237).

            Nesterov says that the introduction of such lessons at the Moscow Suvorov Academy represents “a threat” to Russian national security because “a ‘tolerant’ warrior cannot be a warrior.”  Tolerance, he argues, is “a Western term which arose in liberal society” and which has no place in Russia.

            It presupposes respect for various points of view and for “sexual deviants, treason … and pedophilia.”  In Western countries, “homosexuals, lesbians, trans-sexuals, transvestites, and pedophiles with satisfaction serve in the armies, promoting the total dictatorship of tolerance to their perversions,” Nesterov says.

            “Our people does not need to learn such ‘tolerance,’” he argues. “Our children must be raised on the thousand-year-old spiritual and moral values of Russian civilization and become in a spirit of love and self-respect patriots of their country, always ready to defend the Fatherland and their people.” They do not need any Western “tolerance” to do that.

            The second of these retreats is that Russian military industrial figures acknowledge that they are developing new weapons systems not independently and in advance of the West as Vladimir Putin has claimed but by carefully examining and copying US weaponry seized when possible in Syria (snob.ru/news/161357, stoletie.ru/lenta/tomagavki_pomogut_rossii_v_sozdanii_novogo_oruzhija_279.htm  and themoscowtimes.com/news/russia-develop-new-electronic-warfare-systems-after-analyzing-us-missiles-recovered-syria-61617).

                Besides raising questions about the much-ballyhooed Russian research and development effort, such reports recall Soviet times when Moscow used every opportunity to gain access either by accident or by espionage Western secrets from the atomic bomb to the construction of aircraft. 

            Many of these efforts are now well-known but the one that springs to mind may be less familiar to some: During World War II, an American DC-3 crashed in Russia and was quickly taken away by Soviet secret police and handed over to the military’s r and d community for them to learn from and even copy.

            This led to one of the more amusing stories of the Cold War: The American plane happened to have a serious dent on one wing. The Soviets copying it assumed this dent had a purpose although they did not know what it might be. They thus included such a dent in the line of Soviet planes that they released on the basis of this “research” effort.

            That only ended when at some point an American official asked them why it was there, noting that American planes could in fact fly with such a dent but didn’t need the dent to be able to get off the ground. 

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