A word in defense of Russia’s Minister of Defense By Grigory Pasko, journalist In these days in Moscow and a bit in Russia on the pages of the mass information media, they’re discussing the interview of «the elected president» (that’s what they’re calling Medvedev after the elections that took place recently, thereby seeming to underscore that today’s president Putin – was not elected, but appointed in his time) in England’s Financial Times. The discussions at times get lengthy and tedious. Why? Because there’s absolutely nothing to discuss, that’s why. Zero information. Just padding. In every word-answer of Medvedev’s you can sense complete and total dependence on Putin. And even the frequent assurance – almost an incantation, really – about how he is his own man bears witness, in my view, to the exact opposite. But let’s leave Medvedev alone – he is a person of little interest, in many senses. Let’s direct our eyes on Minister of Defense Anatoly Serdyukov. (Photo)
For starters – a noteworthy detail: Recently, my seatmate in a train turned out to be an officer in the ground forces. We got to talking about this and that. About the long and tedious (like Medvedev’s interview in the English newspaper) and muddle-headed reforms in the army, about how officers are fleeing from the army… When we got to talking about the minister of defense, I noticed that the officer DID NOT KNOW THE NAME AND PATRONYMIC of his minister. But when I recalled erstwhile minister and GKChP member Yazov, the officer immediately called him “Dmitry Timofeyevich”. What is remarkable is that the officer was young, and clearly had never served under Yazov. [Historical note: The GKChP, or State Committee for the Emergency Situation, was the name the organizers of Russia’s August 1991 “putsch” gave themselves. USSR President Mikhail Gorbachev was on holiday in the Crimea at the time, and by default, and by default the image of resistance to the coup became the figure of RSFSR President Boris Yeltsin standing on a tank defending the «White House». Within days of the failed coup, what Vladimir Putin subsequently described as “the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the century” had begun and the USSR was as good as gone – the statue of Felix Dzerzhinsky was removed from Lubyanka Square, Gorbachev resigned as General Secretary of the CPSU, the CPSU itself was outlawed and its property nationalized, the red hammer and sickle flag was replaced by the Russian tricolor, and numerous Soviet Republics declared their independence. Read more about this bit of already ancient Russian history here.—Ed.]In these days in Russia, it seems, there has begun a campaign of partial discrediting of minister of defense Anatoly Serdyukov. There are reasons to criticize this former furniture store manager. (Just as there were reasons to criticize former minister Sergey Ivanov – now first deputy prime-minister. But for some reason nobody criticized Ivanov. Maybe it’s because he – is a former lieutenant-general of the FSB?).The newspapers all of a sudden started trying to outdo each other in their eagerness to write about how a huge scandal is apparently brewing in the Ministry of Defense. Its cause became a directive by minister Anatoly Serdyukov on the removal of epaulets from military health care workers, lawyers, journalists, and sundry deskbound pen-pushers. According to the instruction of the head of the agency, all these categories of military service personnel are being sent off “to the civvies”. All the wailing and gnashing of teeth boils down to the following: if this takes place, then nearly two hundred thousand people, belonging to the redundant categories, will not only lose out monetarily nearly by half, but will also be deprived of many of the benefits due to military personnel.For starters, I will report a frightful military secret to our readers: directives of a minister of defense don’t just appear all of a sudden. Usually, they are preceded by a lengthy and tedious (like Medvedev’s interview in the English newspaper) fuss and bother: endless meetings, discussions, sessions of the military collegium of the ministry, etc., etc., etc.No doubt all of this went on in the case of this directive as well. It can not have been otherwise! So why, then, has a slew of dissatisfied generals appeared all of a sudden? And why has a most un-military of methods been chosen to discuss the directive – on the pages of newspapers and on the internet?Particular dissatisfaction has for some reason been evoked by the depriving of military journalists of their epaulets. Since I myself am a former military journalist, having served 21 years in the armed forces, I will allow myself to express my views on this subject in somewhat greater detail. I will note right at the start: I was speaking openly about how it is necessary to remove the epaulets from military journalists even way back in that time when I was wearing epaulets myself and when speaking openly was not only not acceptable, but even punishable.Until the collapse of the USSR, the system of military mass information media included over a dozen central [nationwide—Trans.] newspapers and magazines, 24 military-district and fleet newspapers, newspapers of force commands, army and division newspapers with a total print run of around 7-8 mln copies. Now the number of print military mass information media has been reduced to 9 central newspapers and magazines, 11 military-district and fleet newspapers, 7 newspapers of commands, and 22 of formations. The daily print run of the main newspaper of the Ministry of Defense, «Krasnaya zvezda» [“Red Star”—Trans.] is a mere 56 thousand copies. The most widely read magazine «Orientir» [“Reference Point” or “Landmark”—Trans.] – no more than 15 thsd. copies. The average print run of a military-district newspaper – around 4 thsd., and that of an “organ” of a command or formation – around 1.5 thsd. copies.According to the data of the Ministry of Defense, only «Krasnaya zvezda» has a full complement of staff – editors, deputies, department heads and correspondents. In the military-district and division newspapers, the staffs have been reduced to an editor-in-chief and department heads.The dynamics of the degradation of the military press are to some extent represented by the following numbers. In the year 1992, on the editorial staff of a military-district newspaper were had 27 officers’ journalistic positions, of these 26 were filled. In the year 1998: 19 out of 25 officers’ journalistic positions were filled. In the year 2003: 18 out of 22. Of these, only 9 officers actually had an education in journalism.In the year 2007, there remained 13 officers’ journalistic positions (three – primarily administrative-managerial; 10 – creative). Of these, only one has an education in the field (department of journalism of the Military university of the MOD of the RF).According to the directive of minister Serdyukov, starting in the year 2008, two military people will remain in each military editorial staff: the editor and his deputy. All the others have to become civilian.“If this takes place, then this will become the end of the whole military press” – thus, they say, did the minister’s deputy for character-building work, general Nikolai Pankov, react to the minister’s directive.To be honest, the end of the military press came a long time ago already. Military journalists stopped being journalists about 20 years ago, having turned into yet another department of military propaganda. If before, during the times of the USSR, the political organs of the army and the fleet reacted at least in some way to their publications, then after Gorbachev’s perestroika the funding – and than means the provisioning – of newspapers and magazines became genuinely bad. All of this led to where a journalist at a military-district newspaper started to get several times less than his civilian colleague. Today, for example, in the newspaper of the Far-Eastern Military District, «Suvorovsky natisk» [“The Suvorovite Surge”—Trans.], a Distinguished Worker of Culture of the Russian Federation, published in regional and central newspapers, at the highest pay-scale grade (as of September 2007), has monthly earnings on the order of 9190 rubles [less than $400 a month—Trans.]. The rest of the correspondents (with a term of service of 25-30 years) – 7400-8500 rubles [roughly $310-365—Trans.]It therefore comes as no surprise that there are very few actual journalists left on the editorial staffs of military newspapers and magazines.If we consider that the role of military journalists has long ago been reduced to support staff of the top brass, then absolutely nobody needs such military journalism. The military first and foremost.There is yet another circumstance why, in my view, there shouldn’t be military journalists. The fact is that their very existence contravenes the Vienna Convention, according to which journalists – are non-combatants. In the Russian army – they’re combatants.If we speak in the language of managers (that’s what they’ve called Serdyukov and his team of new army executives), then military journalists, health professionals, lawyers, and others – these are “non-core assets” for the army.According to the data of the computing organs, every 4th ruble allocated by the budget of the country for the needs of the military disappears from the army. Where? Nobody knows. I think it goes for the maintaining of these non-core structures – among other places.The main shortcoming of the military mass information media is – they are dependent; their military uniform – is also the uniform of dependence. Hence their inefficiency, their print runs are small, they lose money. This isn’t journalism, but propaganda. The law on the mass information media does not extend to them in practice (I learned this the hard way myself).Everything that is done by military health professionals, lawyers (and this is procurators, judges), journalists, athletes – can be done by ordinary civilian specialists too. As is the case in the majority of the world’s countries, by the way. Serdyukov, as an accountant and a non-military person, understands everything and is doing everything correctly in this case.And to conclude, a few words about “the elected one” [The Russian word “izbrannyi” can actually translate as either “elected” or “chosen”, creating all sorts of double-entendres of the sort wry Russian humorists delight in—Trans.]. Something still perplexes me: why have they begun to sweep the dirt from the military hut just now? Could it be so that the new president would have cause to declare about his participation in and his contribution to the business of “improving the situation and deepening reforms”? Or does he want to bring his people to generals’ posts? Who knows? Because everything in Russia, as always, is done under the cloak of a “fearsome military secret”, which, upon closer inspection, turns out to be pointless and tedious.Like Medvedev’s interview with the English newspaper.For reference:In the Armed Forces of Russia today there are:- military doctors – approximately 60 thousand;- military lawyers – approximately 50 thousand;- desk staff (other than medical services) – approximately 80 thousand;- military journalists (including workers of publishing complexes) – approximately 4.5 thousand.NOTE: These figures are of necessity approximate – more precise figures comprise a fearsome military secret.