Even Russian Admirals Have to Take on Odd Jobs to Make Ends Meet

A recent post at Strategypage.com tells a sordid tale of double dealing.

“Russian police caught a group of naval officers (including at least two admirals) trying to smuggle 30 anti-submarine missiles and 200 bombs to China.”

The idea was to mislabel currently used weapons as obsolete, and then sell them to China so Beijing could reverse-engineer the technology. This news article gives us some more details.

It would seem that the Russians have been uncovering various criminal plots in their military with astonishing regularity over the past few years. While they have always struggled with corruption and graft, it would appear that things have really taken off.

“Over 400 Russian military officers were convicted of criminal offenses in 2008, army prosecutor Sergei Fridinsky reports in an interview with the Rossiyskaya Gazeta newspaper (Rus). The offending officers included 76 base commanders, and around 300 were senior staff, including 20 generals.”

The Russian military took it on the chin after the fall of the USSR in the early 1990’s. The economy was in turmoil, and funding for the troops was pretty much non-existent. Stories of how the armed forces were crumbling, such as how army bases would go dark because the electric bill wasn’t paid, were legion.

But that was supposed to be all in the past, as Russian oil and natural gas sales to an energy starved Europe revitalized the ruble and brought the good times back. Those who think that the recent US economic turmoil is forcing Russian generals to turn to crime as a desperate measure to stave off starvation should consider that the internal investigations to root out corruption started well before our own recession. And, as this op-ed from the UK Telegraph explains, Russia certainly had so much cash as late as October of 2008 that they offered a huge bailout loan to Iceland. A recent post at Strategypage.com reinforces the impression that the Russian government is going to keep spending money on the military, no matter how bad the global economic downturn.

This is probably the barely visible signs of a massive bureaucratic conflict that is raging between entrenched officers in the military, and the government at large. This essay mentions in passing that Putin has been trying to forcibly retire officers who are left over from an antiquated mobilization system, but the generals are refusing to go.

“The Army officer corps has stalemated the massive Defense Ministry reforms. This has delayed the forced retirement of thousands of senior officers. The officer corps wants to retain the 19th century “mobilization army” system. This requires conscription of most of the male population, and maintaining those men in reserve units (which are commanded by thousands of well paid senior officers). Russian leader Vladimir Putin sees this system as unworkable. Too many young men evade the draft and the country cannot afford to equip up to a hundred reserve divisions. Moreover, Russian nuclear weapons protect the country from invasion, and what the country needs is a smaller armed forces manned by professionals. But the officer corps is having none of it, and are digging in their heels, and calling in political favors.”

It seems to me that this is a case of “Use it or lose it”. The officers facing forced retirement, looking at their remaining decades spent as poor pensioners clipping coupons for dog food, realize that they only have a limited time to use their positions to cash in. Sell military technology to the Chinese and become a traitor to The Motherland? As long as a big pile of cash is on the table, then sign them up!

(Cross posted at Hell in a Handbasket.)

4 thoughts on “Even Russian Admirals Have to Take on Odd Jobs to Make Ends Meet”

  1. If these practices are widespread, then not much separates Russia from a coup, an unmentionable topic.

  2. During the Soviet era, the military consumed as much as 40% of the nations GNP. I imagine they have a hard time letting go of even the remnants of that power. It does not bode well. Historically, unemployed militaries have tried to find excuses for wars to justify their internal status.

  3. I was in Vladivostok back in ’95 for the 50th anniversary of VJ day. At that time none of the Russian Navy sailors or officers had been paid in over 2 years. I remember hearing, not long after we left, that the local power plant shut off power to the naval base for not payiing their power bills. The base admiral went over there with some of their naval infantry and explained that while they didnt have any money, they had lots of guys with guns. The power was soon restored to the base.

  4. Consider, if you will, that the atmosphere created by the top officials of the Russian government, Putin and his cronies. It is unrestrained theft. The Admirals are just joing in the fun. This is what happens when a people have been demoralized. They are not just dispirited, they have no morals, and nothing restrains them other than fear.

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