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Military expert forecasts further staff reductions in Black Sea Fleet

Text: NR2.Ru, Alexei Nezhivoi
Most probably, Russia's Black Sea Fleet (BSF) soon would have to wave goodbye to considerable part of lands leased in Sevastopol. It seems impossible to fill the gap in manpower emerged in Russian Armed Forces after drastic officers' reductions. Frigates and submarines built for BSF cannot compensate for the fleet's natural depletion.

That is an inference of Capt 1 rank Sergei Gorbachev, Doctor of Political Science and ex-assistant editor of BSF official newspaper Flag Rodiny in the interview to New Region.

Sergei Gorbachev. new-sebastopol.com
New Region: Recently there were many talks about Black Sea Fleet occupying too much land in Sevastopol, and that it would be good to use a part of these lands for other purposes. What happens now in this area?

Sergei Gorbachev: As is known, Russian defense minister Serdiukov visited Sevastopol, Khersones and Kazachya Bay districts during the Yalta summit in September 2010. And now the city administration on the initiative of Sevastopol mayor Valery Saratov prepared draft documents dealing with usage of BSF lands; in any event, this opinion will be considered.

In this regard the program "Sevastopol: Area of Intergovernmental Private Partnership" is meaningful project. The city offers to repurpose 6 lots with overall space of 750 hectares. Black Sea Fleet occupies 3,300 ha in Sevastopol, so the question is almost a quarter of these lands.

Reasoning is as follows. The fleet has become smaller and does not need these territories to remain at current status till 2042. That is why it is offered to attach new functional purpose to Cape Khrustalny, Yuzhnaya Bay, Kazachya Bay, Matiushenko Bay, Cape Khersones, and Karanskoye upland. Putting it mildly, some of these proposals are a bit contrary to the fleet's opinion.

Of course, the city has no right to make any decisions on the lands development, neither does the fleet. That is a level of Moscow and Kiev. Last week it was reported the offers on Kazachya Bay had been corrected and presented for Russia's consideration. So far, it is uncertain what reaction it will cause. However, most likely Sevastopol city council will make a decision at February's session.

Obviously, present-day BSF cannot compare to what it was in Soviet time. Sevastopol has also radically changed during recent 20 years. Vast spaces previously belonged to the fleet have been already developed and are full of countryside houses, mini-hotels and other buildings. Thus, the city's proposals undoubtedly have a fair amount of sense.

New Region: So what does the fleet gains out of the land conversion?

Sergei Gorbachev: There are two alarming nuances. First, presence of naval base in a city requires obeying special regulations, including navigation requirements and so on. But the city's proposals imply minimizing of Black Sea Fleet's capabilities in infrastructure, deployment, maintaining operational mode, etc.

The second nuance lays in the fact that Sevastopol leaders offer to construct income-related realty in the BSF territories, i.e. hotels, yacht clubs, shopping facilities… A bunch of reasonable questions emerge. Does the fleet being a strategic formation need this? Do people who serve in BSF need it? What will they get in exchange? As proposed by the city, it is planned to construct not residential buildings at the fleet's lands but some elite-oriented objects. Supposedly, rich people would come here and spend their money. Someone but not Black Sea Fleet would earn this money, and use them not for the fleet's social development. Out of six lots, only three are planned for residential buildings, although in very tiny volumes.

In my view, once these lands are repurposed – and this will likely happen as the city's proposals are reasonable – BSF servicemen must be sure these lands serve their interests, too.

New Region: By the way, officers' reduction is still in progress at Black Sea Fleet, isn't it?

Sergei Gorbachev: Some notable events have recently happened. On Dec 1, 2010 Black Sea Fleet affiliated with Southern Military District. Now there are 4 military districts in Russia, and all fleets are subordinated to them. However, BSF was integrated partially. For instance, such issues as force control in distant ocean zones or in the Mediterranean Sea are still within responsibility of Navy Main HQ. Thus, some functions are under jurisdiction of Rostov-on-Don [Southern Military District HQ], others – of Moscow. Sure, such system needs workout and improvement, and this inevitably causes changes in organizational structure. That is why transformations are not completed so far.

At the same time, process of staff reductions is still goes on. I can give an example familiar to me – editorial staff of the fleet's newspaper Flag Rodiny. I recall times when 21 officers served here, and then they were 15, 12, and 3. Finally, there is only one officer now, executive editor. Accordingly, other employees were also dismissed, and that apparently had an impact on publishing frequency. The newspaper is issued not daily, but once in two days. Of course, consequences of staff reductions extended to circulation and societal impact too.

What a paradox – we all say the 21st century is the era of information, but the informational influence is getting minimized. For shame, the military-oriented Black Sea Fleet's newspaper is made by Ukrainian people. Information support of Russian servicemen abroad is being performed by foreign civilians! It appears that some day an executive editor may happen to be alone. This example is pretty demonstrative, since the same problem is urgent for other units and organizations of Black Sea Fleet.

Furthermore, even such conservative matter as educational work undergoes metamorphoses. Through recent 20 years there have been 6-7 transformations, and current developments are by no means improvement. Not long ago BSF had an entire educational department which then was transformed into a tiny bureau. And now even this bureau is going to turn into a personnel affairs office.

As it strikes me, changes will go on. Russian president called directors of all force-related ministries and services on February 2; subject of the meeting was revoking of decisions and steps made in recent years.

In particularly, it is known that number of officers was reduced from 360,000 to 150,000. And now they say they need 70,000 back.

New Region: But where can they be found now?

Sergei Gorbachev: That's the question. Last year military educational institutions did not enroll new cadets, and reportedly they would not at least until 2012. And now enrollment is urgently resumed. Namely, half-baked and miscounted decisions led to results different to expected ones. It's like a pendulum swing – they've dismissed over 150,000 officers and now they have to find 70,000 at once. But that is not a mechanical process.

New Region: Sure, they have to be trained first. Dismissed officers have certainly found new jobs now.

Sergei Gorbachev: I can give a particular example. My son graduated Military University last year being awarded with golden medal. Almost all his course mates – smart and well-qualified guys – have to retire. Exception is those who managed to transfer to other agencies, for example, three young lieutenants became frontiersmen. I can tell they're quite good boys, probably, the best samples of the present-day youth, and they did sincerely want to serve their country. But I'm sure, if anyone offers them to return to Armed Forces, they would unlikely step back. They have hopes already broken and according attitude towards the "native" defense ministry. And I think same things happen to thousands guys.

First, the main principle of continuity has been broken – head and roots are disconnected. Second, seeds of hesitation have been already planted; people are uncertain whether today's decisions would be irreversible. I've no idea where they're going to find 70,000 officers, but that seems not to be effective.

Another problem is related to standardization. We have been zigzagging throughout the recent ten years. And now, as is known, financing of this problem is coming down. Same things happen in other sectors.

Numerous problems indicate that politico-military leadership has no clear concept of what armed forces should be like. Although highlight and fair declarations are being made and money for social needs seem to be allocated, so far there have been no results to see or touch. That's fact, alas.

In a couple of months there will be a year since signature of the Kharkov treaty; however, the question arises again – what have we received? Only reducing of political heat and settling of disputes regarding the further basing site for BSF. The fleet remains in Crimea. So what?

Everything else is only plans. Ships have been laid down; officer's housing is being de-serviced and handed over for ownership; financing of housing construction grows up. But no breakthrough happens.

Such finance-consumptive projects as Skolkovo, APEC Summit in Vladivostok, Winter Olympics 2014 in Sochi, World Football Cup, transformation of North Caucasus into world-class ski resort need big money. And I think that some part of those spendings could be focused on defense to make a military serviceman feel he serve in the up-to-date army of the 21st century.

As is known, some certain events have recently occurred in Egypt. In such had happened in Soviet times, our Black Sea Fleet would reinforce Mediterranean Squadron. We were capable to demonstrate our naval flag over there, our presence helped to resolve some particular geostrategic issues and protect our interests. What we have now? No adequate force to be stationed there. We have nothing to do but just to sit on the sidelines. As diplomats say, sometimes one warship's call at a foreign port can compare to decades of their painstaking work. Our naval presence in the Mediterranean could have shown that Russia at least cares what happens in Egypt.

New Region: If press reports are true, the Navy renovation process have been already kicked off.

Sergei Gorbachev: Through recent two decades none ocean-going warship has been built for Russian Navy. At the mean, a ship of this class effectively serves for 20 years. Therefore, we have at least a one-generation gap. And as a matter of fact, even currently built ships are technically (I can't say about arms) one or two generations behind our opponents. For one, Petr Veliky was designed as early as in Brezhnev's era. Other commissioned warships are also Soviet inheritance. What have been recently laid down by no means would cover those gaps appeared with the breakup of the USSR.

Certainly, it is pretty good that Russia builds sea-going frigates. But on the one hand, frigates cannot compare to larger ships. And on the other hand, it would be better to have them in greater numbers than it is planned.

Speaking of Black Sea Fleet, frigate Admiral Flota Kasatonov was keel-laid and, hopefully, will be launched this year or early in 2012. Keel for another frigate – Admiral Grigorovich – was also laid last year. These two ships are supposed to join BSF. God bless them if they would, but what are two ships? It is not pretty sensible reinforcement comparing to what our regional "partner" has and what we have lost in result of obsolescence and depreciation of Soviet Black Sea Fleet. Two frigates by no means can compensate natural loss.

Two submarines are also being built for Black Sea Fleet – Sevastopol and Novorossiysk. But they will join the fleet neither in a month nor in a year. I can tell for sure that today's lieutenants will see new ships and subs only when having higher ranks and positions.

Undoubtedly, it is very good that all those things are being built, but volumes and rates of construction are inconsistent with challenges of the 21st century. Today many people say we build the Army and the Navy proceeding from current material and technical capabilities. However, let us recall our interwar period between Russo-Japanese War and First World War, or analyze what was done while Stalin's regime. At that time nobody talked about any technical difficulties, but proceeded from high-end objectives to maintain the status of superpower. One should not count on material and technical capabilities, but rather to create conditions for effective performance of national tasks. That's the point – we need to change priorities.

New Region: Simply speaking, one must not buy the food he can afford but to find a higher-paying job and eat what his nature needs, right?

Sergei Gorbachev: If we want Russia to remain a great maritime power, our actions should be adequate to this goal. Indeed, we must renew the Navy, but now we proceed from what we have at the moment. If we hold to this strategy, we would shrivel to a minimum. And our geopolitical and economic competitors who do not veil their plans would trample on us at the earliest possible terms.