By Paul Goble
After ignoring the issues of military pay and benefits for both serving and retiring personnel for five years, during the course of which pay and pensions stagnated and medical services were cut, Vladimir Putin last week said he wanted to boost pay and provide more benefits to uniformed personnel and retirees.
But budgetary stringencies seem certain to get in the way, making it difficult to raise pay or pensions significantly and especially to provide the housing and medical care that soldiers and sailors are promised both while in uniform and after they retire, according to Vladimir Mukhin (ng.ru/kartblansh/2017-06-30/3_7019_kartblansh.html).
Increasing the capacity of the military and special services has been a central goal for Putin, but he has focused more on equipment than on personnel. Last week, however, he indicated that improving the siloviki will require “the further improvement of the material and social stimuli” they receive.
“We will continue to be concerned about he strengthening of social guarantees for military personnel, officers of the law-enforcement organs and special services. We will further guarantee worthy pay, offer housing, and raise the quality of medical services for military personnel and members of their families,” the Kremlin leader said.
But since last making such declarations five years ago, Putin has done little in this sector. Military pay hasn’t been indexed to inflation even once, housing remains in critically short supply for officers, and having cut the military medical system to the bone, the government now wants to reduce spending on that function as well, the Nezavisimaya gazeta journalist says.
Putin has begun to focus on these issues not only because he is about to take part in another political campaign but also because he wants to shore up support for himself among the siloviki, Mukhin continues, convinced as he is that the United States is seeking to achieve “regime change” in the Russian Federation.
But the question arises: Can the Russian budget support such things given the continuing economic crisis? Neither the 2017 nor the 2018-2019 budgets call for raising pay of soldiers and officers of law enforcement agencies and special services. In fact, the budget calls for cutting back spending on defense overall.
To boost pay would require shifting funds from somewhere else, and there are too few places where that could happen, the journalist suggests. At the same time, the uniformed services have many social needs which aren’t now being met and which could be addressed only if more money were directed at them.
Duma deputies have already expressed concerns that the absence of pay increases and problems with benefits has led many in the uniformed services to leave their positions early, something that adds to training costs and makes it more difficult to maintain unit cohesion and readiness.
A major problem is medical care. As a result of cutbacks in recent years, there is not a single military medical facility in 47 of the country’s federal subjects “where live more than 350,000 military pensioners.” And the number of hospitals, polyclinics, and other treatment centers for serving military personnel has been cut dramatically.
The number of military clinics has been reduced from 173 to 41 and the number of military medical personnel has been cut from 13,000 to 2500 in recent years. Obviously something needs to be done, but the finance ministry maintains that spending on military medical needs is still too high.
“Vladimir Putin has promised ‘to raise the quality of medical services for military personnel and members of their families,’ Mukhin says. But how can he deal with military pensioners in this regard “who also have the right to be treated in military medical facilities?” The answer to that is “unknown.”