Russian Army Not Quite Ready for Action
The General Staff has started carrying out surprise inspections to gauge the preparedness of military units for combat. The first test revealed sluggish personnel and poorly-maintained equipment.
The first surprise inspection in 20 years took place on February 17-20 and included the Central and Southern Military Districts, the Airborne Force and the Military-Transport Aviation Command. Airborne and Army officers were deemed sluggish in transmitting combat-alert signals. Many young officers and soldiers apparently don’t drive well, and can’t shoot much better. Several malfunctioning airplanes and helicopters remained grounded.
Last Friday General Staff Chief Valery Gerasimov reviewed the results of the inspection during a teleconference at the Command Center of the Armed Forces. The military district commanders were not alerted to the inspection in advance. After the combat-alert signals were sounded, soldiers had to redeploy military equipment to a training center or to airlift it to another region. In all, the selective review involved 7,000 military personnel, 48 airplanes and helicopters, and several hundred surface vehicles.
Although Gerasimov said the inspection had revealed the sufficiently high combat-training standards of the military headquarters and units, almost all the duty officers had trouble relaying the combat-alert signals using the automated systems. This was particularly true of the Airborne Force and the 201st Russian Military Base in Tajikistan. The military units that were alerted received average marks (C grades) for their shooting skills.
Gerasimov said only 66 percent of the airplanes and helicopters were operational. Many defective Msta self-propelled howitzers and BMD-2 airborne infantry fighting vehicles were unable to leave their military bases. Surprise inspections will become a fact of life, the General Staff Chief said.
Combat preparedness inspections were frequent in Soviet times, and each officer was involved in these inspections at least once every two years, said Reserve Colonel Viktor Murakhovsky. These useful inspections and reviews provide the General Staff with an objective picture of real combat readiness, the military expert noted. The equipment defects can be explained by the organizational chaos evident in the past few years. Thus, the decision of the new Defense Minister, Sergei Shoigu, to reinstate repair and maintenance units, something that had been outsourced until now, should be implemented as soon as possible.
Russia Sells Cheap Energy to China, Limits Domestic Consumption
Russia keeps hiking energy prices for domestic consumers and plans to introduce limits on consumption from next year. However, the pricing policy for foreign customers is very different.
Russia charges its own citizens 3-4 rubles per kWh, while exporting electricity to China at 1.5 rubles, says Viktor Ishayev, Minister for the Development of the Russian Far East. “We have no other choice but to export,” he said, without explaining why.
Energy consumption in Russia is about half of that of the United States or Finland. Still government officials are trying to make Russians save energy by imposing limits and making them pay extra for exceeding those limits. Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev has ordered the limits to be introduced from next year. This means that people will be entitled to use only around 100 kWh per family or 50-70 kWh per person a month at the standard price.
“We have often said that our pricing policy needs to be civilized, and our prices should be rational,” Medvedev said. “The system has to take into account consumer interests and be flexible across climatic regions,” he said, adding that people in southern Russia should pay more than in Polar regions.
More long-term plans call for differentiating “social” and “extra consumption” charges for gas and water.
However, the government’s logic is difficult to understand if we look at its export plans. For example, the highest price for the Amur Region in Russia’s Far East is 3.02 rubles per kWh this year. At the same time, neighboring Chinese cities which receive Russian electricity via the Far East pay half that amount.
Unlike Ishayev, energy trader Inter RAO UES would not disclose its export prices for China – spokesman Nikolai Gorelov said it was a commercial secret, adding that the export price was regulated by China’s 25-year supply contract, while domestic prices are regulated by the relevant government agencies.
Analysts believe the inconsistency of pricing policies stems from geopolitical issues. “The energy industry in Russia’s Far East is deadlocked,” said Sergei Voskresensky, chief expert at 2K engineering company. The problem is that the region has excessive power generating capacity, which exceeds local consumption by 150 percent. Exporting to other regions in Russia is inefficient due to transportation costs. This leaves China as the only option, but Beijing would not buy it at regular Russian prices, because Chinese consumers will have to pay transmission costs as well. The only other option would be to close part of the power plants. Exporting cheap energy to China seems the lesser evil.
Northern China is a developed industrial area, while China is the biggest energy consumer, said Yevgeny Oistacher, head of EKF Electrotechnica. It offers great sales prospects, but Russia needs to make inroads into that market first.
Nevertheless, it remains unclear why Russian consumers have to pay double for Russian energy and finance economic growth in China. Is there any other reason except Inter RAO’s profits?
Presidential Staff Fails to Circulate Spending Declaration Form
President Vladimir Putin’s staff has failed to send around a new form for declaring spending, thereby creating a situation where legislators and civil servants can safely circumvent the December 2012 anti-corruption law, which makes it binding on them, their spouses and underage children to declare purchases of real estate, cars, securities and other valuables.
According to Vladimir Pozdnyakov of the State Duma Regulations Committee, the declarations for 2012 are supposed to be submitted from March 1 to March 31. The committee is ready to accept earnings and spending certificates, property certificates, estate liabilities, etc... The only thing missing is the new form.
A spokesperson for the State Duma Anti-corruption Committee said that this year’s declarations should mention only the deals which exceed a family’s consolidated income for three years.
Legislator Ilya Kostunov (United Russia) confirmed that the existing declaration form did not have a section on spending. But it could yet appear before March 1, he added.
Tatyana Moskalkova (A Just Russia), a member of the State Duma commission overseeing spending verification, explained that the declaration form should be approved by a presidential decree, which is expected shortly. As soon as it comes in, the legislators will be able to expand on their declarations filed in accordance with the old form.
Director General of the Center for Problem Analysis, Stepan Sulakshin, claimed that officials were sabotaging the law in full conformity with the old bureaucratic tradition. “They will immediately neutralize or find loopholes in any well-meaning law. This political tradition and corruption schemes must be cut short if they really want to clean up morals in the government elite,” he said.
The law seems long overdue, given the spate of recent scandals that have hit the Duma. The latest case in point is the departure of Vladimir Pekhtin (United Russia), who was forced to step down last week over allegations by bloggers that he owned undeclared property in the United States.
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