Russia’s Northwest: Problems and Achievements at Military Facilities

Ivan Safranchuk
Director, Moscow Office
Center for Defense Information
August 17, 2008

The Northwestern regions of Russia are traditionally among the most militarized, with many military industrial complex and army facilities concentrated close to the Western border. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, military industrial complex and army facilities fell “victims” to economic reforms and democratization trends. The geographical proximity with the Western border produced a variety of business opportunities. In the 1990s, the mixture of depression at the military facilities and flourishing businesses (first of all trade), controlled by criminal organizations, promoted corruption and increased problems with regard to safety and security of military facilities, many of which possessed nuclear weapons and materials.

The most pressing problems in the region are dismantlement of nuclear submarines and relations between military and civilian authorities. The latter problem area consists of relations between local authorities and military structures, and regional authorities and military structures.

Dismantlement of Nuclear Submarines

The Northern Fleet reached the height of its power in the mid-1980s. Since 1988, the number of ships taken out of service has exceeded the number of new ships produced, a tendency that has been prominent since 1991. This has been due to the combined effects of economic decline and the need to implement obligations laid down by the START I treaty. In addition, the nuclear submarines of the first generation started to reach the end of their service life from the late 1980s. A total of approximately 70 nuclear-powered submarines were removed from service in the Northern Fleet during the period from 1991 to 1998. This means that the Northern Fleet has been faced with the need to dismantle a huge number of nuclear-powered submarines in a very short period of time. The process is very costly, and thus far, only a small fraction of the submarines removed from service have actually been dismantled. The majority have been stored afloat awaiting dismantlement, and many have not even been defuelled.

The dismantlement backlog mostly exists for attack (multi-purpose) submarines. Strategic submarines (with SLBMs) go through all dismantlement stages at one time (including downloading of fuel and real cutting of submarines). The matter is that the work for strategic submarines is funded through CTR. Work for attack submarines is not funded, at least in substantial amount, by foreign assistance. But even if some country would fund work for attack submarines, this would not be very helpful, since nearly all dismantlement capacities (on all stages of work) are busy with strategic submarines. From an environmental perspective, the strategic submarines pose less of a threat than the multi-purpose submarines because, in general, the strategic submarines, for example, the Typhoon submarines, have not reached or exceeded their service lives. However, from the U.S. national security perspective, the strategic submarines present a greater threat than the other submarines because of the highly unlikely, but possible, threat that the strategic submarines could be used as SLBM launching platforms. Because the U.S. CTR program’s mandate is to address the military, but not the environmental, threat, U.S. submarine dismantlement funds have solely been devoted to strategic submarines. Regional authorities and the Russian military understand this U.S. priority, but still believe that the real environmental threats stemming from attack submarines are the most pressing problems. Therefore, CTR activities are too U.S. oriented and fail to address the greatest threats to the regions.

Local Authorities and Military Structures

In the beginning of 1990s social infrastructure in the military closed cities was transferred to local civilian authorities. Afterwards, the military continuously expressed dissatisfaction with how local authorities were providing social benefits to the military employees. This dissatisfaction leads to mutual accusations of corruption, laundering of military money, and so on. The major problem is that they cannot decide who is the “boss” in their relations.

The military argues that local authorities exist with the prime, if not the only, function of assisting the military and therefore, it creates relations in a way that puts local authorities in a subordinate position.

The local authorities on the contrary believe that the military is the source of the regional problems and insist that only the local authorities should receive the assistance funds. Therefore, a substantial portion of the disagreements is about allocation of money.

Regional Authorities and Military Structures

On this level relations are usually very good, and Murmaskya Oblast (region) is an example of this. Moreover, these relations are in most cases better than relations between regional authorities and Moscow-based military headquarters of armed forces or individual branches.

The basis for this kind of good relations is a mixture of motivations on both sides. The military is interested in acquiring certain benefits from the regional authorities, such as money, assistance in solving social problems, and others. Regional authorities seek good relations with the military for political reasons, both on local and federal levels. They also prefer the option of cooperating with the military rather than facing the consequences of the military problems.

However, regional authorities prefer to lobby the interests of the local military structures on the federal level rather then to allocate funds from their own budgets for solving military-related issues.

The “Kursk” submarine tragedy further united regional authorities and military people. Besides common political interests, the regional authorities in this case were also interested in the military commanders’ assistance in channeling federal money, allocated after the tragedy, for solving pressing social problems at military facilities and sites.

The major achievement in relations between regional authorities and military commanders is that their good relations play a key role in stabilizing depressed regions, which is very important for nuclear safety and security. However, the problem here is that these relations are not always transparent, which breeds conditions for corruption at military facilities.

Comments Are Closed