On September 22, 2019, the Russian media outlet Moskovskij Komsomolets published a long interview with Russian Minister of Defense Sergei Shoigu, titled "Sergei Shoigu Revealed How The Russian Army Was Salvaged". This was Shoigu's "first detailed interview in seven years" and tackled all aspects of the Russian Defense Minister's job, ideas, and private life.
The interview opens with Shoigu explaining that the "resurrection" of the Russian army was not instantaneous. "It all started with the realization of its deplorable state back in 1999, after the invasion by the Basayev and Khattab gangs in the Tsumadin and Botlikh districts of Dagestan. Prime Minister Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin, with our limited at that time capabilities, began to make fundamental decisions on reforming our Armed Forces," Shoigu stated. He then added that upon the outbreak the Russo-Georgian War in 2008, it was decided to finance a new state armament program.
Shoigu also stressed that at the price of incredible efforts of the country's leadership and the leadership of the Ministry of Defense, the Russian army became what it is today: an army at constant readiness. "Now all the units that we have are constant readiness units," Shoigu stated.
As for the armed forces' modernization, the Russian Defense Minister emphasized: "In parallel with the transformation of the army itself, the president decided to carry out a program to modernize the military-industrial complex in order to re-equip troops with modern equipment and weapons. And today I have no doubt that by 2020 we will bring the level of equipment of our troops with modern weapons to 70 percent, having nearly quadrupled the number since 2012."
Shoigu observed that the concept of "military reform" should always be "relevant" for Russia, since the world is in constant change. "We must very sensitively capture these changes and change ourselves in turn," Shoigu specified.
Shoigu then pivoted to relations between Russian and the West, which seeks to destroy and enslave Russia, and poses a military challenge. According to Shoigu, the West revealed its hegemonic intentions, immediately after the Soviet Union's collapse, by refusing to honor its "promises" not to expand NATO eastward towards the Russian borders.
Shoigu said: "We were lucky in that, we still managed to stop [the West] in time. The process of returning to common sense… began in 1999. Starting from that moment, by putting a lot of effort, we have achieved that the world today has ceased to be unipolar." Shoigu warns that the US is not reconciled to a multipolar world, and is making every effort to restore its global influence monopoly.
The Russian Defense Minister also believes that it is mistaken to date the open confrontation between the West and Russia from the Crimea annexation. "We can recommend a detailed recollection of what exactly happened in the 1990s, in 2008, 2013," Shoigu uttered.
Shoigu further explained: "The meaning of what is happening, from my point of view, is as follows: patterns and algorithms for overthrowing any legal authority in any country inconvenient for West, have long been created. Of course, all this is done under the banner of promoting democracy. Well, in which country where they 'came with democracy' did this democracy take root: in Iraq, Afghanistan or Libya? Or in the former Yugoslavia, which they forcibly divided into 6 countries with their 'democratic' bombing in 1999. And you can simply forget about sovereignty and independence after any American intervention."
He then accused the West of waging several hybrid wars, as for example in Venezuela, for the sake of the "triumph of democracy."
Referring to a possible Russia-US military confrontation, Shoigu claimed that Russia is already opposing the United States quite effectively. Russia avoids competing military with the US on all fronts, since the US military budget is incomparably higher than the Russian one. The costs for the US military operation in Afghanistan nearly equals Russia's annual defense budget. Furthermore, the US spends heavily on private military companies, and on aircraft carrier groups. "But does Russia really need five or ten aircraft carrier groups, if we are not going to attack anyone? We need funds that could potentially be used against such enemy carrier groups in case of aggression against our country. And this is incomparably cheaper and more effective!" Shoigu stated.
Shoigu then discussed the creation of the Main Military-Political Directorate in 2018. According to Shoigu, the new directorate is not a throwback to the Soviet era with its Main Political Directorate of the Soviet Army and Navy (GlavPUR). "The need to create a new directorate became apparent when we saw how actively the West is meddling in the affairs of the army — they are meddling absolutely unceremoniously and shamelessly," Shoigu stated. However, the Russian Defense minister specified that unlike its Soviet predecessor, the "new GlavPUR" does not peruse the personal files of military personnel.
On a final note, Shoigu conceded nostalgia for the Soviet Union, if not for Soviet era slogans. He misses the then prevailing mood and spirit, especially in his native Siberia. He recalls how in Bratsk people stood for hours in the cold open air to listen to poems Yevgeny Yevtushenko's poems, and in particular "The Bratsk Hydroelectric Power Station".
Below is Shoigu's interview with Moskovskij Komsomolets:
The Army Is No Longer The 'Sick Man' Of Russian Society
"'This is the first detailed interview I have given in seven years!' The Minister of Defense of the Russian Federation, Hero of Russia, Army General Sergei Shoigu told me prior to the start of our almost two-hour long conversation. Once again rejoicing at how lucky I was, at the same time, I was not at all surprised that the hiatus in communication between the minister and representatives of the 'fourth estate had extended so long.
"We all remember the emotional background in the fall of 2012, Sergei Shoigu was appointed as the head of the Russian defense department. And we all know what a long, hard and bumpy path our Armed Forces have traversed during this tiny period from an historical perspective. Today, the army is no longer the 'sick man' of Russian society and is not the butt of stinging ridicule from foreigners. Today, the Russian army has regained respect - both from friends as well as from potential and real enemies.
"As Sergei Kuzhugetovich himself repeatedly emphasized, without the support and personal participation of Vladimir Putin, he would have been unable to achieve anything in terms of creating a modern army in Russia. But, as all experts in public administration are well aware, simply getting the president's support is not enough. This support must also be competently managed. How exactly did Sergei Shoigu succeed? And what awaits our Armed forces and our country ahead? The Minister of Defense of Russia spoke about all these topics and a lot more in an exclusive interview with 'MK'."
'Si Vis Pacem, Para Bellum', If You Want Peace, Prepare For War
Q: "Sergey Kuzhugetovich, I belong to that part of the citizens of the Russian Federation who live by the motto 'just may there be no war'. Is the Minister of Defense of Russia afraid of war?"
Shoigu: "Of course, war is a terrible thing. I can say that because I know very well what war is. The first time that I witnessed war, was in 1992, when I was tasked with creating a peacekeeping force in South Ossetia. And we did it. The Ossetian-Georgian conflict was the first war on the territory of the former Soviet Union, which was quickly and successfully stopped. Then there were Abkhazia, the Pridnestrovian Moldavian Republic... There, too, we managed to separate the parties and stop the hostilities and evacuate a huge number of our compatriots. And these were almost full-scale wars.
"I also can add Bosnia and Herzegovina, and other conflicts in the former Yugoslavia, and the war in Afghanistan. Having the opportunity to see all this from the inside for many years, I am convinced that the country's security depends primarily on how strong its army is and its capacity to defend its country. [A country's security] also depends on the citizens' confidence in their army.
"Naturally, I too, just like yourself, am a supporter of the statement 'just may there be no war'. But in order for that statement to be true, our army must be very strong, well-armed and equipped and, most importantly, inwardly prepared to defend its homeland."
1992, Abkhazia. (Source: Mil.ru)
The Resurrection Of The Army Was Not Instantaneous
Q: "As far as I myself remember, it was commonly considered that: 'our army is a state institution that is in a most deep, systematic, one might even say hopeless crisis'. And then suddenly at some point something clicked in the public consciousness, and everything has changed as if by magic. How can you explain this?"
Shoigu: "The resurrection of the army was not instantaneous. It all started with the realization of its deplorable state back in 1999, after the invasion of the Basayev and Khattab gangs in the Tsumadin and Botlikh districts of Dagestan. Prime Minister Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin, with our then limited capabilities, began to make fundamental decisions on the reform of our Armed Forces.
"Later, there were the events of 2008 - the treacherous attack of Georgian troops on South Ossetia, the death of our peacekeepers under the fire of the Georgian Grads and the response of a group of Russian troops to enforce Georgia to make peace. Subsequently, based on the analysis of this operation, systemic decisions were made in the field of military development. First of all, [decisions] were made on the formation and financing of a new state armament program.
"The issues of building and training of the Armed Forces, equipping them with modern weapons and developing the military-industrial complex are under the constant control of our president. Starting from 2013, no matter how busy the work schedule is, the president, in autumn and spring, holds in Sochi the gathering of the top officials of the Armed forces, representatives of the defense industry and relevant leaders in the Government of the Russian Federation, on all aspects of military development and on maintaining the country's military security.
"Therefore, there was no magic. There were large and small, noticeable and not quite noticeable steps for the comprehensive transformation of the army. Our key task was to synchronize all aspects of the preparation and construction of troops, including the training of professional personnel and the supply of modern weapons. We analyzed current and future threats, as well as the army's capabilities to protect our country from them. We sorted out the condition of the troops up to each military unit. And the result of this complex work was the development of a number of program documents, including a defense plan.
"Then work began with questions which seemed to stare us in the face that I asked the commanders.
"These questions were simple and clear: why should a fighter go to the bathhouse and take a shower once a week? Why should he change clothes only once a week, while spending all his time from morning to night at the training grounds? Why should the soldier's tea room be at the other end of the military unit and in order to drink tea, the soldier needs to go through the parade ground, at the risk of getting a couple of duties out of turn? Why should fighters wash their footcloths and under collars or underwear in washbasins? Is it impossible to put washing machines in all the barracks? And why in the third millennium are we still using footcloths?
"Naturally, the meaning of army reform was not only to improve the lives of the soldiers. Our actions also had a harsh military necessity, dictated by the reduction of the conscription service to one year. If the service lasts only one year, then study should be more intensive. So, it is necessary to free the fighters from performing unrelated tasks. They should stop removing snow or collecting leaves from morning till night. At points of permanent deployment, they should stop going to kitchen duties or engage in latrine cleaning with antiquated means.
"Having realized all this, we decided to install almost 35 thousand showers, 16 thousand washing machines and 21 thousand vacuum cleaners in the barracks during the year. We bought the most modern equipment for wet cleaning and organized meals according to the 'buffet' system. We developed clothing production at domestic enterprises and gave all military personnel convenient and high-quality field and everyday uniforms made of modern materials. Where previously there were only a mop and bucket, now there is modern equipment. And it is now perceived as a completely normal and ordinary thing. And so gradually, gradually in all directions."
During the interview with Moskovskij Komsomolets political commentator Mikhail Rostovsky. (Source: Mil.ru)
Q: "And the key goal was the return of our army's real combat capability?"
Shoigu: "Everything we do is for that purpose. First of all, we have achieved the required level of training intensity for our units. Today, all training grounds are equipped with personnel at more than 80 percent. This also led to the need to change the standards for ammunition consumption, which at that time was several times less than in the West. Leaving it like it would mean that the entire process of combat training would be senseless. Having studied in detail the experience of the Soviet Army, the standards of the armies of Western countries, we increased the standards for ammunition consumption in combat training fivefold. And now you can see the result.
"Soon, a question appeared on the agenda: how can we objectively assess the real impact of the measures we are taking? We in the Ministry of Defense leadership arrived at a common opinion: it is necessary to carry out snap inspections of combat readiness. We reported on our proposal to the Supreme Commander-in-Chief and received support - the inspections really became sudden from the battalion to the army or military district. Three people knew about their preparation: I, the chief of the General Staff and the one who planned the snap inspection. We immediately agreed: we must stop, roughly speaking, to lie. Distorted information was a common scourge. Much was hidden or distorted.
"Previously, all training was carried out only on the technique of the combat training group, that is, tanks, infantry fighting vehicles, which everyone knew as 'our father.' We went to a familiar training ground, we knew what mark was needed to put on a sight in order to hit a target, which is literally in the 'neighboring garden'. Simply put, everything could be done with one's eyes closed. But in fact, while the performance figures were good formally, the actual results with the standard military equipment did not really matter.
"Guess now what happened when we conducted the first snap inspection, when we raised myriads of people across the country and transferred them, along with standard equipment, over very long distances to unfamiliar training grounds? During that test, units entered unfamiliar training grounds not on training vehicles, but on standard equipment. None of them - I emphasize again, not one (!) - met the standards for 'satisfactory' mark. I could talk for a long time on how we got out of this hole. But in order to save time, I will stop and say only the main thing.
"At the price of incredible efforts of the country's leadership and the leadership of the Ministry of Defense, we have made our army become what it is today - an army of constant readiness. Now all the units that we have are constant readiness units.
"In tandem with the transformation of the army itself, the president decided to carry out a program to modernize the military-industrial complex in order to re-equip troops with modern equipment and weapons. And today I have no doubt that by 2020 we will bring the level of equipment of our troops with modern weapons to 70 percent, having increased the number almost fourfold since 2012.
"Of course, for the implementation of such a large-scale program, it was necessary to create the most modern control systems for its execution from the machine at the enterprise or from the assets in the bank account (under the state defense order) to a specific piece of weaponry delivered to the military unit. These are, after all, hundreds of thousands of positions that require continuous round-the-clock monitoring and, if necessary, prompt action. In particular, to solve them as soon as possible, the country's National Defense Management Center was created, which monitors the progress of the state defense order, combat and support tasks using a high-tech automated system."
In Syria, We Had To Learn To Fight In A New Way
Q: "The prestige of the Russian Armed Forces was enhanced by the actions of our air forces during the course of the civil war in Syria. But is it possible, on the basis of this separate episode with a large, but still limited number of participants, to judge the general situation in our army?"
Shoigu: "Those who think that we fought in Syria with a bunch of fanatical and primitive militants are very much mistaken. We fought with the largest terrorist organization of many thousands, or rather, the whole system. Let me remind you that they enjoyed the support of individual countries interested in the instability of the region. The terrorists were armed with hundreds of tanks, multiple rocket launch systems, armored vehicles and hundreds of thousands of tons of ammunition that had been seized from the armies of Iraq and Syria in previous years, and of course they had hundreds of trained suicide bombers. The terrorists had the most advanced technology, including communications and intelligence equipment. They had a well-functioning international system for evacuating the wounded, a working mechanism for collecting taxes in the occupied territories, and their own “black market” artifacts trade was functioning.
"The proceeds from the illegal oil trade played a very significant role in ensuring the activities of terrorists. Until the Russian Federation joined the fight against international terrorism in Syria in Trans-Euphrates against ISIS, they produced more than 100 thousand barrels of oil per day under the noses of the international coalition. And the sale of this raw material brought terrorists a daily income of more than $ 5 million.
"In Syria, we had to learn to fight in a new way. And we did that. If we talk about fighter, army, assault, long-range and transport air forces, then almost 90% of the entire flight personnel went through military operations in Syria. We have those who have 150-200 sorties - and this is in addition to all those who were tasked with ensuring safety of their flights on the ground. There was a time when the rate of delivery of goods to Syria reached up to two thousand tons per day. And this is the fleet, this is transport aviation, this is the work of our supply bases, ports, this is the relocation, reception and maintenance of equipment. This is the work of representatives from our industry and science: it reached the point that representatives of more than 70 enterprises, engineers, and designers were working simultaneously in Syria, thus eliminating equipment deficiencies in the field.
"Based on the results of this work, the president gave direct orders to refine or improve certain characteristics of some weapons. So it was with our Kalibr cruise missiles, armament of long-range aviation and submarines.
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"You probably have noticed that throughout the entire carrier fleet history of the Soviet Union and Russia, it was used for the first time in combat conditions in Syria. If we talk about the use of precision weapons, for example, previously, loading a flight mission with a Kalibr cruise missile took so much time that the target could be lost. And today, the loading time for a flight mission to Kalibr has decreased, I emphasize, by a multiple. And this work to reduce the time for the transmission of target designation is ongoing.
"Commanders of regiments, brigades, divisions, commanders of armies, commanders of troops of military districts, heads of central bodies of the military administration of the Ministry of Defense, and also the teaching staff of almost all higher military educational institutions went through Syria. As a result of the hostilities in Syria, we naturally had a great number of debriefings. I can tell you that about 300 types of weapons were finalized bearing in mind the Syrian experience, and we simply removed from production the 12 weapon prototypes that were [once] considered promising."
Shoigu with Russian President Vladimir Putin and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, at the Hmeimim airbase in Syria, in 2017. (Source: Mil.ru)
I Hope That There Is No Possibility Of A Full-Scale War Today
Q: "How likely is Russia's participation in any full-scale armed conflict in the near future? And what strategic threats do you assess as posing the greatest danger for Russia in the near future?"
Shoigu: "The question you've asked is not a simple one. Perhaps it is unsuitable for an interview like ours. But I'll try to answer it. I hope that there is no possibility of a full-scale war today. And all the risks and consequences that such a full-scale war entails are obvious to everyone. Regarding the third world war, there are a very large number of most differing statements.
"The most accurate and adequate of them seems to me the following: 'I don't know what kind the third world war will be. But I know for sure that it will be the last one'. However, if we talk about the number of threats to our country, then they do not diminish. The United States has already withdrawn from two important nuclear arms control treaties. So far, the START-3 treaty remains, which is also under discussion in the US, whether to renew it or not? As a result of this approach, the world is becoming more unpredictable and less secure. At the current level of computerization and automation, there is a high probability of errors in the weapons control system.
"That is why issues of ensuring information security have come to the fore. When you are aware of your vulnerability and interested in maintaining balance and universal security parity, it makes you think. And when you think that a balance of power has developed in your favor [this is how the United States continues to believe by inertia], a variety of ideas may pop into your head, including not the most reasonable ones. It is in this situation that I see the main threat, and not only for Russia."
I Am Absolutely Convinced That With The Ukrainian People We Will Live In Peace And Good Neighborliness
Q: "In Kiev, you can periodically listen to threats of 'triumphantly entering Moscow on tanks.' Is there a danger of a direct military clash between the armies of Russia and Ukraine?"
Shoigu: "I don't even want to think about it. I really hope that the Ukrainian people and the Ukrainian authorities have enough will, strength and ability to cool those hotheads that call for such stupidity and a crazy plot. Someday extremists in Ukraine have to be stopped. It is a pity that this was not done earlier.
"Back to your question. The Ukrainians are a brotherly nation. My mum's relatives are from Ukraine. My grandfather is buried there. My mother survived the occupation there during World War II. From Ukraine, my mother's brothers went to the frontline. And by the way, I was baptized at the age of 5 in a church the city of Stakhanov, Lugansk region. And I am absolutely convinced that with the Ukrainian people we will live in peace and good neighborliness. The time for this, I am sure, will come."
Someone Believes That The Open Large-Scale Opposition Of The West To Russia Began With Ukraine And The Crimea Events; But This Is A Mistake; The West Is Waging Real Hybrid Wars
Q: "Can the process of transformation of our Armed Forces considered to be complete? Or is the concept of 'military reform' still relevant for our country?"
Shoigu: "The concept of 'military reform' should always be relevant for Russia. The world around us is constantly changing. And we must very sensitively capture these changes and change ourselves in turn. What happens if we do not follow this motto can be understood by the example of our recent history.
"At the beginning of our conversation, you rightly noted that until recently the Russian army was in decline. Why did this happen? There are immediate reasons that everyone is aware of: The deep crisis of society and state in their entirety during the 80–90s of the last century, the hasty withdrawal of troops and equipment from Eastern Europe to completely unequipped sites, the lack of housing, the moral suffering and humiliation of those who had been preparing to defend their homeland all their lives and suddenly faced the complete collapse of their plans and prospects, their own displacement, and the lack of state protection.
"But what happened had other, deeper reasons. We did not understand on time and for a very long time had no idea of what was happening around us.
"I will go even further. If the West continued to behave as it began to behave during the time of Gorbachev, if they would have fulfilled all of their promises (not to push NATO closer and closer to our borders, not to expand their influence in our neighboring countries, not to interfere in the internal affairs of our country) it seems to me: in the end they would have succeeded in everything. They would have been able to solve the problem that they set for themselves - the task of destroying and enslaving our country. This is how it was actually done with the 'Young Europeans' and the former Soviet republics."
Q: "That is, from your point of view, we are lucky that the West very early on revealed its true, far from vegetarian intentions?"
Shoigu: "We were lucky in that we still managed to stop in time. The process of returning to common sense, as I said, began in 1999. Starting from that moment, by putting in a lot of effort we have achieved that the world today has ceased to be unipolar. And this, of course, very much displeases the West that is making every effort to restore to itself a monopoly on global influence. Someone believes that the open large-scale opposition of the West to Russia began only five years ago – starting with Ukraine and the Crimea events. But this is a mistake. We can recommend a detailed recollection of what exactly happened in the 90s, in 2008, 2013.
"What nonsense was not written and said about us at a time when we were preparing for the Olympic Games in Sochi! And this went well beyond an information war.
"I do not want to dig deep. But the meaning of what is happening, from my point of view, is as follows: patterns and algorithms for overthrowing any legal authority in any country inconvenient for the West, have long been created. Of course, all this is done under the banner of promoting democracy. Well, in which country where they 'came with democracy' did this democracy take root: in Iraq, Afghanistan or Libya? Or [did it happen] in the former Yugoslavia, which they forcibly divided into 6 countries with their 'democratic' bombing in 1999? And you can simply forget about sovereignty and independence after any American intervention. And does it surprising to anyone that in Libya the majority of oil deposits belong to American or US-controlled companies?
"Our Western colleagues like to accuse Russia of waging some kind of 'hybrid wars'. But I must say that it is the West itself that is waging real hybrid wars. Now, for example, leaving Afghanistan in a dilapidated state, the Americans are diligently making a fuss in Venezuela - also, of course, for the sake of ' democracy's triumph'!"
Russia Is Already Opposing America Quite Effectively
Q: "The US military budget is ten times greater than the Russian one. Can Russia, in principle, effectively confront America under such conditions?"
Shoigu: "Our Supreme Commander-in-Chief has already answered this question thoroughly and reasonably. Not only can it [resist] - Russia is already opposing America quite effectively. It resists thanks to our science, our industry and our innovative developments. And besides this, we are not trying to compete with them on all fronts. If you were to spread out the US military budget on the shelves, you will reach an understanding: they have huge expenses for various bases scattered all over the world. America has 170 such bases. American expenditures on the same operation in Afghanistan alone are almost equal to our annual defense budget. Gigantic money is being spent by the United States on private military companies, on aircraft carrier groups. But does Russia really need five or ten aircraft carrier groups, if we are not going to attack anyone? We need funds that could potentially be used against such enemy carrier groups in case of aggression against our country. And this is incomparably cheaper and more effective!
"I have given you only a few separate facts. But bearing them in mind, it becomes clear that we do not need to compare our defense budget with the Americans. By defense budget size, we are even only in seventh place globally. Saudi Arabia and, incidentally, Japan are ahead of us in this indicator. The main thing is that we are quite effective in our military expenditures, which are very precisely spent and are closely monitored by our Supreme Commander."
Kudrin Periodically States That Defense Spending Is A Burden For The Russian Economy; However, One Should Not Be Afraid Of Big Expenses, But Of Small Incomes, And This Is What Our Economists Need To Work On
Q: "Your former colleague in the government and the current head of the Accounts Chamber, Alexei Kudrin, periodically states that the current level of defense spending and defense industry spending is an overwhelming burden for the Russian economy. What do you think of it?"
Shoigu: "In Soviet times, there was such a standup piece by Mikhail Mikhailovich Zhvanetsky. I don't remember it verbatim. But the point was that we have few sausages, and we have many mouths. There are few trousers, but a lot of those who wears them. We don't have enough soap, but a lot of hands to wash. Conclusion: there should be less of us. The laments over the fact that we have a bloated defense budget are built, so it seems to me, on a very similar logic. One should not be afraid of big expenses, but of small incomes, and this is what our economists need to work on. Some time ago it was very popular to say that our agriculture is a 'black hole', which absorbs money invested in it, but does not give any return effect. Now, for some reason, they no longer talk about this 'black hole'. Now everyone is proud that we have large crops, that we can feed the country. But would such a situation have arisen if earlier significant investments had not been made in agriculture?
"Let us return to army affairs. Our Armed forces have already been reduced by almost half. We are invited to be guided by certain vague criteria - many, unreasonably many, excessively many. But I do not know such measurements! I have something to remember about the morale of the army, how it was in 2012, and not during the hungry 90s. Then, 124 thousand lawsuits were filed by the army officers against the Minister of Defense. And this was despite the fact that we had 157 thousand officers at that time. 80% of these lawsuits were related to a delay in monetary allowances for a period of three to five days or more. Does it fit in your head?
"Of course, it is necessary to economize on state funds. Shortly after my appointment to the post of minister, we began to closely engage in the army's housing and communal services, we realized that there was no accounting for resources spent. As soon as 120 thousand measuring devices for the utilities were installed, housing and communal service expenses fell significantly. Why not a single clever economist, marketer or financier has told us this before: there are no measuring devices in the army. The army, and also a state due to this, was simply being robbed blind.
"I can give a lot more examples of state funds savings, starting with a seemingly elementary one. Why does a one-year soldier need to have a front-dress uniform, and this kit include: a woolen coat, trousers, a cap, a set of shirts and boots, if he puts them on at best once? Such kits were provided to more than half a million soldiers every year, so we canceled production of those.
"Therefore, I propose to discuss not contrived general theses, but specific and pressing issues and cases. Just saying 'defense spending is excessive' is to follow a long-outmoded fashion. It is the same as in today's living conditions wearing a [synthetic] crimplene jacket, which was considered the very latest fashion in 1972. And in general, as the classic said, 'let's argue about the taste of oysters with those who ate them'."
At the Victory Parade in 2019. (Source: Mil.ru)
I Am Satisfied With What We Have Managed To Do With The Military Education System
Q: "A specific and down-to-earth question: is it possible for Russia to abolish compulsory military service?"
Shoigu: "In principle, this is possible. But I do not think this decision is correct. I am absolutely convinced that we should have some number of conscripted military personnel in any case. In any sovereign state, in addition to active professional military personnel, there must also be a mobilization reserve among citizens. Due to such a reserve, in the event of war, it is possible to strengthen the armed forces quite quickly. To form such a reserve, military training of the male population is organized.
"In addition, people have a sense of involvement in protecting their country. And if the army is perceived solely as one way to make good money, they certainly will not have this moral core.
"Emergency service, or conscription service, is one of the most effective forms of military training of citizens, a way to acquire a military specialty right in the army. There is nothing unusual or terrible in it. This has been the case throughout history, and not only in Russia. In Israel, all young men and even all girls serve! And no one is being outraged by this. Another thing is that the Russian army will continue to inevitably become professional. Already today the number of professionals among regular troops and sergeant staff exceeds the number of those who came to serve on conscription.
"In the future, the balance will change even more towards professionals. I proceed not from certain abstract ideological principles, but from completely pragmatic considerations. There is a technique that can only be managed by a specialist whose training takes from eight to eighteen months. Such a specialist simply cannot be a draftee. But we cannot prepare him for eight months so that he will fully serve only four months!"
Q: "Has the hazing problem in the army become obsolete?"
Shoigu: "There are simply no grounds for hazing in the army now. Of course, there are cases of domestic and barracks hooliganism. If there is a great desire, these cases can be raised on the shield and displayed at all the scenic and rally venues. Like, look, one soldier hit another! But such situations are much more numerous among civilians in any city. The main thing is that in our million-strong army, crime is by a magnitude, I repeat – by a magnitude less than in any city, whose population exceeds a million. And this is a just a matter of statistics."
Q: "Did you manage to overcome the collapse in the military education system?"
Shoigu: "I am satisfied with what we have managed to do with the military education system, I'm talking about not only higher education, but also about pre-university education. On September 2, new institutions will open: the Kemerovo Presidential Cadet School (we built it in just six months) and the boarding school for pupils in St. Petersburg.
"We will open a new school next year in Kaliningrad, thereby completing the president's order to create a branch of the Nakhimov School near each fleet. We have built a completely new Academy of Strategic Missile Forces. This is one of the most modern educational institutions. We completed the reconstruction of the St. Petersburg Military Medical Academy and the creation of an ultramodern multidisciplinary clinic with the department of cybernetic medicine to train specialists in the field of telemedicine. Now we are starting to create a modern educational and scientific center of the Navy.
"The Ryazan Higher Airborne School almost completely changed its appearance and training base. As a result of all this and much more, we have reached the level of recruitment of officers we need in our educational institutions. And this year was the first full-fledged graduation from our academies and higher military schools. Let me remind you that all this is strictly synchronized with the supply of modern military equipment and other weapons to the troops and the creation of military and social infrastructure."
The Main Military-Political Directorate Was Created When We Saw How Actively The West Is Meddling In The Affairs Of The Russian Army
Q: "Last year, the Main Military-Political Directorate was created. What caused such an obvious return to the practice of the Soviet Main Political Directorate of the Soviet Army and Navy of the USSR (GlavPUR)?"
Shoigu: "There are 'two big differences' between the Soviet GlavPUR and the current military-political administration. The need to create a new directorate became apparent when we saw how actively the West is meddling in the affairs of the army — they are meddling absolutely unceremoniously and shamelessly. The army is the army. If you remember history, then the collapse of many states began with the collapse of the army. We have special units that conduct special operations. In these operations, it happens that the guys get injured and die, as well as in other units. And now imagine that some people, by an order from abroad, begin to pry into their families, climb into cemeteries. There are several hundred daily attempts to get into our communication networks.
"In the same fashion, fake news about our ministry and the Armed Forces are thrown into the information space of our country and the whole world: either we supposedly hit the hospital, or we are supposedly preparing to capture a particular country, or we have dozens of coffins arriving from somewhere, or we have someone from the military defense authorities, who did something weird. All this is psychological pressure on the military. We have already talked about hybrid wars. This is one of the tools of hybrid warfare, one of the types of weapons used against us.
"For example, a NATO center of excellence in computer security was created in Tallinn, and a NATO strategic communications center operates in Riga. The meaning of such actions is to try to create moods in the army, such as those that existed, say, in the army of 1916. This requires the most vigorous counteraction. And in order to provide this opposition, a directorate was created that you dubbed as the 'new GlavPUR'. I want to assure you: unlike its Soviet predecessor, the 'new GlavPUR' does not go into the personal files of military personnel, which we don't need to see. Instead, GlavPUR is establishing a normal life in the garrisons. Cultural and creative life, relations between officers and soldiers, youth relations with the army - all this is within the competence of the new administration.
"For example, we began to create 'Patriot' parks. A seemingly simple thing, but a very effective one. Three years ago, we started creating 'Yunarmia', and today it has more than 500 thousand children and girls. This year, we decided to create children and youth patriotic camps for summer recreation and sports promotion. One thousand six hundred and sixty such camps appeared this year. This is also within the sphere of competence of the 'new GlavPUR'."
In Syria We Are In Constant Contact Not Only With The US Military, But Also With The Military Of Turkey And Israel
Q: "Let's get back to high politics. In recent years, Russia and America have not been able to establish a dialogue at the highest political level. So how easy is it for the professional military of the two countries to find a common language?"
Shoigu: "Where it is required - for example, in Syria - we are in contact every day. And we absolutely clearly understand each other and do not cross the line that we agreed not to cross. By the way, in Syria we are in constant contact not only with the US military, but also with the military of Turkey and Israel. And everything there works smoothly.
"We also have contacts with the US military at the General Staff level. These contacts as well, are generally quite constructive. I really hope that we and the US will come to a higher level of contacts. Of course, one has to take into account the changes in the ministers of defense of the United States and its allies. When creating close working relationships, this causes certain difficulties."
You Can Choose Your Wife And Friends, But Not Your Neighbors
Q: "In 2015, the Turkish military shot down our bomber. Today we supply Turkey with our most advanced weapons systems. I understand that state interests are constantly changing and do not tolerate sentiment. But will our cooperation with Turkey turn against us in the future?"
Shoigu: "I believe that you yourself for the most part answered the question you've asked: nothing stands still. To what you have said, I'll add only the old folk wisdom: we don't choose neighbors. You can choose your wife and friends, but not neighbors. With neighbors it is better to live in peace and harmony and somehow jointly ensure the security of the common space. In today's conditions, Russia and Turkey have common interests and common threats in the form of terrorist foes. These common threats, as practice shows, are better to fight together."
I Understand That The President Has Put A Great Deal Of Confidence In Me
Q: "This fall marks seven years of your appointment to the post of Minister of Defense. Do you remember your first thoughts and emotions after the president offered you this position?"
Shoigu: "Of course, I remember. At that time I was working as governor of the Moscow Region. I got ready for work that would allow me to create and finally implement projects that have long been in my head, including through the Russian Geographical Society. I must admit, the president's proposal to take the post of Minister of Defense was most unexpected for me. And I also felt a huge burden of responsibility. I understand that the president has put a great deal of confidence in me, which I try to justify."
Q: "I know that you do not like to criticize your predecessor Anatoly Serdyukov. But how can you evaluate the 'baggage' that he bequeathed you? Was this baggage mostly positive or mostly negative?"
Shoigu: "You are right in that I have never engaged, do not engage, and will not engage in critical public evaluation of the work of my former or current colleagues. I adhere to this rule because, like no one else, I know how difficult this work is. Of course, there may be mistakes and miscalculations in this work. We certainly have them. The only way not to make mistakes is, as you know, to do nothing, which in itself is already a big mistake."
Q: "You are not just the main long-lived person in the Russian government, you are a minister who over the years has maintained an amazing level of popularity in society. How can Shoigu himself explain the 'Shoigu phenomenon'?"
Shoigu: "It seems to me that it would be wrong and immodest if I started to talk about that 'phenomenon'. I can tell you one thing: wherever I work, I always try to work with maximum efficiency and achieve results. Maybe this is due to the fact that my parents raised me that way, or has something to do with my first profession as a builder, which requires you to get a concrete result – construction of a building. I am more concerned about how effective and useful I am.
"It is much more important to talk about the popularity of the Armed Forces. To achieve this goal, tens of thousands of my colleagues are putting in enormous efforts, to whom I am very grateful. We have formed a worthy corps of commanders-in-chief of all branches of the Armed Forces, commanders of the troops of military districts and military branches. Together we are able to achieve a lot."
Q: "In the current period of internal political aggravation, colorful and raucous 'exposures' of various political figures, not necessarily backed by real facts, are especially popular. It affected you too ... How do you feel about this?"
Shoigu: "As for my personal attitude to the spread of false rumors - you can often hear: go to court. But today's situation looks absurd - someone smeared your reputation, and you have to go to court and then for months not only sort this lie out in public, but also prove that you have been offended intentionally (which brings delight to your offenders). If someone draws a dollar on toilet paper, you will have no doubt that it is not real. Even more so, you will not go to court to prove that this is a fake! So why should one go to court to prove wrong the outright lies in a newspaper? There is plenty of work as it is.
"I suffice with my own deeds, flaws and exploits! I don't need someone else's not to mention the fantasy ones! I have never been a supporter of the discussion on rumors, gossip and slander. But here I will tell you my attitude to these things. It is quite simple, but it may seem somewhat unexpected. All this reminds me of a repetition of the campaign of mass denunciations of 1937. Why did they write denunciations then? Someone wanted to take the place of the accused. Someone pursued a different goal. Today it is the same thing: we have a lot of public denunciations coming from internal and external 'clients'."
Q: "As far as I know you have many state awards. If it's not a secret, how many? If I remember correctly a few days ago it was 20 years since you received the Star of the Hero?"
Shoigu: "Whether I have many or few awards - it's not for me to judge. In general, during our lifetime it is not customary to discuss such things. If I say that I have few awards, then everyone will say: what an impudent one! If I say that a lot, people will say: look at him, he is a braggart! I have no 'birthday' [present] awards.
"All of them are very dear and honorable for me. I am especially proud of the award, which now no longer exists – 'For personal courage'. I am proud of the Star of the Hero, which is truly 20 years old. Many of my subordinates in the Ministry of Defense have more awards than me. And I consider this state of affairs to be entirely appropriate. Timely and fair assessment of the work of subordinates is my direct responsibility. But if you are interested, then during my work as Minister of Defense, I received two state awards and I am proud of them."
Q: "What does your family do - your spouse and daughters?"
Shoigu: "I am not a supporter of one, who discusses his personal life. And, with all due respect to you, I will not let you go there either. I can only say that my family members live a completely normal, dignified life and they are engaged in the work that they love. Of course, it was never easy for them. Imagine that during my service, one of my daughters changed six schools in different cities, and the other one - four schools. I cannot say that they had a sweet life thanks to their father. I am very proud of my daughters."
Q: "Is it true that you introduced 'Prohibition' in the Ministry of Defense?"
Shoigu: "It is difficult to do that in any ministry. In my practice, of course, there were several cases of the introduction of the 'Prohibition'. Such cases were: Neftegorsk in Sakhalin, Lensk. It was done because it was necessary to fulfill the task set by the president: to build housing for more than 40 thousand the victims of the flood in 100 days ...
"As for the Ministry of Defense, I simply do not drink at all. And the defense department is a structure in which they take an example from the leader. Gradually, with us, all this extends to every level."
Q: "You play hockey and, according to rumors, do not restrain your emotions. And what do you do in cases when the president or someone from the 'Olympic team' attacks you?"
Shoigu: "Neither the president, nor any player from the 'Olympic team' attacks me, because we play on the same team. As for the members of the opposing team, this, of course, is another matter. Hockey is hockey, the game is the game. But those with whom we play are people who understand: hockey is not our main job and not our main occupation. Our heads are a working tool.
"These are not 'paired organs', they must be protected. Naturally, we will never become professional hockey players. But we like to play hockey, basically we like to play any sports. For us, the game of hockey is, first of all, collective communication: the dressing room, conversations, communication after the game, before hockey, this is a discussion of sports news.
"When the NHL is on vacation, Ovechkin, Malkin, Kovalchuk usually play with us ... The game with them resembles a joke: 'How to get to Deribasovskaya?' – 'Go straight and she will cross you ...' So here: just be calm on your skates, and the puck will fly to you. Playing with legends is, of course, amazing! What gamut of emotions you experience when you sit on the same bench with Alexander Sergeyevich Yakushev. To look at his game, let's say, in the 1972, I walked several kilometers on foot and dug up a few bags of potatoes for the TV owner. Now Alexander Sergeevich is over 70, but he still goes out on the ice, and he is amazing."
Russian professional ice hockey center Evgeni Malkin, Sergei Shoigu, and Russian professional ice hockey winger Alexander Ovechkin, in 2016. (Source: Mil.ru)
Q: "Do you have time to chat with old friends? And if so, then who are they?"
Shoigu: "Of course, I chat with old friends. Not as often as I would like, but I communicate. True, some are no longer alive. It so happened that at a fairly young age I was already managing construction sites. And my friends and teachers then, as a rule, were older people. I really value relationships with them and memories of working together. And when I come through those districts, I meet with them.
"It will be 30 years soon since I became a member of the Government of Russia. I appreciate the relationship with Viktor Stepanovich Chernomyrdin and Evgeny Maksimovich Primakov. I considered and still consider them my senior comrades and teachers in many ways. Of course, I have made many friends here during this time. With Sergey Lavrov, we often relax together, play sports together and at the same time discuss all our affairs. By the way, he is always a source and a wonderful raconteur of the latest jokes.
"Over the years of my work in the Ministry of Defense, we have formed an excellent team with my deputies, where each, in his area of responsibility, is a true professional and reliable friend. We have a particularly trusting relationship with Valery Gerasimov. A very wise man and my friend. You can't do this job without friends. My close friends are Yura Vorobyov and Ruslan Tsalikov, whom I really appreciate. Yura is now Valentina Ivanovna Matvienko's deputy in the Federation Council, with whom I have been friends for many years."
Shoigu with the Chairman of Gosstroy (State Committee for Construction) of the USSR Yury Batalin, and Minister of General Machine Building of the USSR Sergey Afanasyev. (Source: Mil.ru)
I Have A Great Deal Of Nostalgia For The Soviet Union For That Mood, For The Spirit That Reigned Then In Those Days
Q: "And what is the main dream of Russia's Minister of Defense?"
Shoigu: "Return to Siberia. This is my main dream. And I am convinced that it will happen. I want to return to the time of my youth. I have a lot of nostalgia for the Soviet Union - not for some isolated slogan things, but for that mood, for the spirit that reigned then in those days, especially in those places. When in Bratsk people stood for hours in the cold, in the open air, in order to listen to the poems of Yevgeny Yevtushenko, for example the poem 'The Bratsk Hydroelectric Power Station'. He snatched at his voice, there were no microphones, and the women wiped away their tears ... 'the proud spirit of citizenship.' Very often I think about it, very often I adjust my mood with memories of those times.
"Today, fortunately, there is again room for the implementation of such large projects that once existed [such as] the Komsomolsk-on-Amur, Krasnoyarsk and Sayano-Shushenskaya hydroelectric power stations, the Baikal-Amur main line, large complexes in the Irkutsk region, the Bratsk hydroelectric power station. Without the implementation of such projects, it is difficult to instill in young people a sense of creativity. Remember how sincerely people went to all these construction sites! I really want to return to Siberia and build one, or better, two more cities! And I believe that my dream will come true!"
 Mk.ru, September 22, 2019. The interview was conducted by Moskovskij Komsomolets political commentator Mikhail Rostovsky.
 The Main Political Directorate of the Soviet Army and Navy of the USSR is the central military-political governing body that carried out party and political work in the Armed Forces of the RSFSR and the USSR during 1919-1991.