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Military Journalism in Soviet and Post-Soviet Russia - Book Reviews (4)

Viktor Baranets & Mikhail Timoshenko, Armiia Rossii. Zashchitnitsa ili zhertva? Kak my snimali Serdiukova

Knizhnyi Mir, 2013, 416 pages
Dmitry Gorenburg
Bibliographical reference

Viktor Baranets & Mikhail Timoshenko, Armiia Rossii. Zashchitnitsa ili zhertva? Kak my snimali Serdiukova , Knizhnyi Mir, 2013, 416 pages

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1Viktor Baranets is a very well known specialist on the Russian military. For this reason, I was quite interested in reading the new book on the Russian military that he has co-written with Mikhail Timoshenko, his co-host for a military-themed radio show at Komsomolskaia Pravda radio. The book, entitled Armiia Rossii: zashchitnitsa ili zhertva? Kak my snimali Serdiukova, was published earlier this year in Moscow. Despite the provocative title, the book is a huge disappointment. Of its 412 pages, fully 267 are just transcripts of radio shows hosted by the two authors. The rest is comprised of a mish-mash of newspaper articles, interviews, and other ephemera in which one of the two authors was involved between 2011 and 2013. The result is poorly organized and suffers from an almost complete lack of focus.

2The book is split into four sections, with titles such as “Reforms according to Serdyukov” and “It’s not Anatoly Serdyukov’s private business.” The first section highlights the authors’ opposition to the military reform undertaken by Defense Minister Serdyukov, arguing that the reform was designed to destroy the effectiveness of the Russian military and that Serdyukov was going outside the goals set for him by then-President Medvedev and Prime Minister Putin. This section highlights the difficulties in the reform effort caused by a combination of poor planning and corruption, while ignoring both the larger structural factors that made the reform necessary and areas where the reform was implemented successfully.

3The second section of the book focuses on Serdyukov’s dismissal for corruption, discussing both the specifics of the case and the ways in which the new leadership at the Defense Ministry was correcting the deficiencies of the Serdyukov reform. While the authors highlight the various corrupt dealings of Serdyukov and his immediate subordinates at the ministry, they also note that the main reason for Serdyukov’s removal had to do with a number of powerful forces uniting in opposition to his policies on the military and especially defense industry. Corruption was primarily an excuse, rather than the cause of his departure. This section also describes the challenges that incoming Defense Minister Shoigu faced as he took over the military, including low morale, poor organization, and lack of housing, in addition to the widespread corruption.

4The third section of the book examines Russian armaments and defense industry, highlighting the reasons for the poor state of weapons and equipment and the failure of efforts to reform defense industry. They highlight the role that two decades of underfinancing played in the degradation of Russian defense industry, culminating in the inability of the sector to design and build high quality weapons once funding was restored under Putin.

5The final section turns to the human side of the military, looking at issues such as manpower, conscription, and life in the military. Here, the authors highlight the inability of the Russian military to solve its manpower crisis and also provide a relatively useful review of the pay structure of the Russian military. The book concludes with an assessment of the first months of Shoigu’s tenure as defense minister. This section just highlights the authors’ biases, as they laud Shoigu for taking immediate action to correct the course of the military reform even though the new defense minister actually made only symbolic changes to Serdyukov’s plans.

6In the end, Armiia Rossii is a major disappointment because of what it might have been. Had the authors taken the time to turn their radio show transcripts and newspaper articles into an actual book, they could have provided a very useful summary of the arguments made by opponents of Russia’s military reform. This could have turned into a handy reference for anyone interested in the Russian military, including those (like me) who disagreed with the authors and thought that Serdyukov’s reform plan was very much what the Russian military needed. Instead, the disjointed format makes the book almost impossible to follow. Useful points end up scattered among inane discussions with random callers to the radio show. Topics are addressed multiple times across various transcripts, with no attention paid to how the authors’ views developed over time or the factors that may have led to changes of opinion. The end result is virtually unreadable, which is deeply disappointing given the relative dearth of good book-length analytical publications on the Russian military, especially in the Russian language.

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Electronic reference

Dmitry Gorenburg, « Viktor Baranets & Mikhail Timoshenko, Armiia Rossii. Zashchitnitsa ili zhertva? Kak my snimali Serdiukova  », The Journal of Power Institutions in Post-Soviet Societies [Online], Issue 16 | 2014, Online since 03 February 2015, connection on 24 January 2022. URL : ; DOI :

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About the author

Dmitry Gorenburg

Davis Center for Russian and Eurasian Studies, Harvard University Military Journalism, Army, Armed Forces, SerdiukovRussiaJournalism

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