A massive layoff of officers could leave Ukraine’s army weaker and its police more corrupt
Аcareer in Ukraine’s public institutions has little to recommend itself these days. To some extent, low salaries and the bureaucratic morass are offset by benefits and early retirement—and the opportunity to get involved in corruption. But social benefits are being cancelled one after another, and bribery is getting riskier. Until recently, early retirement at 40 remained the only guaranteed benefit. But the Government has now got its hands around the neck of this sacred cow by increasing the service period for those in uniform.
It didn’t take long for those in the enforcement agencies to respond to this change to their well-deserved rest. According to different estimates, 10-12,000 army officers and 8,000 policemen have filed notices of resignation since December 2010, when rumors of this reform surfaced. Once they reach 37, officers look forward to a public pension with enough time to get into a nice career in civilian life. Starting next year, though, the service period will be extended to 21 years, then to 22 in 2013 and so on, to reach 25. Officers also worry that they will only receive a small portion of their discharge benefit, which is currently UAH 20,000 and up, depending on their rank, unit and many other factors.
Until recently, the state was giving officers some benefits that were a great help to modest family budgets, including 50% off residential services bills and 100% reimbursement for apartment rents, extra vacation days, and food rations—all of which are now cancelled. Even the service period is now the same for everyone, unlike before, when one year in a peacekeeping mission counted as three, while service in a harsh climate, on battle alert or in the Chornobyl zone counted as 18 months for 12. In the face of these “reforms,” officers are leaving the military in droves.
Drop your guns
“This pension reform makes it clear that the military is not a priority for the government,” says Valentyn Badrak, Director of the Center for the Army, Conversion and Disarmament. “Massive retirement will turn the Armed Forces into a ragtag band. The officers retiring now were trained in soviet military academies. Without any doubt, they have had better quality of training. Since independence, the government has spent little on large-scale maneuvers, shooting and so on. It’s mostly the majors and lieutenants retiring now and they are a very important segment in the army. We can have great generals and rank-and-file, but without its mid-range command, the Armed Forces will never be battle ready.”
The resignation of 5-7% of 148,000 officers is a felt loss. And that number could well grow. Today, only the officers who signed a five-year contract back in 2006 can retire without complications. The rest have a problem: sources in the Armed Forces say that there is an unspoken rule to not release anyone who resigns for reasons of health but to find every possible excuse to turn them down. Quitting the military due to “default of contract obligations” is even harder: commanders come up with all kinds of documents proving that all social benefits have been available and, in theory, if they don’t keep their promises, the contract can be terminated. In reality, though, only a handful has actually succeeded in this—experienced military lawyers.
The Interior Ministry is also on the verge of colossal staff changes including a 30% staff cut announced by Anatoliy Mohyloiv and massive resignations of policemen over the pension issue. “Today, people can retire with 20 years’ service,” says an operational officer from one of district units in Kyiv. “For some units, this will not have much of an impact, such as, if a 40-year old prison guard is replaced by a younger person. But operational work is different. Experience makes a critical difference here. Moreover, young employees tend to think about what they get out of their position almost as soon as they get it. And I don’t mean legitimate bonuses and benefits. At the same time, senior officers who are doing well through corruption are also on no hurry to retire. Their pensions are not a priority.”
Younger staff often acts as cannon fodder in the fight against corruption in enforcement agencies. It’s the inexperienced cops that the internal security service most often purges. So, lawmen who inherit the jobs of freshly-retired officers will not find an easy career path: young people keen to get something from their positions fill the ranks of those sentenced for corruption.
Meanwhile, a post-crisis labor market is unlikely to offer work to every retiree. “A lot of them won’t find their place in civilian life,” says Badrak. “Those who find themselves out in the cold could be drawn to criminal activities. Others who are disheartened by their fruitless job searches could join opposition political movements. Officers are people with outstanding internal discipline, but once they join a political party, they will work actively and decisively.”
In short, this wave of massive resignations could cost Ukrainian society a lot: the prospect of thousands of turncoats and soldiers of fortune is not promising. Ukraine already went through this once, in the 1990’s.