24 July 2009
Translated from the Russian by Dave Essel
Why did Yuri Solomonov, the chief design engineer of the Bulava and director of the institute which designed the rocket, resign? Is his departure from the job merited or the just top brass interference? Who is to blame for the failures of Russia latest big missile project after it was so proudly promoted to the public by the government?
Maybe Solomonov was not really up to the task, maybe his institute bit off more than it could chew? Perhaps the designer was hamstrung by having to play two roles – after all, when you are in charge of an enterprise, it cannot be easy also to have to deal with product faults. Or is it maybe that Russia’s military-industrial complex is no longer what it once was?
Back in Soviet times, any talented design engineer or scientist had an open road to any military-industrial enterprise and its appurtenant institutes where the R&D was done. Life is different now. One finds it hard to picture a young scientist who dreams of going to a closed town or of working at a secret site, after which he can forget about such things as holidays in Turkey. What will he do with his salary (not that this will be that munificent these days)?
Such considerations are to be found in much of the Russian media and internet fora since Yuri Solomovov’s resignation. But no one seems to be looking for an answer to the prime question: what does Russia want with the Bulava anyway?
I would know the answer without a shadow of a doubt if we were back in Soviet times. The Communist superpower really was in a state of permanent confrontation with the USA and the West in general. It needed new weapons not so much in order to wage war against the external enemy but rather to prove its strength to its internal one – its own people.
The people needed to be reminded over and over just how powerful the filthy party bosses ruling them were. Look: even in Washington they’re afraid of what might happen if we go wild and start bringing the world to an end! In a word, sit tight, people, and keep your mouths shut. And take pride in our wonderful rockets, in the all-penetrating KGB, and in the great Party that is providing us with all this terror and all this happiness.
On the subject of happiness, by the way, we were happily provided with a Soviet leadership that itself believed in the capabilities of their beggarly country and so got involved in an arms race with the most developed country in the world, a race they could not but lose. Thus they self-destructed their empire before the eyes of an amazed world, which from time to time had just managed to believe the Soviet Union was a real superpower.
Russia, however, is no superpower at all. Yes, it’s a big country but it’s not at all rich, with an underdeveloped infrastructure and a rapidly ageing and diminishing population. On top of this, it’s managing to get though the reserves it built up during the rich oil years at a frightening rate. To be spending impoverished taxpayers’ money on Bulavas is not just wasteful but a demonstration of clear lack of consideration for the nation’s interests.
Maybe Russia is still competing with the USA but the United States is definitely not competing with Russia, as anyone who has even once compared the economic potentials, military budgets, and investment capacities of the two countries surely understands. Russia can try all it likes and for as long as it likes to catch up with America but the result will not be Bulavas [bulava means ‘mace’ in Russian] blasting frighteningly on target but just pin pricks [bulavka is a pin in Russian].
We have witnessed this already – when Moscow sent its warships to Latin America. Nice but obsolete. It’s happening again now as patriots defend the presence in Sevastopol of a naval museum called the Black Sea Fleet of the Russian Federation. Of course, we don’t need even such a fleet or army, with or without Bulavas, to beat Georgia. But that’s not who we’re competing against – or have I got that wrong?