Anatoliy Serdyukov’s 18 March pronouncement on relaunching contract service was another painful Defense Ministry policy reversal. He said:
“One of the important directions of Armed Forces reform is improving the manning system. The Russian Federation President approved the Defense Ministry’s proposal to have 220 thousand officer positions and 425 thousand servicemen serving on contract in the Armed Forces. The given changes in numerical strength are viewed as long-range and connected with keeping a missile army and four missile divisions in the Armed Forces order of battle, increasing the number of formations in the Ground Troops, and establishing the Air-Space Defense Troops. It is planned to increase the share of contract-servicemen by creating attractive military service conditions. In the near future, soldier and sergeant duties will be manned on a mixed [i.e. conscript and contract] basis.”
Serdyukov’s words in 2011 sound very much like former Defense Minister Ivanov’s when he launched contract service nine years ago. We’ve come full circle. Russia tried professional enlisted service, declared it a failure, and returns to it as something essential and unavoidable. The inevitability of contract service springs from the insoluble problem of the draft. Moscow can’t man its Armed Forces with the right number and kind of conscript soldiers.
Early last year, Serdyukov was careful in his criticism of contract service. He consistently pointed to inadequate funding as the reason for failure. He didn’t indict the concept. The Defense Minister said contractees would be cut, and eventually brought back up to the level of 200 or 250 thousand. The current target of 425 thousand indicates something’s changed significantly over the past year.
For his part, General Staff Chief Nikolay Makarov categorically condemned contract service. In early 2010, he said:
“We are not switching to a contract basis. Many mistakes were allowed, and that task which was given—construction of a professional army—was not completed. Therefore a decision was made that conscript service needed to remain in the army. Moreover, we are increasing the draft , and decreasing the contract part.”
One can hear sand crunch under Makarov’s boot as he about faced in his Academy of Military Sciences speech last week:
“You know about the recent decisions of the Supreme CINC to have 425 thousand contractees and 220 thousand officers. We will be implementing this literally starting today.”
“We understand that these Armed Forces are created for servicemen-contractees. Only with their training can we have a well-prepared and professional army.”
So we understand that do we? It’s not how Makarov understood things a year ago.
Let’s summarize where we are . . . a year ago, contract service was cast off and the Defense Ministry said henceforth it would rely on conscript manpower with far less training and experience than contractees that apparently didn’t meet its needs. Serdyukov and Makarov declared the central military personnel policy of the 2000s — Putin’s years as Supreme CINC — to be a complete and utter disaster.
Now barely 13 months later, these men have recognized the basic reality that there simply aren’t enough conscripts and they aren’t the kind of manpower that can operate a modernized Russian Army. So the turn back to contractees.
But still questions remain. How will Russia create these professionals? How will it craft a contract service policy that works? How will it differ from what was tried previously?
So far the answers sound familiar. Good pay, service conditions, housing . . . will they be more successful getting these things for contractees this time around? Can they afford them more? What is different this time?
What is different this time? This time they really, really mean it.