President Medvedev at Alabino
On 5 May, President Medvedev visited Alabino’s 5th Guards Taman Independent Motorized Rifle Brigade (formerly division), a traditional showcase and test bed formation for new equipment and concepts.
Medvedev and Defense Minister Serdyukov followed up the latter’s late April meeting with the Committee of Soldiers’ Mothers and other public representatives about ‘humanizing’ the armed forces. At that time, Serdyukov presented ideas for driving the ‘spirit of the prison camp from the army.’ They included freeing soldiers from additional duties to focus completely on training, allowing them more free time, pushing reveille and lights-out back an hour, mandating a rest hour after lunch, instituting a 5-day conscript working week, allowing the possibility of draftees serving close to home, and obtaining weekend passes to leave the garrison.
Alabino is a place where things like these are typically tried out.
As Rossiyskaya gazeta put it, Medvedev went to Alabino to see how conscripts live in ‘new profile’ conditions. He inspected the training grounds, classrooms, and barracks, and answered questions from the new soldiers themselves.
Medvedev and Serdyukov addressed physical training, one-year conscription, contract service, weekend passes, mobile phones, and hiring civilians to perform nonmilitary support services.
Taman Brigade Commander Andrey Ivanayev told the Supreme CINC about the experiment with intensive physical training (PT) in his formation. Ivanayev indicated the troops formerly had 53 hours of PT per year, but now get 4-5 hours per day, or about 25 per week. He and Medvedev discussed how soldiers are separated into groups by the physical load they can handle.
In the Kremlin.ru transcript, Ivanayev said in April testing there were only 88 negative PT evaluations. According to RIA Novosti’s reporting, Ivanayev thinks the formation’s fitness level has already increased 50 percent.
Medvedev remarked on the Taman brigade’s outfitting with special PT gear. He asked Defense Minister Serdyukov about introducing new athletic uniforms in other units. Serdyukov said:
“Yes, we are literally this spring buying 50,000 sets and toward fall, apparently, on the order of 100,000 more, the fact is in the course of two years we’re trying to outfit the entire army fully with sports gear for training in summer as well as winter.”
Most important to the vast majority of Russians, Medvedev told Taman brigade soldiers he doesn’t intend to raise the current 1-year conscription term:
“That decision on the transition to one-year service which was made, it was painful for us, it isn’t easy, but we won’t change it. Service in other countries comparable to our country in combat potential is organized in exactly such as way. And this year still allows us to train a quality specialist, soldier, sergeant. And despite the fact that there are now certain problems with manning—it’s true, we don’t intend to change the service term.”
When one soldier asked about enlisted contract service, Medvedev turned to Serdyukov to explain what’s new on this front. Serdyukov answered:
“We are now preparing a concept precisely on contract service for soldier and sergeant personnel. There will be an entire complex of proposals, including on pay, service conduct. We will equate the entire social package (sergeant like officer) on support, pay and all parameters . . . .”
“I think in the course of this summer we will prepare and then send you concrete proposals about how this will look, what quantity of contractees we intend to accept, in which specialties particularly and with what kind of pay.”
Medvedev responded that current pay is not very high, but those who are serving well on it should be retained:
“However, at the same time, it’s completely obvious according to the well-known principle, better less, but better. Let there be higher pay and those remaining will really want to serve, instead of us spreading this [pay] among a large quantity of contractees, who won’t have the stimulus, particular desire, or any kind of motive to continue serving and to serve well.”
When Medvedev pressed him for what he thinks about contractee pay, Moscow MD Commander Valeriy Gerasimov finally said he thinks contractees should get 50-60 percent of lieutenant pay. Serdyukov said it would be more on the order of 80-85 percent, depending on the duty position. The more technically complex, the closer to officer pay. He continues:
“We are proceeding from the fact that, on the whole, in all the armed forces—a lieutenant from 55, and a sergeant from 35 [thousand rubles per month] . . . .”
But a little math says that is closer to Gerasimov’s figure, or 64 percent of officer pay . . .
Medvedev asked his Defense Minister about devising a policy to give conscripts weekend passes to visit home if they live nearby. Serdyukov said:
“We are planning over two-three months to proceed on this regime. Well, naturally, after taking the oath, after he becomes a soldier, after this we’ll introduce it. We have this really experimental brigade, we are just beginning to work all these approaches out.”
“Here again we have to proceed from modern approaches. If a guy serves close by and manning goes according to the territorial principle, then why not let him go home? Another thing, of course, everyone has to understand what responsibility the soldier carries for any type of infraction in this case, but this is just a question of self-discipline. You want to go home for the weekend, this means, simply do everything as it’s supposed to be done.”
Serdyukov chimed in:
“In the course of five days [of the working week] you need to show the highest indicators, then this will be a particular stimulus for one who wants to pay a visit home on Saturday and Sunday.”
This policy is especially interesting . . . the possibility of the weekend pass is predicated on several things not really discussed during the Alabino visit. Working backward, the pass depends on successfully implementing a five-day working week for conscripts. Then on having conscripts serving relatively close to home in the first place. At least one voyenkom has already said conscripts from his republic don’t have this chance because they all serve outside their home borders. A prized weekend pass could also become one more thing to be bought and sold to the highest bidder, or briber. If implemented, this policy will be difficult to maintain in the face of soldiers who don’t return to the garrison or get into serious trouble while away from it.
A new conscript asked Medvedev if mobile phones are permitted in the army. The President asked him if he had one in his pocket, and the soldier replied yes. Medvedev responded, “Then why did you ask?” He continued:
“In fact these rules, as I understand, essentially are established at the unit level, at the level of the corresponding troop formation, but there are no bans on this issue.”
Gerasimov added that in the Moscow MD anyone may have a cell phone, but they may not be used during training or duty time.
Discussing training and physical conditioning, Serdyukov turned to one of his earliest initiatives at the Defense Ministry—relieving soldiers from essential nonmilitary duties like kitchen patrol, cleaning, groundskeeping, and utilities maintenance.
He mentioned the goal of moving to civilian service and support within 12-18 months in all Defense Ministry units, but “everything will depend on our financial condition. According to preliminary calculations, we have to make do in the bounds of our existing budget.”
“I think here it’s obvious to everyone that soldiers and officers need to serve the Motherland, be occupied with troop training, improve their physical conditioning, but questions of maintaining the sub-unit, generally, this is an issue which civilian organizations could do successfully for money, as this is done, incidentally, around the world. Then there won’t be problems with tiresome details and it’ll be possible to concentrate on fundamental service.”
Civilians already take care of the Taman brigade’s food service, and soon they will maintain its engineering networks, and provide cleaning services. Serdyukov indicated the FSB is working on licensing firms to work in closed facilities, and Oboronservis will work in remote garrisons where contractors can’t be found.