Dropping Russia’s military manpower level below one million? Talk about a watershed. This might be spurious information, but coming from Dmitriy Litovkin, the report has to be taken seriously. In fine Russian tradition, it could be a trial balloon to elicit public and elite reactions.
In yesterday’s Izvestiya, Litovkin reported that, over the course of two years, the Russian Army will become smaller by 150,000 men, according to a Defense Ministry source.
The impetus for this is the Finance Ministry’s. Aleksey Kudrin’s been ordered to fight the budget deficit, and he’s got defense and security spending in his sights.
The source says concrete proposals to cut military expenditures were prepared for a special government conference in early June. As a result, the government adopted an “additional reduction” of 150,000 servicemen. This would reportedly save 10 billion rubles in 2010 [sic], and almost 50 billion rubles in 2014. The article says military staffs have already been cut 40 percent as a result of army reform.
Litovkin notes Defense Minister Serdyukov has previously called one million the “optimal” manning figure — ostensibly 150,000 officers, 100,000-120,000 contract sergeants, and conscripts for the balance.
But it wasn’t so long ago that the Defense Ministry declared the need for an increase of 70,000 officers, and raising the number of contract NCOs and soldiers to 480,000. It’s not clear how these new cuts are supposed to jibe with increases proposed earlier this year. The Supreme CINC [together with his tandem partner] will have to decide.
Litovkin enumerates Defense Minister Serdyukov’s competing costly initiatives — higher officer pay, outsourcing nonmilitary tasks, etc. According to this, outsourcing alone has already brought 380,000 [!?] civilians into military support positions and this number is supposed to increase. Litovkin doesn’t close the loop on this, but he seems to imply the high cost of these efforts requires cuts in manpower.
This is all exciting and interesting and occasions a couple thoughts.
One. The new “optimal” number for the Armed Forces must be 850,000. Liberal Russian politicians, military analysts, and observers have long argued for this, or an even more radical cut. But one million has had mystical power. Russian conservatives will vociferously object that the country’s borders are too extensive to be defended by a single man short of one million, as if even one [or for that matter two] million could do it, or as if sheer manpower’s the best way to parry modern military threats.
Two. Though not mentioned by Litovkin, isn’t it possible Moscow’s decided to make a virtue of necessity and recognize that demographic and draft problems have left them well short of a fully-manned force of one million anyway? This could be a small step in the direction of becoming (or at least looking) more like just another European army.
Three. The inevitable downsides. Keeping more officers had been intended to deal with the outplacement cost (apartments) and other negative fallout of cutting the officer corps in half, not to mention simply having more officers around to deal with unruly nonprofessional soldiers in the ranks. And another round of personnel reductions is likely to delay any resumed movement toward a long-term professional enlisted force.
Just the latest fro in the game of Russian defense policy to-and-fro.