Tag Archives: Draft

Farewell Russian Arms and Russian Army

Does it matter what old soldiers think?  It doesn’t seem to right now.  Maybe they’re just bitter old dudes whose time has passed. 

But they certainly provide interesting and frank commentary on the state of the OPK, the Armed Forces, and Serdyukov’s reforms at odds with official pronouncements from the Kremlin, White House, and Defense Ministry.

Former 58th Army Commander, retired General-Lieutenant Viktor Sobolev wrote recently for Pravda.  He reacted to a program on the army on NTV from October 9.  It apparently wasn’t posted on NTV’s site. 

Sobolev says this right up front:

“On the eve of elections, our president and Supreme Commander-in-Chief Dmitriy Medvedev and ‘national leader’ Vladimir Putin have been worried in turn by the condition of the country’s army and military-industrial complex and are assuring gullible Russian citizens that they will do everything so that our Armed Forces meet modern requirements and receive new types of armaments and military equipment in a timely manner.”

“The Russian mass media [SMI] under the government’s and president’s control have been actively used in making these assurances.”

The ex-general-lieutenant is critical of just about everyone:  Serdyukov and his “effective” managers, people who haven’t served in the army, former First Deputy Defense Minister Popovkin who wanted to buy more arms abroad, his successor Sukhorukov who dares insist that defense enterprises substantiate their prices, independent defense commentators like Litovkin and Pukhov, interest-hungry banks, corrupt middlemen.

He points only to Tactical Missile Armaments Corporation General Director Boris Obnosov in a positive light for recognizing that other countries won’t sell Russia their best weaponry. 

Still, Sobolev’s under a bit of a misimpression thinking that Moscow is really buying lots abroad.  In fact, a cynical observer might conclude the whole situation over the last year was designed to let Putin be the champion of the domestic defense sector vs. Medvedev the Westernizer.  But we digress . . . 

For Sobolev, this all sums to an OPK with a broken GOZ, that’s chronically underfinanced and losing its capability to produce modern arms and equipment. 

Again, the cynic might say this was already lost a number of years ago.

But, says Sobolev, when compared with the OPK:

“Even worse is the situation in the Armed Forces.  It’s believed we have a million-man army which Mr. Sukhorukov recalled on this program.  Let’s calculate it together.  According to TO&E, there are 150 thousand officers in the army, no warrants at all, they were liquidated.  According to civilian [but he still wears his uniform] GOMU Chief V. Smirnov, 184 thousand contractees are serving in the army and navy.  In all 334 thousand, the remaining 666 thousand are conscript servicemen.  But they simply couldn’t have called up so many.  Moreover, conscripts serve not only in the army and navy, of the number called up, up to 30% serve in the Internal Troops, Border Guards, MChS units, presidential regiment, and so forth.  This means in the army and navy huge undermanning exists, and it will only get bigger.  It’s planned to reduce the fall callup by 2 times.  More than 200 thousand citizens, according to Smirnov, are evading military service.  The spring callup stretches out to September, and the fall until March.  In the troops, they’re occupied with it constantly, in the course of the entire year, they take young soldiers into their ranks in small groups, organize individual training for them and try to man sub-units.  At the same time, the process of dismissal also goes on without interruption.  In these conditions, you can’t talk about any kind of quality manning of sub-units.  What kind of units of permanent combat readiness are these?”

“Therefore NATO’s military analysts note with satisfaction that, as a result of the reforms conducted, Russia’s Armed Forces aren’t capable of completing missions even in local conflicts, ‘The Russian Army does not have a sufficient quantity of transport resources for redeploying troops over great distances, does not have a sufficient quantity of aircraft and pilots who know how to fly in any weather, no unified information system.  There are not enough soldiers in the army . . .’”

“In NATO, they understand the Russian Army’s fallen apart, but how about our country’s leadership?”

Whoa. 

Sobolev’s no crank, and he’s not to be taken lightly.  Born and schooled in southern Russia, he probably has combat experience whereas the current General Staff Chief and Ground Troops CINC probably don’t.  Sobolev served as Deputy Commander of the OGV(s) in Chechnya in 2002, before taking over the NCMD’s 58th Army in 2003.  He ended his career as the chief military advisor in Russia’s Indian embassy in late 2010.

General-Lieutenant Sobolev

A more recent photo shows him looking just about as fit in retirement at age 61.

One wonders if a conservative like Sobolev realizes how much his thinking coincides with that of more liberal critics he seems to detest.

Walking Back Contract Service (Part II)

Here are some particulars from Deputy Chief of the General Staff, GOMU Chief General-Colonel Vasiliy Smirnov’s press-conference on the spring draft — and contract service — last week.

After dropping his lower spring draft number (203,720) bombshell, Smirnov said an increase in contractees will accompany this reduction in conscripts.  The Defense Ministry will determine clear, strict criteria for selecting and training contractees, and will raise the prestige of their service (along with their pay and living conditions, of course). 

In other remarks to the press, Smirnov emphasized that conscript service will remain, and the Armed Forces will retain mixed manning (i.e. conscripts and contractees).

Smirnov listed the following priorities for contract manning:

“In 2011, we will man sergeant posts, Navy afloat personnel, Airborne Troops [VDV] formations and military units, formations deployed on the territory of the Chechen Republic, and also the most knowledge-intensive and high technology military specialties, which determine the combat capability of formations and military units, with servicemen on contract.”

Priorities for Contract Service

In the near term, according to Smirnov, the Defense Ministry will put contractees in all sergeant-squad leader billets and positions involving maintenance or operation of complex or new weapons systems and equipment.

He said training of professional sergeants in the Defense Ministry’s higher educational institutions began in six schools in 2009, expanded to 19 last year, and will be conducted in 24 in 2011.

In his Q&A with the media, Smirnov said there’s no plan to switch to large numbers of contractees immediately, but rather:

“The number of contractees will increase gradually, mainly because of the large-scale introduction of new types of armaments.”

So he linked the need for contractees to presumed future success in acquiring new equipment under GPV 2011-2020.

Smirnov told the media a pereattestatsiya was conducted last year, and only 174 thousand competent contractees remain.  He also noted (as indicated on his slide above) that Spetsnaz would also be a priority for contractees.  He said there are currently 55,000 contract sergeants in the training pipeline.

Smirnov defended the earlier contract effort in the mid-2000s, saying it was successfully fulfilled despite being only half financed at 76 billion rubles, and:

“The main Navy and VDV units and formations are half manned with contract servicemen.”

Not a stunning testament to the earlier program.

It’s interesting that Smirnov talked so much about contract NCOs when, less than two months ago, the Federal Targeted Program for Manning Sergeant Billets with Contractees, 2009-2015 was cut in half.  Financing was reduced from 243 to 152 billion rubles, and the number of contract sergeants to be trained from 107,000 to 65,000.  For stories on this, see KommersantNewsru.com, or Komsomolskaya pravda.  The sources in these reports also put the number of contractees remaining much lower than Smirnov’s 174,000; they say at or just above 100,000.

One finds it hard to fathom that the Defense Ministry can find 425,000 contractees when just a half dozen years ago it failed to recruit, train, and retain 133,000.  Thus far in these early pronouncements on reinvigorating contract service nothing’s been said about what or how it will be different this time.  The Defense Ministry will have to make such a case to its political masters, the public, and the men it’s trying to sign up at some point.

Some things, like the Defense Ministry’s other priorities, are already known.  A renewed contract service effort will have to compete with a new higher pay system for a larger number of officers starting next year.  And the Defense Ministry is also at the outset of a new and expensive GPV that’s supposed to provide modern weapons and equipment which demand long-term, professional enlisted personnel (aka contractees).  And there are overdue and unfinished agenda items like the provision of permanent and service housing to officers.

Yes, your author is skeptical that the renewed push for contractees can gain traction.  We have to remember this magical 425,000 number is somewhere off in the future.  There’s no promised delivery date.  And the entire issue began with the tacit recognition that, for many reasons, Russia can only conscript so much manpower.  Keeping fewer guys from being shaved and inducted pretty much against their will is always good politics on the cusp of a presidential election year.

Walking Back the Draft

General-Colonel Vasiliy Smirnov

Reversing decisions made in the context of Defense Minister Anatoliy Serdyukov’s military reforms is apparently necessary, no matter how painful.  In early 2010, Serdyukov and General Staff Chief Nikolay Makarov announced their intention to curtail professional contract service and rely on the one-year draft to man the Armed Forces.  Scarcely more than a year later, they’ve been forced to retreat from this plan.

Yesterday Deputy General Staff Chief, General-Colonel Vasiliy Smirnov said Moscow will draft only about 200,000 young men in this spring’s callup.  See Mil.ru’s transcript of the press-conference.

The Russian military has tried to conscript in excess of 270,000 men in every draft campaign since one-year service started.  But General-Colonel Smirnov said the military will now induct only 203,720 men this spring, and (not mentioning problems with numbers) he attributed the reduction to a Defense Ministry and General Staff decision to raise the quality of the callup contingent.  He added that coming drafts would also aim for about 200,000 new soldiers, plus or minus 3-5 percent.

The Russians are also refraining from measures to round up more men.  Newsru.com noted the spring callup will run only until July 15, not August 31 which would have allowed for drafting more men before they enter higher educational institutions (VUZy).  President Medvedev decided not to make technicum (post-secondary trade school) graduates liable to the draft so they can attend VUZy if they choose.  Other ideas, such as extending the upper age limit for the draft from 27 to 30, or raising the service term back to 18 months or 2 years, remain off the table.

So Moscow is facing its manpower limitations head-on.

The simple fact is a million-man Russian Army was never going to have 600,000 or 700,000 conscripts, perhaps not even 540,000 at any given moment.  Vladimir Mukhin already reported in January on the fall callup’s failure, and approximately 20 percent undermanning in the ranks.  That would put draftees at about 430,000, or at what Smirnov says they now plan to conscript each year.  Mikhail Lukanin wrote last June that the military’s conscription targets were unrealistic when the number of 18-year-olds alone won’t reach 600,000 during the next couple years.  Army General Makarov said it himself back in September when he noted that only about 13 percent of draft-liable manpower serves in the army.  His 13 percent of 3 million 18- to 27-year-olds is 390,000.

Where does all this leave Russian Army manpower?

Taking recent pronouncements on the intention to have 220,000 officers and 425,000 contractees in the future, conscripts might number 355,000 at some point in a million-man army.  Smirnov’s statement yesterday indicates they intend to have somewhat more than 400,000 at any given time for now.  Where they are today is harder.  If there are 181,000 officers and 174,000 contractees (as Smirnov said yesterday), and there are no more than 540,000 conscripts presently serving, the Armed Forces are comprised of less than 900,000 men.  How much less depends on the actual number of conscripts.  That’s at least ten percent below their authorized level.  If there are only 500,000 conscripts, that’s about 850,000, or 15 percent under one million, and so on.

20 Percent Undermanning and Declining Contract Service

Nezavisimaya gazeta’s Vladimir Mukhin writes this morning that the results of the fall draft are still being tallied, but the General Staff has already announced that several regions didn’t meet their conscription plans.  And so, for the first time in recent years, the Armed Forces is facing undermanned conscript soldier and sergeant ranks, while the number of contract soldiers continues its decline.

Mukhin harks back to Defense Minister Anatoliy Serdyukov’s recent Duma session, where he admitted that the army’s demand for soldiers is not being fully met.  The exact quantitative deficit is a secret, but Mukhin says even a crude estimate tells him the military is at least 20 percent undermanned.

The Armed Forces now officially have less than 500,000 conscripts, 181,000 officers, and 120,000 contractees (800,000 in all, roughly), although approved manning is 1 million.

Mukhin concludes:

“It goes without saying, undermanning affects their combat readiness.  And measures taken to resolve the problem, let’s say it directly, are hard to call adequate.”

A retired VDV general tells Mukhin contractees in the Pskov-based 76th Airborne Division (VDD or ВДД) dropped from 20 percent of personnel to 12 percent in 2010.  The outflow was due to low pay of 11,000 rubles per month against an oblast average of about 18,000. 

Mukhin forgets to mention that the 76th VDD was the cradle of “Pskov experiment” with contract service in 2003.  It led to the wider Federal Targeted Program, 2004-2007, which General Staff Chief Makarov declared a failure early last year.

The Pskov-based 2nd Spetsnaz Brigade recently received a Defense Ministry order not to extend professional contractees, and to replace them with conscript soldiers and sergeants from training sub-units (i.e. guys who’ve been in the army all of three months).

Mukhin’s ex-general says:

“We don’t have to say what Spetsnaz brigades do.  Namely, as before, they carry out not training, but combat missions in North Caucasus hot spots.  You can’t train a good Spetsnaz soldier in a year even, much less three months.  I don’t want to be the prophet of doom, but this means the likelihood of casualties will grow in a combat situation.”

A good article by Mukhin.  His general’s words will likely be borne out.  Anyone who followed both Chechen wars can see the Russian Army lining itself up to relearn the bitter lessons of those conflicts when it comes to choosing between professionals and draftees.

181,000 Officers in the Armed Forces

The 29 December issue of Krasnaya zvezda provides interesting personnel data points . . .

124,000 officers must have been dismissed in the past two years.  At the outset of Serdyukov’s reforms, there were 305,000 occupied officer billets, so subtract 181,000 for 124,000.  Nothing, however, is said about officers put outside the org-shtat who can’t be dismissed for lack of housing.  No word is given on where warrant officers stand; they were slated for “elimination as a class.”

The piece flat out says the state can’t draft enough men to cover the military’s requirements, and there’s little to fix the problem (going below 1 million men apparently isn’t an option).  It also says starkly that contract service was a failure, but it will be gradually resurrected anyway (certainly the right way this time).

More pains are taken to say that mobilization isn’t really dead.  Armies and brigades are freed from worrying about it, but an experiment in raising a reserve brigade will be attempted this year.

As of 1 December 2010, there are 1 million servicemen, including 181,000 officers (18.1 percent).  By 2013, the RF President’s target of 15 percent will be reached.

In 2008, there were nearly 500,000 officers and warrant officers, almost 50 percent of all servicemen in the Armed Forces.  There was an imbalance in the officer ranks.  Sixty percent of officer posts were held by senior officers.  Over the 2008-2010 period, 170,000 officer posts were eliminated.  Meanwhile, the optimal correlation of senior and junior officers was achieved by increasing the latter’s numbers.

But the article notes junior officers ranks were cut too — by stopping the acceptance of cadets into VVUZy and making some officers into sergeants.  Changes in service regulations allowed the Defense Ministry to appoint officers to lower-ranking [i.e. enlisted] duties.  The ex-officers represent a “reserve” for filling officer billets as they become available.

This year, Krasnaya zvezda concedes, the state’s military organization was not able to draft enough young men.  And the number of men reaching draft age is decreasing every year because of the continuing demographic decline.

Regarding contractees, in recent years, the state failed to raise the prestige of contract service, and decided to limit contractees to specific duties with complex equipment or those directly impacting the combat capability of military units.  But, in the future, it’s planned to increase the share of contractees as more attractive service conditions, first and foremost higher pay, are created.  This will allow for putting contractees in all sergeant and training posts, as well as those involving complex armaments and specialized equipment.

KZ says assertions that, in three years, the army will have to draft nearly 80 percent of 18-year-olds are groundless.  It says this fails to account for the fact that the army can take conscripts up to age 27.  But, it concedes, manning problems really exist because of the demographic hole.  In 2010, more than half — about 1.9 million — of the men liable to conscription had student deferments.  So, it concludes, the share of men possible to draft amounted to only 17.4 percent of those in the potential conscript pool.

In 2010, every third man was not fit for service on health grounds, and 66,000 were held back for more medical observation.  More than half had some health limits on their service, and could not be sent for physically demanding service in the VDV, Navy, Internal Troops, etc.

And the Defense Ministry doesn’t have an answer.  The article says it will sequentially increase the number of contractees, make those responsible for the draft be, well, actually responsible for it, and, of course, make military service more attractive.  Less onerous might be a more realistic goal.  And this actually seems like Serdyukov’s intent.

On 4 May 2007, the President (Putin) confirmed a “Concept of Establishing a New Armed Forces Training and Human Mobilization Resource Accumulation System.”  The new “human mobilization reserve” will be formed in stages using both Russian and foreign experience, adapted to Russian conditions and military organizational plans.  The Duma Defense Committee is working on new reserve service conditions in a law on the “human mobilization reserve.”

This article says there are plans to conduct an experiment in manning a single wartime formation [i.e. brigade] with reservists this year.

KZ makes a point of saying that mobilization work and training have been preserved, but permanent readiness armies and brigades are exempt from it.

Serdyukov Offers Access to Military Units

Varying media accounts of Defense Minister Serdyukov’s meeting Thursday with defenders of conscript rights lead one to think they attended different meetings.

But the Defense Minister deserves praise for facing some of the army’s sharpest critics.  And for apparently saying he wants to meet them routinely, according to Krasnaya zvezda.  His predecessors rarely did.

The headline story from the meeting was Serdyukov’s offer for civilian activists to accompany conscripts through the induction process until they reach their place of service, and settle into their units.  He also offered fuller access to the military’s bases.

RIA Novosti  quoted him:

“We want to propose an option for accompanying conscripts:  take part in the callup commission, and then go with them to units and see how they are billeted.” 

He added that he is prepared to let civilian representatives into all military units, with the exception of an unknown number of secret ones.

According to ITAR-TASS, he said:

“The Defense Ministry on the whole is interested in public organizations having access to military units.”

So Serdyukov bowed to greater civilian involvement, if not control or oversight, and also stumped for his efforts to ‘humanize’ conscript service in the armed forces.

His offer was interesting for the catch it included . . . these civil society representatives have to participate in the callup commission before they can go with new soldiers to their units. 

Maybe Serdyukov thinks they won’t take up the offer.  Maybe he thinks, if they do, they’ll dirty their hands in the difficult work of deciding who has to serve, or doesn’t, and where.  Maybe sorting through far-from-ideal candidates and still trying to meet manpower quotas will temper their criticism.

But it may give conscript rights activists even better insight into induction process problems and abuses than they already have.   We’ll see.

Serdyukov touted efforts to enable conscripts, especially those with dependent parents and children, to serve as close to home as possible, rather than sending them as far away as possible like in the past.

But Valentina Melnikova of the Union of Committees of Soldiers’ Mothers (SKSM or СКСМ) believes no one is fulfilling Serdyukov’s order to assign draftees closer to home:

“In military commissariats no one pays attention to this.”

According to Lenta.ru, Serdyukov cited his other innovations – introducing a rest hour after lunch, lifting virtually all restrictions on the use of cell phones by conscripts, giving them a chance to earn a weekend pass, and freeing them from all housekeeping and maintenance chores in their barracks, units, and garrisons.  But neither Serdyukov nor the media could say how widely these initiatives have been implemented. 

According to Krasnaya zvezda, Serdyukov wants to revive moribund parents’ committees introduced several years ago, but found impractical when young men served in remote areas far from home.  If they’re closer to home, their parents might be able to visit their units.  Serdyukov also mentioned the 4-year-old Defense Ministry Public Council.  Krasnaya zvezda reported that Melnikova is heading its working group to coordinate its activities with other public and human rights organizations.  Serdyukov expressed the hope that such a unification of efforts will be beneficial.

IA Regnum reports that Petersburg’s Ella Polyakova gave Serdyukov a detailed report on violations of conscript rights complete with statistics, concrete examples, and proposals to better protect them.

Polyakova would like to remove examining physicians from the callup commission, and from the control of the voyenkomat.  She said their qualifications need improvement also.  She objected to Serdyukov’s cuts in military medicine and called for better psychiatric assistance for conscripts in their units.

Polyakova says Serdyukov’s officer cuts have worsened the situation in the barracks.  Sergeants who were supposed to replace officers are ill-prepared for greater responsibility, and barracks violence has spiked as a result.  The Main Military Prosecutor’s figures support her.  Sergey Fridinskiy recently reported that hazing and other barracks violence increased 50 percent in the first five months of 2010.

Newsru.com reported Tatyana Kuznetsova’s concern about the army stretching its definition of fitness and taking men who should be deferred or exempt for health reasons:

“But, as we know, right away, having just reached the troops, many guys turned up in hospitals which were overflowing.  Like in a war, they laid in three rows, on the floor, in corridors.  These boys were called up sick, with chronic illnesses that weren’t discovered during the callup.  They weren’t discovered on purpose.”

All in all, it’s clear that, no matter how often they get together, Defense Minister Serdyukov and human rights activists will continue to disagree about the state of the army and how to change it.

According to IA Regnum, when Serdyukov said there’s no money for contract service, the activists asked him to explain:

“. . . how much money is being expended from budgets at all levels to fulfill the conscription plan in the ranks of the armed forces, as a result of which young men who are sick, invalids, and psychologically unstable end up in the army.  And next compare this with the amounts of expenditures to dismiss conscripts from the army after several months for health reasons, and to pay compensation to the families of those who have died or become invalids in peacetime.”

Contract Service Not Quite Abandoned

In St. Petersburg Thursday, Anatoliy Serdyukov explained that the Defense Ministry is cutting the number of contractees due to a lack of funding:

“We don’t have the resources to maintain contractees in the amount we want, therefore a reduction in contractees and an increase in conscripts are occurring.”

He made the remarks in response to complaints about higher draft numbers in a meeting with human rights activists.  

Serdyukov said the transition to permanent combat readiness units requires the Defense Ministry to take a full draft contingent, meaning that an increased number of those with an unfulfilled military obligation are being conscripted. 

But he repeated past statements that the armed forces will drop by 134,000 at some point to a level of one million personnel.

According to Svpressa.ru, at the March Defense Ministry collegium Serdyukov admitted:

“We are not satisfied with the results of this [contract service] program.  We somewhat underestimated the situation in units – who should transfer to contract, on what conditions, with what kind of pay.”

RIA Novosti cited GOMU Chief Vasiliy Smirnov from the end of July when he said that contractees will man more than 100,000 soldier and sergeant billets in the Russian military.  This press item added Smirnov’s comments that contractees will be 20 percent of the armed forces, and currently number 210,000.  And money freed up by the reduction in contractees will go to increased pay for other unidentified servicemen.

Some of this reporting – especially Smirnov’s 100,000 and 20 percent figures – seems garbled, but it’s just that some key background’s been left out.  Let’s rebuild some context around last week’s statements, so they make more sense.

Looking back on what was said officially last winter, General Staff Chief Nikolay Makarov had a much harder edge on his pronouncements about the failure of contract service.  Serdyukov was much less categorical; he emphasized that contract service was being cut, not abandoned.

Makarov and Serdyukov offered different figures on contractees; the former said 190,000 and the latter 150,000.  And Smirnov said 210,000.  Recall all three figures probably included 79,000 or less recruited in the 2004-2007 program.

Serdyukov said first the contract service program will be cut – perhaps down to Smirnov’s 100,000 – then eventually expanded to 200,000 or 250,000.  In his March interview, even Makarov said ideally a motorized rifle brigade should have about 20 percent professional enlisted personnel. 

At Alabino in May, Serdyukov said contract service is being reworked.  The key thing is he’s yet to explain exactly how he’ll do it.  For the time being, he’s saying there’s no money for it, but it remains on the agenda.

For now, contractees will or may be cut to Smirnov’s 100,000 level, but if they expand back to 200,000 somehow in the future, they would be 20 percent of Serdyukov’s million-man army.  For now, they’re going to be 18 or 13 percent of the army, and drop maybe as low as 10 percent before increasing (maybe).

We should also recall Valentina Melnikova’s admonition not to believe Russian generals (or defense ministers) when they say they can’t afford a professional army.  They just have other priorities right now.

More Talk of Raising Draft Age to 30

Appearing on Thursday’s RIA Novosti talk show ‘Civil Defense,’ Deputy Defense Minister, State Secretary Nikolay Pankov claimed raising the upper age limit for conscription would benefit the army, and Russian society as a whole.

Under Russian law, men aged 18 to 27 are subject to the draft.  In April, GOMU Chief Vasiliy Smirnov floated the possibility of increasing the age to 30 as a way to help fill the army’s ranks at a time when 270,000 new conscripts are needed every six months, and contract service has failed to produce sufficient numbers of professional soldiers.

Pankov told his interviewer:

“I think this question [of raising the draft age limit] is very productive, and I wouldn’t reject this idea.”

But he admitted it needs more study.

After Smirnov’s April trial balloon, Defense Minister Serdyukov and General Staff Chief Makarov backed awayfrom raising the draft age, saying they were only ‘reviewing options.’

The issue really boils down to this:  how many 27-year-olds are the Russians currently drafting, and how much would drafting 28-, 29-, and 30-year-olds really help fill gaps in the ranks?

One has to conclude the return on conscription greatly diminishes at the outer edge, while resistance to it increases.  Forum.msk editor Anatoliy Baranov commented that raising the draft age limit to 30 is unpopular because average life expectancy for men is less than 60.  He continues:

“Of course, against the background of a general decline in the draft contingent by almost 2 times for social and demographic reasons, there are no and can’t be solutions fully compensating for this ‘demographic hole.’”

“How do you keep general military training and not draft everyone into the army at the same time?  There are, of course, solutions, but the current Defense Ministry leadership, it seems, consciously ‘overlooks’ them.”

Baranov seems to be saying, if the military wants a million-man army, with 600,000-700,000 conscripts, it’ll have to increase, not the draft age, but the draft term from one year back to 18-months or two years.

Medvedev Opens Discussion on Conscription Changes

Presidential Meeting on Conscription (photo: Kremlin.ru)

Talk of military conscription changes has swirled in recent months.  Many potential changes have been attributed to General Staff Chief Makarov or his deputy, GOMU Chief Vasiliy Smirnov.  

While they talked about extending the draft age to 30, or tightening deferments, Defense Minister Serdyukov played ‘good cop,’ launching initiatives to ‘humanize’ military service, and make more men willing to serve.

In the last week, the press has published favorable reports on the just-concluded spring draft campaign.  But, meeting with PA officials and ministers in Gorki yesterday, President Medvedev sounded a different note, indicating that a deeper look at Russia’s military manpower resources and policies is needed. 

The meeting included relevant ministers, but not Prime Minister Putin.  Along with Makarov and Smirnov, Defense Minister Serdyukov and ROSTO / DOSAAF Chief Sergey Mayev attended.  Smirnov appears in uniform (bottom right of the picture), though it’s been thought he retired and put on civilian clothes.  He’s already 60, so he’s beyond the age limit for a general-colonel.  He’s served in the General Staff since 1982.  He was a GOMU directorate chief in the mid-1990s, then Deputy Chief, and Chief since August 2002.  Few Russian military officials should know their issues as well as Smirnov.

The key points in Medvedev’s meeting kickoff are that (a) Armed Forces’ manpower requirements are not being met; (b) no decisions on conscription changes have yet been taken; and (c) the public is supposed to get at least some kind of input on the issue.

Kremlin.ru’s coverage of the beginning of the meeting follows.

“Dmitriy Medvedev spoke of the need to conduct a rigorous analysis of the situation with military conscription and draw up proposals for its improvement.”

* * *

“D. MEDVEDEV:  Good day, colleagues!”

“We have an important issue for the life of our state — the issue of military conscription.  It’s clear that the overall effectiveness of the state, and ensuring security in the country depends on how we man our Armed Forces, and our law enforcement organs.”

“It’s clear that now there are complications:  army and navy requirements for conscripts are not being fully met.  This is connected to the demographic component, to demographic problems; this is connected to the health problems of young people.  All these issues have been discussed more than once both in meetings, and in the mass media.  We have to talk conceptually about what to do next.”

“There’s a range of proposals.  I want to say right off that all these proposals are still just proposals.  They need careful analysis.  Not a single one has any kind of preliminary approval, and we need to discuss them.”

“At first we’ll discuss them with the participation of the leadership of the Government, Presidential Administration, Armed Forces leaders, law enforcement structures, and special services.  Subsequent to such a type of decision all the same it needs to be discussed with the broader circle of society.  It’s essential to take public opinion into account in any case  because this concerns a sufficiently significant number of people in our country.”

More on the Military Manpower Dilemma

Social Portrait of SibVO Conscripts (Photo: Trud)

Mikhail Lukanin wrote in Trud this week about the Defense Ministry’s unending manpower woes. 

He concluded that the first two months of this spring’s draft campaign showed there’ll be almost no way to avoid conscription.  Experts he talked to believe the Defense Ministry’s conscription plan is unrealistically high, and the armed forces will turn to inducting every student. 

The callup is supposed to run 1 April to 15 July, and take in 270,000 new soldiers.  Voyenkomaty have already sent 100,000 men—mostly from the Volga-Ural region and Siberia—to their units.  One-third of callup-aged men were screened out due to health problems, most of which were diagnosed initially when the men appeared before the military-medical commission. 

Experts consider the early part of the draft campaign the easy part.  Voyenkomaty have been dealing with young men not in school who go pretty willingly to the army, according to human rights advocate Sergey Krivenko.  

But he says in the last weeks of the draft the voyenkomaty have to meet their quotas mainly with VUZ graduates who don’t have any desire to serve.  Valentina Melnikova of the Soldiers’ Mothers’ Committee says: 

“Mass roundups in student dormitories have already begun.  They traditionally conduct them mostly in Moscow and St. Petersburg.” 

In the fall, 43,000 university and institute graduates found themselves in the army—that’s 15 percent of all conscripts. 

Demographers indicate that the number of 18-year-old men will fall, and not exceed 600,000 for the next two years.  That number equals the number of places available in higher education institutions.  Independent military-economic analyst Vitaliy Tsymbal concludes: 

“The Defense Ministry can fully meet its draft plan only by means of total conscription of students.” 

And it has done little to hide its appetite for students, according to Lukanin. 

GOMU Chief Vasiliy Smirnov already talked to the Federation Council about drafting students after one or two years in a VUZ, and the Education Ministry reportedly didn’t object.  The extension of the current draft until 31 August means that those finishing school at 18 can now fall directly into the army, rather than taking their VUZ entrance exams.  Similarly, the ‘nonstop draft’ means VUZ graduates hoping to start their graduate studies will now fall subject to the draft. 

Of course, Smirnov has also raised cutting sharply the number of VUZy that can provide students a draft deferment.  He talks about a 50 percent cut, expanded later to a 70 percent cut in qualified VUZy.  Trud has been told all nongovernmental institutions will lose the right to provide deferments. 

Sergey Krivenko believes in every draft about 130,000-150,000 conscripts are ready to serve [his number may be high since it wasn’t so long ago that 133,000 were drafted every six months, and surely not every one of them was happy to go].  If, according to Krivenko, the Defense Ministry stuck with this number, it wouldn’t have any problem with conscription [it would certainly have fewer problems].  He continues: 

“However, the whole point is that beginning with spring 2009 the plan jumped to almost 300,000 in one callup.  Troop commanders themselves say that half of this number is simply ballast for the army.  Mainly these are guys in poor health, with a low level of education, and also inveterate hooligans.” 

Lukanin had a second article reviewing data from a survey of 7,800 conscripts in the SibVO.  Every third conscript considers serving a burden.  Only 40 percent had a secondary school (high school) or initial professional (post-secondary technical training) education; 4.5 percent had a complete higher education.  A third of the men grew up without fathers.  One in ten admitted either misusing alcohol, trying narcotics, or having a run-in with the police before coming to the army. 

More than 30 percent said they came to the army just to avoid trouble with the authorities.  Two percent said they have a negative attitude toward the army [this represents the small number of young men willing to tell the army’s pollsters what they really think to their faces]. 

Experts tell Lukanin the poll results will change as conscripts from Moscow, St. Petersburg, and other large cities begin to arrive.  A figure of 15 percent with negative attitudes toward the army is about the norm. 

Ten percent of the conscripts have health problems.  Three percent are underweight. 

The medical condition of conscripts may be worsening.  Official data say half of conscripts have health-related restrictions on their service.  And army commanders confirm that it’s hard to find draftees without some kind of defect.  ‘Ideal’ soldiers (from a physical and social standpoint) are found only in honor guards.  The deputy commander of the Moscow honor guard battalion said last fall he traveled all over Kostroma Oblast and, of 1,000 candidates presented by local voyenkomaty, he accepted only 30. 

Finally, one last story of draft-related problems . . . Nezavisimaya gazeta ran an editorial this week describing how some conscripts finishing their year of service in the DVO, Pacific Fleet, and SibVO are not being demobbed on time.  According to this report, they are being held because the DVO doesn’t have trained soldiers to take their places and participate in the operational-strategic Vostok-2010 exercise starting at the end of June.  The editorial concludes that the spring conscripts don’t even know how to handle their weapons yet, much less find a target on radar.  NG calls it a symptom of the fact that the Russian Army never has, and never has had, enough specialists.  The editors could hark back to the need for a professional army, but instead they recommend a better system of reserve mobilization.