Paul Goble reports:
Insufficient financing, some but not all the result of the economic crisis, and the active hostility of commanders and defense ministry officials, who prefer working with draftees, has blocked almost every step toward the all-volunteer military President Vladimir Putin called for more than five years ago, according to the Accounting Chamber. The findings of this review, Viktor Yuzbashev writes in the issue of Novoye Voennoye Obozreniye released today, are “not reassuring” about either the ability of the armed services to reform themselves or the willingness of the political elite and the population at large to demand that they do and support them.
At the outset of this reform effort, Putin called for professional soldiers to receive 15 to 20 percent more pay than the average pay in the private sector, and he suggested that by 2008 no less than 50 percent of the soldiers in the ranks would be professionals. Neither of these goals was achieved, the Accounting Chamber concluded. Instead of 131,600 professional soldiers and sergeants who were to be enrolled, only 79,000 people have been, the chamber’s auditors said, and instead of more pay than the countrywide average, most of these positions continued to receive less, even when their incomes were supplemented because of special duty.
The most obvious and easily understood cause is that the government did not allocate enough money: During this period the army and fleet received on average “not even half” of the allocations planned, a figure that amounted to some 40 billion rubles (1.3 billion US dollars) and that limited the ability of the defense ministry to make soldier and sergeant billets attractive. But a far more serious obstacle to achieving an all-volunteer professional force was the attitude of the officer corps. “In contrast to the armies of civilized countries where the contract principle of complecting the forces has long been established,” Yuzbashev writes, in the Russian military, commanders treat professionals the same way they treat draftees. “Commanders do not want and are not prepared to see a different between them,” he continues, because they are convinced, to give but one example that both the one and the other must remain on the territory of the military unit around the clock,” something that in and of itself reduces the attractiveness of the career of a professional soldier significantly.
And the Russian command has compounded by problem by seeing to sign for three years of contract service basically “only with draftees,” an arrangement that is open to enormous abuse in the form of pressures to which the draftees can be subjected to and that reduces the distinction between draftees and professional soldiers that the reform was intended to boost. Not surprisingly, surveys conducted among contract soldiers have found that most of them say that their expectations about going professional had not been met, and commanders report that large numbers of them have tried, some successfully, some not, to break their contracts and leave the military altogether.
As a result, Yuzbashev says, the Accounting Chamber concluded that “the army is not choosing the best but getting those who are available,” exactly the opposite outcome that Putin described when he proposed this change and one that provides ammunition for those commanders who do not want to change to a professional force. And because the professionals are not as different from the draftees as was planned, they have been involved in a great deal of crime and also in incidents of “dedovshchina” both with other professionals and especially with draftees. In fact, the Accounting Chamber found that in 2006-2007, the professionals were involved of more than 5,000 violations of the law.
But perhaps the greatest failure has been with regard to plans to produce a professional non-commissioned officer corps, something that many analysts have suggested is absolutely necessary if the Russian military is to escape from its problematic Soviet past and reach the levels of Western forces. Not only have the training programs for sergeants not materialized as fully as planned, but there have been problems with the curricula and with the selection of personnel. In many cases, those who have applied have failed to meet the criteria the defense ministry has set, thus further limiting this program. If one reads the Accounting Chamber report carefully, Yuzbashev suggests, it is obvious that all the praise for the idea notwithstanding, neither the leadership of the state nor the upper reaches of the defense ministry “need a contract army.” And both continue to believe “by old habit” that they can fulfill all military tasks with draftees.