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Major Clash Shaping Up Between Rightest Politicians and Military Chiefs on Military Reform
Obshchaya Gazeta|
13 December 2001
[translation for personal use only]

Article by Maksim Glinkin on the opposition of military leaders to the urgent military reforms called for by the Union of Progressive Forces, particularly General Kvashin's opposition to the UPF's draft bill that would end the current conscription system and facilitate a transition to service by contract.

Last Friday, Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov conducted a conference at which Boris Nemtsov and Yegor Gaydar, leaders of the SPS [Union of Progressive Forces, hereafter UPF], presented their plan for military reform. The Prime Minister approved the program for the transition of the Armed Forces to a contract system for recruiting, beginning in 2003. However, the confrontation concerning the issues pertaining to [service] terms and the form for the modernization of the Army is just beginning to flare up.

The right-wing politicians are saying that a unique replacement [of the old system] will occur. Although it was precisely at their suggestion that the Kremlin decided to start re-structuring the Army, the military is trying to seize the initiative. Instead of the plan of Nemtsov and Gaydar, according to which it is possible, and necessary, to set about making the reforms as early as 2003, the generals are attempting to persuade President Putin not to hurry and to wait until the year 2004, when the specialists in epaulets will present their own plan for modernization. And the service would, on the whole, begin implementing the new rules in the year 2010. That is, right after the end of the second term of the presidency of Vladimir Putin.

"Of course, there are things in life which it is pleasant to do without hurrying. But the re-structuring of the Army is not included in that category." Professor Vitaliy Tsymbal, Director of the Laboratory of Military Economics of the Institute of Economics of the Transition Period [IETP] made that statement. He was the very person who headed the group of experts who, in compliance to the order of Yegor Gaydar, worked out a detailed (and economically and statistically well-founded) program for the gradual transition of the Army to a system that would bring it up to strength through the recruiting of contract soldiers.

The "know-how" of the developers [of this system] from the Institute of Economics of the Transition Period consists of the following: fixed-term service must be reduced to six months and it must be based upon a completely new concept. Instead of spending two years in drills, cleaning the barracks, and building dachas for generals, the soldiers undergoing fixed-term service should acquire a specific specialty (and preferably, each soldier should acquire a specialty for which he is inclined) in six months [of training] and, after that, they should make their choice. They would either link their life up with the Army, which would provide the young person with a definite set of social guarantees and a stable wage that is above average or, after receiving the necessary training, they would transfer over to the reserve and be ready for mobilization at the first call of the their homeland.

The authors of this project emphasize that is not necessary to change the Constitution in order to put such a reform into effect. The mandatory call-up would be preserved. But the call-up campaign would become much easier. The young people, who would agree not to gather together large amounts of money for bribing doctors and military commissars [note: reference here is to the current problem of bribery and draft-doging in the military commissariats] and who would receive initial military training (incidentally, at the other end of the world) for six months, would be immeasurably greater in number than those who are coming into the Army today, and [going] to the front. All the same, the military leadership has no alternative. Every subsequent call-up campaign takes place with a big creaking and crunching; those who are "drawn into the net" are only the poorest and darkest layers of the population. In such conditions, the Army is doomed to degradation.

Changes in this system are necessary not only for the young people and their parents. With the expansion of the call-up base, the quality of the contract soldiers will also change [for the better].

A half year of fixed-term service will serve as its own kind of personnel filter. The contracts will be concluded not with "dark forces" from the street but with persons who have been checked out and tested in 6-8 months of training [i. e., after the six months of training, those young people who show an inclination toward life in the military will be offered contracts].

Opponents of the UPF plan ask: Will the number of those persons who want to conclude contracts be sufficient to [attain the troop levels] that are necessary for maintaining the defensive capability of the country? And will there be enough money for pay to those persons who go beyond fixed-term service, such that they will not be drawn away by [the enticements] of civilian life?

On the whole, it is to these quantitative questions that the research of the IETP laboratory is devoted. By order of the Gaydar Institute, the VTsIOM [All-Russian Center for the Study of Public Opinion on Social and Economic Issues] conducted an all-Russian survey (men from age 18 to age 28 filled out the questionnaires). The survey participants were asked what salary they would want if they agreed to serve, taking into consideration the fact that they would be fed, clothed, medically treated, and provided with roofs over their heads at no charge. The results of the survey were as follows: 400,000 young men would agree to sign a contract for 3,000 rubles per month (the survey was carried out in May) and, if the pay were 4,000 rubles a month, 900,000 thousand young men would be ready for [contract] service.

But just how many contract soldiers are needed by our Armed Forces? The basis for the calculations were the rates at which the scheduled reduction of the Armed Forces will be conducted: By 2005, there should be 542 thousand privates and sergeants in the Armed Forces (see statistics at end of this article). According to the plan of the UPF, this goal will be achieved if the number of fixed-term conscriptees is brought to the level of 142,000 troops and the number of contract soldiers is increased from the present number of 150,000 such troops to the level of 400,000 troops. If the standard for pay is set at a level of 3,500 rubles, then, as indicated by the statistical calculations that have been presented, there will be more than enough young men who want to serve in the Armed Forces. It would be such that it would not be necessary to take one applicant after another for contract service. The contract soldiers could be selected by competition, with approximately two applicants competing for each position. At present, the generals can only dream of such selectivity in replenishing the troop levels.

But will the people really go for the contracts? Have our sociologists made an assessment of the situation? The developers of the reform are convinced: Yes, they will go for the contracts and that is indicated by our own experience in recent years. In the middle of the 1990s, 300,000 contract soldiers were already serving (that is less, by a fourth, than the number needed) [i. e., the author is saying here that the figure of 300,000 is 100,000 contract soldiers less than the figure of 400,000 that he cited in the preceding paragraph]. Then, [After the middle of the 1990s], the number of contract soldiers in the Armed Forces was cut in half due to delays in pay for the soldiers and also because it [the pay] fell below the average pay [being received by workers] in the country. Incidentally, the authors of this program are making a special note: With the upward spiral of inflation, the pay for the soldiers must be indexed accordingly [i. e., the pay rate must be adjusted to the inflation rate] so that it [the soldiers' pay] can be maintained at approximately twenty percent above the average.

But is that possible? Is there enough money in the budget? The calculations of the experts also make it possible to give a positive answer to that question: There is no need whatsoever for any special infusions into the military budget for reform. In four years, additional money for the modernization of the Armed Forces will consist of only 5 percent of the total amount of planned expenditures. So even the increased pay is only a meager part in the kitty [i. e., the over-all pool of funds] of the military.

The critics of this plan have one more argument: You will not entice [young people into the service] with a good, stable rate of pay alone. It is necessary to create the appropriate working conditions for the contract soldiers and provide apartments for them. But, to be sure, there just isn't enough money for that, taking into consideration the fact that, at present, even the officers stand in line for years waiting for free housing. The plan of Tsymbal holds a trump card here too: Free housing will be provided only after 10 years [of service]. It is possible simply not to conclude a fourth contract with those who have served out three three-year contracts, in the case of personnel who don't turn out to be particularly valuable [to the military]. As for the working conditions and life in the military community, they, of course, must be improved. But, on the other hand, how long must the Russian soldier live in "cattle-pen" conditions? Will money be found for a transition from life in the barracks to life in a community home? The money will be found if the money obtained from [sale of ] the real estate that was vacated as a result of the over-all reduction of the Army is spent in a rational manner. Vitaliy Tsymbal made the following statement: "Over a period of ten years, the military has vacated an enormous number of housing accommodations and premises. Excellent private residences were transferred into private hands in the center of Moscow. Where is the money? That is the question being asked. Why has the sale of the vacated housing been having no effect whatsoever on the current [deplorable] state [of housing for the troops] in the Army? ".

In a word, the transition to a contract basis [for recruiting soldiers] is completely realistic. People will link up their lot with the Army if the appropriate conditions are created. And the government has the resources for creating such conditions. Aleksey Kudrin, Minister of Finance, confirmed that, after he became familiar with the plan of the right-wing politicians. And Mikhail Kasyanov also came to that same opinion. After the conference, he declared that the concept is acceptable and that means that real funding for the program can be started as early as the year 2003.

But, as before, the generals are speaking out against the plans of the UPF, particularly with regards to the [service] terms. At this same conference,[General] Kvashin, Chief of the General Staff, spoke about the impossibility of accepting the program of Nemtsov and Gaydar. He indicated that it is necessary to make a transition to the new system carefully and gradually, after first experimenting in individual units and arms of service. But that is subterfuge. Right now, there are military units and formations which are already completely manned by contract soldiers. [For example], there is the 201-st [Motorized-Rifle] Division in Tajikistan. Every single soldier in that division is serving by contract. The experiment was carried out long ago and there is no reason not to set about instituting the reform, without delay.

But just why are the generals so opposed [to the plan] ? Is it not in their interests to have, among their subordinates, people who are exceptionally professional [i. e. people who are highly qualified], responsible, and interested in real service, not in the profanation of service [to their country] ? The problem, evidently, lies in the fact that, with a change in the quality of the Army, the quality of the generals themselves will have to improve. They will no longer be able to treat the rank-and-file soldiers as their serfs, as a free and dumb working force [i. e., the privates will no longer be available to the generals for the building of private dachas for them, etc.]. It will be necessary to arrange completely new relations between the military leaders and their subordinates. Having served in another system [i. e., the old system] all their lives, many people [in the military leadership] simply are not ready for such an in-depth psychological re-structuring.

The military chiefs are also not pleased by the fact that this plan will require very many efforts on their part: It will be necessary to create conditions in the soldiers' work and way of life such that service in the Army will really be attractive. In this sense, it is much easier [for the generals] if nothing changes.

Well, and finally, the reform will cause a big loss to those chiefs who will be deprived of their shady financial flows and dealings. If the previous call-up system were kept in place, they could continue to receive, on a regular basis, from the ?"hiding?"" young people [Russian: "kosyashchey" molodozhi]. The right-wing politicians fear that the military registration and enlistment offices will be the main obstacles on the path of reform. Indeed, if the desire is great, it will be possible to sabotage the transition to a professional system by disrupting [i. e., by intentionally obstructing] the campaign for the recruitment of contract soldiers.

Although, after heated debates at the Prime Minister's conference, the Army leadership also approved the concept of Nemtsov and Gaydar, the resistance to it [on the part of the military leadership] will be great. That is demonstrated by the recent statements by the Minister of Defense. Sergey Ivanov [Minister of Defense] is asserting that, as it is, the number of contract soldiers will steadily grow and that the expenses for the UPF reform alone will exceed the total budget for the Armed Forces. If people who are preparing reports for the Minister of Defense are resorting to such blatant misinformation, that that means that they are ready do a great deal of things, if only not to allow a real modernization of the Armed Forces of Russia.

The numerical strength of the ranks-and-file soldiers [soldiers who are not non-commissioned officers or officers] will change in the period 2001-2005, in accordance with the SPS plan, as follows:

Soldiers serving two years in the system that is in effect will number 526, 000 at the end of 2001; 492,000 in 2002; 401,000 in 2003; 172,000 in 2004; and 0 in 2005.

Soldiers serving 6-8 months in training centers of the reserve will number 0 at the end of 2001; 0 in 2002; 17,000 in 2003; 108,000 in 2004; and 142,000 in 2005.

Soldiers serving by contract will number 150,000 at the end of 2001; 150,000 in 2002; 157,000 in 2003; 267,000 in 2004; and 400,000 in 2005.

The total number of rank-and-file soldiers and sergeants will number 676,000 at the end of 2001; 642,000 in 2002; 575,000 in 2003; 542, 000 in 2004; and 542,000 in 2005.

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