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#6 - JRL 7069 - RAS 16

SOURCE. Roger N. McDermott, Putin's Military Priorities: Modernization of the Armed Forces, at http://www.psan.org The author, a specialist in Russian and Central Asian defense and security, is based at the University of Kent at Canterbury (UK). His book "Russian Military Reform, 1992-2002" is forthcoming from Frank Cass.

Reform of the armed forces has been on the Soviet and then Russian political agenda ever since Gorbachev's perestroika. The main aim of reformers has been to replace forces based on mass conscription by smaller professional armed services.

Under Yeltsin professional soldiers serving under contract were introduced. They played a significant role in Chechnya, and the 201st Motor Rifle Division in Tajikistan now consists almost entirely of professionals. In 1993 the defense minister (Grachev) announced that the professional component of the armed forces would reach 50 percent by 2000.

This goal -- let alone that of full professionalization -- still remains far off. The transition has been impeded both by financial constraints and by inertia in the thinking of Russian military strategists, who are reluctant to abandon the traditional belief in the necessity for the mass mobilization of conscripts. (1)

However, the conscription system faces acute crisis. This crisis has both social and demographic dimensions. The demographic problem is expected to peak around 2010, by which time a deficit of 30-40 percent in the recruit pool is anticipated.

In November 2000, Putin asked the Security Council to examine new plans for professionalizing the armed forces. The General Staff submitted its proposals to Putin in July 2002. Then in September 2002 the MOD started to convert the 76th Airborne Division, based at Pskov, to a professional basis as an experiment.

Money remains a big obstacle to reform. According to Putin, staffing a motor rifle division with professionals costs 30 percent more than using conscripts. (2) Infrastructure has to be improved too because "you can't drive contract soldiers into dilapidated barracks" (3). Major General Valery Astanin, deputy head of the armed forces' mobilization directorate, has expressed the view that professionalization will double the defense budget.

Thus military reform is hostage to economic growth. Officials talk about achieving it by 2015, but whether even this is realistic is open to doubt. There also seems to be ambiguity concerning whether the eventual goal is full transfer to professional armed services or merely some optimal ratio between conscript and professional manning.

The author reminds us that military reform means not only changing the basis of recruitment but also many other changes in thinking, ethos, and mode of operation. The problems of waste and corruption need to be overcome.


(1) One corollary to this belief has been resistance to the idea of alternative civilian service; see RAS No. 12 item 7. Another trend working against the shift to professional forces has been the falling social status of the officer corps; see RAS No. 13 item 4.

(2) This is on the assumption that a contract soldier has to be paid a minimum of R5,500 (equivalent to $175) a month.

(3) Statement by General Andrei Nikolayev, chairman of the Duma defense committee.

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