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BBC Monitoring
Lessons learnt from Russian armed forces contract experiment - defence minister
Source: Krasnaya Zvezda, Moscow, in Russian 29 May 03

Defence Minister Sergey Ivanov, accompanied by a group of senior MPs, recently paid a visit to the 76th Airborne Division in Pskov to review the experiment to man the Division with professional contract personnel. Ivanov stressed at the conference held there the importance of the practical experience gained from the experiment, "both positive and negative", which had shown that working conditions and pay needed to be improved. Unity faction spokesman Vladimir Pekhtin was quoted as saying that the experiment had shown that the Defence Ministry's approach to army reform was the right one. Text of the report, published by the Russian newspaper Krasnaya Zvezda on 29 May, follows:

Intermediate results of the experiment to change the 76th Airborne Division over to a contract manning system were summarized by Defence Minister Sergey Ivanov and deputies of the State Duma at an off-site conference held in Pskov, where the formation headquarters is located. The working visit of this delegation could be termed a "last look" before submission of the federal targeted programme for transition of the armed forces manning system primarily to a contract basis for consideration by the Russian government.

Phase two of the contract experiment of the 76th Airborne Division, commanded by Guards Maj-Gen Stanislav Semenyuta, is drawing to a close. You may recall that the formation's headquarters and the 104th Parachute Regiment were manned with contract troops in phase one.

The first nine months of the experiment were perhaps not the easiest in the division's history. The "contractization" process itself was not always smooth. There were any number of noisy discussions in the political arena and in the mass media, and attempts to earn pre-election points. But the Airborne Troops, for whom, as you know, no mission is impossible, no matter what, persisted in their task. In the winter training period, the Pskov "pros" successfully mastered the new training programme, which was oriented towards contract troops and had been developed by the Airborne Troops staff for each specialization. In the words of Airborne Troops Commander Col-Gen Georgiy Shpak, organization of combat training in the 76th Airborne Division differs from combat training in a normal division in its intensity and in the greater specific weight of new exercises.

Along with training and service, intensive construction work is under way in the division, under the personal supervision of the chief of construction and troop quartering and Deputy Defence Minister Lt-Gen Anatoliy Grebenyuk. In early May, six cubicle-style barracks were completed at the military camp of Zavelichye, where parachute and artillery regiments are garrisoned, as well as special units.

Russian Defence Minister Sergey Ivanov was personally introduced to the Pskov "pros" on site. At the military camps of the 104th and 234th Parachute Regiments, Lt-Gen Anatoliy Grebenyuk reported to the military department chief on the progress of their furnishing. In addition, the minister was briefed on the formation's training facilities, and spoke with NCOs and privates.

But the main event of the working visit was the conference, during which Sergey Ivanov stated that "transition to a new principle of armed forces manning is a necessary component part of Russia's development of a genuinely modern and combat-ready army. This task, without exaggeration, is one of the most difficult and important confronting the state and society today." He emphasized that "successful accomplishment will depend on the coordinated work of various branches of the government and many organs of state authority and control."

Ivanov noted that the 76th Division was the first in the armed forces to change over to a volunteer manning principle for virtually all military slots, and that the experiment was being conducted in this formation in order to test theoretical calculations in practice, and to identify possible mistakes and errors in the prepared draft programme for transition of the armed forces and other power structures to a contract basis.

In his words, the experiment, which must be concluded this autumn, will make it possible to gain both positive and negative experience. We all are deeply convinced that the transition to a volunteer manning principle cannot boil down merely to mechanical replacement of conscript soldiers with contract soldiers. A sharp rise in combat readiness of the formations must be the final result, Sergey Ivanov stated. Towards this end, he believes it is necessary to simultaneously raise the level of combat training, improve officer training, and create a full-fledged contract NCO corps.

"In the course of the experiment, we learned that in order to recruit contract troops, we must first create the corresponding motivation and formulate an incentive system, which includes appropriate housing conditions, the right to free higher education, and of course, sufficient pay and allowances" the minister said.

He reported that the Ministry of Defence is including an average raise for contract troops of R3,300 in the draft federal targeted programme for transition of permanent-readiness units to a primarily contract basis, while providing for the possibility of differentiated payment. At the same time, Sergey Ivanov does not believe it possible to include a 40-hour work week in the contract units: "The Labour Law Code is not for high-readiness units. The contract soldier serves as long as the situation requires. This is a fact, and nothing can be done about it." In the course of the meeting, which was held in the Officer's Club of the 76th Division, Airborne Troops Commander Col-Gen Georgiy Shpak reported to Ivanov that the Division's 140th Parachute Regiment had completely met its combat training plan in accordance with the new requirements, was fully supplied with technical equipment, and was prepared to begin performing its missions in mid-June as planned, as part of the troop grouping in the Chechen Republic.

Addressing the situation as a whole, Shpak reported that the 76th Airborne Division, in which the contract manning experiment was being held, still had no more than 2,000 service members. "As of today, the formation must recruit 2,153 candidates for NCO and private posts," he told participants at the meeting.

In addition, Shpak noted that as of today, the candidate recruitment plan was 22.5 per cent completed. "Experience from this experiment has shown that the basic problem of undermanning of military subunits and units with contract service members is the disinclination of candidates to sign contracts, owing to the low pay and allowances, and because of having to live in barracks," Shpak noted.

Referring to data from a sociological poll conducted in the 104th Regiment of the 76th Division, he reported that "for 62 per cent of service members, expectations from contact service had not been met, and for 91 per cent of these, it was owing to the low level of pay and allowances." In addition, in his words, 72 per cent of service members are dissatisfied with the social and living conditions of service, partly because of the lack of housing.

In this regard, Shpak asked Ivanov to extend the recruitment period for the 76th Division to 1 October 2003 (the original plan called for its completion by 1 May of this year). "I propose to complete manning of the formation with contract service members by 1 October 2003, provided that preparation of the barracks inventory is complete and all personnel may be accommodated by 1 September 2003." he said.

Deputies of the State Duma who accompanied the defence minister on his trip also offered their assessments of the experiment. For instance, the leader of the Unity faction in the lower chamber of parliament, Vladimir Pekhtin, said that the faction and the One Russia party as a whole support the army reform project proposed by the Ministry of Defence. "In the course of today's visit to the Pskov Airborne Division, we have once again seen that the proposals of the Ministry of Defence leadership were correct. The project for transition to a contract basis is a realistic one, in contrast to the proposal of the Union of Right forces (SPS), which is absolutely unsound from the financial standpoint," the deputy emphasized. The approach of the right wing to reform of the armed forces, in Pekhtin's words, is reminiscent of the traditional, populist approach of left-wing parties to social questions. "Good intentions, but absolutely unrealistic owing to the lack of adequate financing," he noted.

Pekhtin recalled that the two earlier Dumas "pushed through social laws unsupported by the budget and promised the people benefits three times larger than the entire national budget". As for army reform, Pekhtin believes, the right wing is taking the same dangerous path." What is more, in his opinion, the SPS recently totally abandoned specific work on any sort of realistic project, preferring noise to deeds, just as long as they could generate a little more pre-election PR. He believes that the money spent by the SPS on advertising posters depicting soldiers of the future professional army would have been better spent on the specific needs of military reform.

Vladimir Pekhtin also recalled that One Russia initiated the defence spending increase in the 2002-2003 budgets. "We also achieved a shift in accent of army financing from maintenance to rearmament with modern equipment," he noted. "Before, 90 per cent of defence funds were spent on current expenses, and only 10 per cent went to purchase modern arms and military equipment," he emphasized. "In the 2003 budget, spending for rearmament amounted to 35 per cent, and next year we want to raise that amount to 40 per cent."

He also reported that in the near future Unity intends to offer a number of specific proposals for finding the means to expedite military reform.

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