Asked about professional soldiers and contract service last week, General Staff Chief Nikolay Makarov said:
“We are not switching to a contract basis. Many mistakes were allowed, and that task which was given—construction of a professional army—was not completed. Therefore a decision was made that conscript service needed to remain in the army. Moreover, we are increasing the draft , and decreasing the contract part. We’ve come to understand that a contractee has to be trained by altogether different methods than there were earlier. Therefore now we’re taking on contract only sergeants who are studying for 2 and a half years. We plan to reach a contract army through this. Many people talked even in the Soviet Army about the need to train sergeants, but now we’ve thought everything through well and we’re promptly moving forward, so that in 2.5 years in our army there will be a sergeant, an assistant commander who’s capable of independently resolving an entire complex of tasks that are now resolved by officers.”
The effort to build a professional NCO corps will continue, but the experiment in recruiting career enlisted personnel—a main line of the army’s development since 2003—has failed. The tenor of Makarov’s statement almost makes it sound as if he didn’t think or know a mixed manning system with conscripts predominating was the plan all along. The Russian Army was always going to remain mixed, but now it will be much more one-sided in favor of conscripts. A Vedomosti editorial pointed out that Russia’s generalitet (what remains of it) never supported contract service anyway. The training of professional NCOs begun on a very small scale last fall will continue, but how long will it be before that effort too is abandoned?
Makarov’s announcement will only add to pressure on Russia’s dwindling manpower resources. The start of one-year service basically doubled the semi-annual requirement for draftees from 133,000 to 270,000 or so. Now it’s clear that conscripts are needed to fill spots contract enlisted were supposed to occupy.
Rossiyskaya gazeta and Krasnaya zvezda covered similar comments last week from new Ground Troops CINC Postnikov. Both papers concluded that, while the effort with professional NCOs will continue, the army’s priority will be on meeting its manpower requirements through conscription.
Vremya novostey quoted Postnikov:
“The federal program to transfer permanent readiness units to manning with contractees did not achieve its intended goals.”
It didn’t succeed in making contract service prestigious, they didn’t select those who could be true professionals, they fully manned units with contractees to the detriment of quality. Now corrections have been made in the troop manning plans. Only those positions that determine the combat capability of units and formation will be contract. There both pay and social conditions will be fitting – just like officers. They will train contractees for the positions of professional sergeants, just as in the U.S.
“. . . we can’t say that we have precisely those contractees which we wanted to have ideally. We understood that we had to change the system of training contractees. It’s planned to do this through the institution of sergeants – an assistant commander capable of independently resolving a whole block of tasks which officers now resolve. For this reason they have to occupy positions directly answering for the combat readiness of army units and sub-units. We have to increase their pay, create social conditions for living at the level of officers.”
But one basic problem has always been the jealousy of officers (who rarely get all their pay and benefits) toward contractees or NCOs who might possibly get almost as much as them.
Novyye izvestiya quoted Sergey Krivenko, a member of the RF President’s Human Rights Council:
“Contractees were not provided housing or normal pay, or even timely indexing of their wages . . . . Instead huge sums were invested in construction of housing, reequipping ranges and other facilities where the money could easily be hidden and stolen.”
Krivenko adds that contractees didn’t experience a change in their status, were often forced to sign contracts, and were not allowed to leave the garrison or live a normal life with their families outside the garrison. So there was nothing to distinguish them from conscripts.
To sum Krivenko up, the army failed to find the right candidates and deliver the benefits it promised them. So one has to be skeptical that the selections and Defense Ministry follow through on the professional NCO effort will be any better.
Krivenko believes that the army has virtually no choice but to increase the conscription term from one year to cover the lack of contract soldiers. But simply allowing undermanning of units would have the same effect, but that might impinge on Makarov’s claims that most units are now fully manned and permanently ready.