Contract Service Not Quite Abandoned

In St. Petersburg Thursday, Anatoliy Serdyukov explained that the Defense Ministry is cutting the number of contractees due to a lack of funding:

“We don’t have the resources to maintain contractees in the amount we want, therefore a reduction in contractees and an increase in conscripts are occurring.”

He made the remarks in response to complaints about higher draft numbers in a meeting with human rights activists.  

Serdyukov said the transition to permanent combat readiness units requires the Defense Ministry to take a full draft contingent, meaning that an increased number of those with an unfulfilled military obligation are being conscripted. 

But he repeated past statements that the armed forces will drop by 134,000 at some point to a level of one million personnel.

According to Svpressa.ru, at the March Defense Ministry collegium Serdyukov admitted:

“We are not satisfied with the results of this [contract service] program.  We somewhat underestimated the situation in units – who should transfer to contract, on what conditions, with what kind of pay.”

RIA Novosti cited GOMU Chief Vasiliy Smirnov from the end of July when he said that contractees will man more than 100,000 soldier and sergeant billets in the Russian military.  This press item added Smirnov’s comments that contractees will be 20 percent of the armed forces, and currently number 210,000.  And money freed up by the reduction in contractees will go to increased pay for other unidentified servicemen.

Some of this reporting – especially Smirnov’s 100,000 and 20 percent figures – seems garbled, but it’s just that some key background’s been left out.  Let’s rebuild some context around last week’s statements, so they make more sense.

Looking back on what was said officially last winter, General Staff Chief Nikolay Makarov had a much harder edge on his pronouncements about the failure of contract service.  Serdyukov was much less categorical; he emphasized that contract service was being cut, not abandoned.

Makarov and Serdyukov offered different figures on contractees; the former said 190,000 and the latter 150,000.  And Smirnov said 210,000.  Recall all three figures probably included 79,000 or less recruited in the 2004-2007 program.

Serdyukov said first the contract service program will be cut – perhaps down to Smirnov’s 100,000 – then eventually expanded to 200,000 or 250,000.  In his March interview, even Makarov said ideally a motorized rifle brigade should have about 20 percent professional enlisted personnel. 

At Alabino in May, Serdyukov said contract service is being reworked.  The key thing is he’s yet to explain exactly how he’ll do it.  For the time being, he’s saying there’s no money for it, but it remains on the agenda.

For now, contractees will or may be cut to Smirnov’s 100,000 level, but if they expand back to 200,000 somehow in the future, they would be 20 percent of Serdyukov’s million-man army.  For now, they’re going to be 18 or 13 percent of the army, and drop maybe as low as 10 percent before increasing (maybe).

We should also recall Valentina Melnikova’s admonition not to believe Russian generals (or defense ministers) when they say they can’t afford a professional army.  They just have other priorities right now.

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