Category Archives: Conscription

More on the Conscription Campaign

The Russian military press has published relatively little on this spring’s draft which is set to end in just a few days.  There are, however, data points worth examining against what was written here.

Northern Fleet draftees lined up with their paperwork in hand

Northern Fleet draftees lined up with paperwork in hand

On June 21, Mil.ru noted that Russia’s Western MD is getting 48,000 of this spring’s conscripts.  That’s a pretty enormous 34 percent of all draftees.

Mil.ru also reported the Black Sea Fleet has gotten 1,700 of 2,600 new men it’s expecting.

Russian Orthodox priest blesses Black Sea Fleet draftees

Russian Orthodox priest blesses Black Sea Fleet draftees

We already heard that the Baltic and Northern Fleets were getting 5,000 and 2,500 conscripts respectively, putting the Navy over 10,000 without counting the Pacific Fleet’s share.  If we guess the latter gets 3,000, this puts the Navy at 13,000 for the spring campaign.  That would be nine percent of all draftees, not the predicted six percent.  A similar number from last fall would make 26,000, and conscription would account for perhaps 19 percent of Navy manpower.  

On May 21, the Russian military indicated that 8,000 draftees were going to the RVSN.  That’s six percent of the spring cohort rather than the estimated eight.  About 26 percent of RVSN personnel might be conscripts.

The MOD website reported on May 7 that the VDV will take more than 6,000 draftees.  That gives the Russian airborne four percent of the current allocation of conscripts, about as predicted.  A roughly similar number in the fall would mean the VDV are 30 percent conscript-manned.

Mil.ru added:

“Few conscripts are fortunate enough to get to serve in VDV sub-units.  The competition for those wishing to serve in the VDV in some military commissariats reaches 30 men per spot.”

The VDV get to pick the best available young men:

“The main selection criteria for the VDV are excellent health and physical preparedness, a high level of neuropsychological stability, [and] positive social and moral characteristics.”

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Million-Man Army

President Putin (photo RIA Novosti Sergey Guneyev)

President Putin (photo: RIA Novosti / Sergey Guneyev)

For some time, observers have talked about the Russian military as a force of roughly 1,000,000 soldiers.  But its legal ceiling was above one million, while its true personnel number was below that level. Now Moscow has, for the first time, a statutory limit of 1,000,000 uniformed personnel.

This week President Vladimir Putin decreed a manpower limit of 1,885,371 for Russia’s Ministry of Defense.  One million will be uniformed service personnel and the balance civilian employees.

RIA Novosti reported on the decree.  It replaces one from January 2008 specifying 2,019,269 with 1,134,800 in uniform.

In a largely overlooked December 2008 act, former president Dmitriy Medvedev decreed that the limit would be 1,884,829, including one million serving in uniform, from the beginning of 2016.

So Putin has authorized an additional 542 civilian workers for the Defense Ministry.

To round out this picture, Putin decreed a limit of 2,020,500 with 1,134,800 servicemen in 2005.

Putin’s latest decree is the new benchmark.  But who is that million?

There are about 300,000 draftees in the armed forces at present.  In late 2015, the military reported having 352,000 contractees.  It announced it would take only 31,000 volunteer soldiers in 2016, and claimed its formations and units were manned at 92 percent of authorized manpower.

If you take 300,000 + 352,000 and add in 220,000 officers and 50,000 warrants, it looks like armed forces of 922,000 or 92.2 percent of the current one million authorized.  Another 31,000 contractees this year would be 95 percent.

In late 2014, the Defense Ministry said 220,000 officers, 50,000 warrants, 425,000 contractees, and 300,000 conscripts was its goal by the end of 2017. That’s 99.5 percent of one million.  Some 42,000 contractees will have to be signed up in 2017.

Perhaps, just maybe, the days of undermanning at 766,055 servicemen on January 1, 2013 are behind the MOD.  However, there are problems with believing it.  Number one is the fact that no one talks about the rate of contractees leaving the armed services.  Retention may be as good, but it’s not 100 percent.  The addition of new volunteers isn’t a straight line up to 425,000.

Beyond whether contractees stay are more important (and more difficult to evaluate) issues of the quality of recruits, what they learn in training, and what they add to Russia’s combat capability.

P.S.  Also notable this week was Putin’s signing of a decree on MVD manning which increases its personnel by 64,000 to 1,067,876 (872,970 police officers).  This, and the MOD decree, are part of an apparent rewickering of the “power” ministries that began with the establishment of Putin’s National Guard.

Catalyst for Military Reform

It’s sad, but safe, to conclude that Russian politics has always been pretty violent. Always being the last several hundred years.  And that violence has claimed its latest high-profile victim.

RIP 1959-2015

RIP 1959-2015

The many eulogies for Boris Nemtsov were eloquent and on-target for what they said about the man and about Russia today.

It was surprising, however, that they all (from what the present writer can tell) pretty much neglected Nemtsov’s role as a critical catalyst for serious reform of the Russian military.  The part Nemtsov played was just one way he reflected hope for the emergence of a liberal, European Russia.

Whether in government in the 1990s or out in the 2000s, Nemtsov argued for making military reform a priority.  He was the political face of criticism of President Vladimir Putin for failing to reform the armed forces.  He had lots of knowledgeable help and supporters, but he was a politician who could make the case publicly and loudly.

In the early 2000s, Nemtsov and the SPS advocated reducing the compulsory military service term from two years (which the MOD thought barely sufficient) to just six months.  He also called for slicing the army from more than 1 million to just 400,000.

Early and often, Nemtsov said the military should rely first and foremost on professional contract servicemen.  He did this in rallies and marches back when they were permitted and could be arranged with relative ease.  Former Defense Minister and Putin confidante Sergey Ivanov labeled Nemtsov’s call for an all-contractee army by 2007 “populist hodgepodge.”

But Nemtsov’s insistence was a major impetus behind the government’s 2003 contract service experiment in the 76th Airborne Division, and the 2004-2007 Federal Targeted Program to introduce contract service throughout the armed forces.  In the latter, the MOD aimed to convert 200 divisions and regiments to full professional manning instead of conscripted soldiers.

Even Ivanov said, if the government’s program worked, conscription could be cut to one year.  It didn’t.  Nemtsov argued that the contract service program, as implemented, was underfunded.  He also tried to tell Putin that the MOD generals could never be trusted to reform themselves.

What has happened since?

Civilian Anatoliy Serdyukov served almost six years as Defense Minister and imposed many military reforms on reluctant Russian generals.

One-year military conscription was phased in and became the norm in 2008.

Most importantly, professional contract service replaced conscription as the basis of Russia’s military manning policy.  The armed forces have the goal of putting 425,000 volunteer enlisted in the ranks by recruiting 50,000 each year through 2017.

And the Russian Army has, generally speaking, become a safer place to serve.

Boris Nemtsov wasn’t solely responsible for these important changes, but he was a significant force pushing for them.

So it isn’t surprising Nemtsov was killed while urgently trying to awaken somnolent Russians — mothers and fathers — to the dangers of letting the Kremlin send its young men to fight, and possibly be injured or die, in eastern Ukraine.

A Year Does Not a Soldier Make

Krasnaya zvezda always has interesting Internet polling.  Yes, Internet.  Not a scientific opinion survey based on valid sampling and a mathematically acceptable margin of error.

We’re talking about Russia here.  We take what we can get.

KZ asked its readers whether the current year of conscript service is sufficient to make a real soldier.  Not surprisingly, 601 of more than 800 respondents said no, it isn’t.  Only 71 said unequivocally yes, it’s enough.

KZ's Results

KZ’s Results

Being the MOD’s daily paper, KZ’s readership is mostly those in the Russian armed forces, or those somehow interested in them.

The MOD wasn’t happy about the shift to the one-year draft several years ago. But it had no alternative facing the twin pressures of rising draft evasion and increasing violence and other abuse in military units.  At least 12-month conscription helped alleviate both of those problems if it didn’t do anything for the military’s readiness.

Hence, the great renewed stress on trying to sign up contract enlistees.

Health of the Force

The confluence of recent news stories makes an update on the health of Russian military forces opportune.  As elsewhere in the armed forces, the military’s medical situation seems generally better compared with two or three years ago.

According to Izvestiya, the chief of the Main Military-Medical Directorate (GVMU), General-Major Aleksandr Fisun told the Defense Ministry’s Public Council that illnesses in the army declined 13 percent in 2013.  The illness rate in 2012 had been 40 percent higher than 2011.

The MOD attributes the improvement to better living conditions for soldiers. These include heated barracks, washing machines, shower facilities allowing troops to clean up more than once a week, and socks replacing foot wrappings.

Fisun said, among conscripts, 60 percent of illnesses were respiratory in nature, while about 14 percent involved skin conditions.

Better training for commanders was another factor in cutting the number of sick soldiers.  An MOD spokesman told the paper:

“Work in early identification of illnesses was reinforced — commanders were strictly ordered to send subordinates for initial observation on just the suspicion of an illness.  The condition of everyone hospitalized was reported to [military] district commands.”

Valentina Melnikova of the Committee of Soldiers’ Mothers (KSM) told Izvestiya commanders have been the problem.  However, she said Defense Minister Shoygu has said any soldier not allowed to see a doctor can now turn to military prosecutors for help.

Bmpd.livejournal.com published Fisun’s pie charts from his presentation to the MOD’s Public Council.

Disease Incidence Among Servicemen

Disease Incidence Among Servicemen

There are separate pies for conscripts and contractees.  Respiratory diseases, however, were the largest problem for both groups, accounting for half or more of illnesses.

Fisun also presented data on fitness for service among this spring’s conscripts.

Health of Conscripts in the Spring 2014 Draft

Health of Conscripts in the Spring 2014 Draft

The tabular data shows an increasing number of young men are fit, or fit with insignificant limitations, to serve in the armed forces (73.4%).  Most of that improvement apparently comes directly from decreasing the number of potential soldiers considered to have limited fitness for service (21.6%).

Reasons for “liberating” citizens from serving were pretty evenly distributed among, in order, muscular-skeletal and connective tissue diseases, psychiatric disorders (drug addiction, alcoholism), digestive system diseases, circulatory diseases, nervous system diseases, and other.

KSM’s Melnikova told Interfaks-AVN that illness was still the major issue for young men facing the spring draft.  She indicated 80 percent of complaints coming into KSM concern unfit men who were drafted.

In Moscow, some conscripts with documented health conditions  were deferred until fall under additional medical observation, but others were told they have to serve now, and had to turn to the courts for relief.

Meanwhile, the GVMU is reportedly amending physical standards for Russian Spetsnaz and VDV soldiers.  It’s lowering the height requirement by 5 cm (2 inches), and increasing the weight limit by 10 kg (22 pounds), according to Izvestiya.

Spetsnaz and VDV may soon be as short as 165 cm (5’4″) and weigh 100 kg (220 pounds).  The new standards will apply for conscripts, contractees, and military academy cadets.

Physical Standards for Airborne Troops Will Be Relaxed Somewhat (photo: Izvestiya / Kirill Zykov)

Physical Standards for Airborne Troops to be Relaxed Somewhat (photo: Izvestiya / Kirill Zykov)

Izvestiya was told a Defense Ministry order officially putting these standards into effect is expected in 2-3 months.  Its VDV source said the increased weight limit is related to use of the newer D-10 parachute which can bear up to 120 kg, so it can support a heavier jumper along with 20 kg of gear.

Perhaps the last, best word comes from Ruslan Pukhov, independent expert and Public Council member.  According to Izvestiya, he recommends increased spending on rear support and logistics, even if it means less expenditure on armaments:

“It’s worth sacrificing a couple nuclear submarines or refraining from construction of corvettes , but don’t economize on people — on their food, medical care and pay.  Iron doesn’t fight, people fight.”

766,055

That number — 766,055 — is how many officers and soldiers Russia’s Audit Chamber says were paid to serve in the armed forces on 1 January 2013, according to RIA Novosti.

This confirms what’s been said by various military commentators over the past year or so.  Several said about 750,000 or below 800,000.

The Audit Chamber is a quasi-independent and pretty reliable source, something akin to America’s GAO.

Walk this back . . . take 766,055 and subtract 220,000 officers, 186,000 contractees reported at the beginning of 2013, spring 2013 and fall 2012 draft contingents of 153,200 and 140,140, and you are left with 66,715.

That leftover number roughly corresponds to cadets in VVUZy.

Undermanning — below the statutory authorization of one million — has been confirmed officially.

This is the truest, most accurate manpower baseline we’re likely to see.

Draft Details (Addendum or Draft Board Storming)

One must report the apparently contradictory along with the confirmatory . . . Mil.ru has reported GOMU’s final results for the spring 2013 callup.

GOMU indicates that, as of 12 July, it summoned more than 700,000 draft-age males, with more than 692,000 appearing as requested.

The order to induct 153,200 men in President Putin’s decree was, of course, fully accomplished.

It must have been hard getting 118,000 men in front of draft commissions during the final ten days of the callup.

Это какой-то штурм . . . .