Tag Archives: Conscription

Where Conscripts Serve

At the draft board in Volgograd Oblast

At the draft board in Volgograd Oblast

Russia is in the throes of its spring military draft running from April 1 to July 15. The MOD will induct 142,000 young men into the armed services and units of other “power” structures, i.e. Natsgvardiya, MChS, etc.  Last spring the military took 155,000.  The increasing number of contract soldiers is steadily reducing the requirement for conscripts.

A close look at the draft may allow for some surmises (perhaps insights) into how the Russian Federation Armed Forces are composed.  But patience during a bit of discourse will be required.

The media in some regions have reported about where their young men will serve. 

  • In Rostov Oblast — Russia’s sixth most populous region, 5,000 men will be drafted. According to the Don24.ru portal, fully 75 percent will serve somewhere in the Southern MD.  Sixty percent — or 3,000 — will serve in the Ground Troops.  Some 600 will go to VKS units.  Rostov will send 134 to the Navy, and 15 to the Kremlin’s elite Presidential Regiment.  No word on the destination of the remaining 1,251.
  • Russia’s seventh most populated territory Bashkortostan will send more than 5,100 men to the military, reports Bashinform.ru.  The Ground Troops will get 2,500 of them.  The Natsgvardiya gets 565, RVSN 560, VDV 180, and MOD “units of central subordination” 170.  No indication about the other 1,125 or so.
  • In Tatarstan — eighth by population — Gazetadaily.ru indicates that 4,000 conscripts will be sent to troop units.  Some 1,668 will be in the Ground Troops,  516 to the VKS, 440 Natsgvardiya, 320 Navy, and 280 RVSN.  Assignments for 776 were not identified.
  • Udmurtiya will send 1,100 of its citizens into the military this spring.  This includes 528 for the Ground Troops, 121 VKS, 55 Navy, 44 VDV, 99 RVSN, 88 Railroad Troops, and 55 Natsgvardiya.
  • In Vladimir Oblast, 1,790 men are being drafted.  The region ranks 31st in population.  Portal Vladtv.ru reports 501 are going to the Ground Troops, 233 to the VKS, and 260 to “units of central subordination.”  No word on the remaining 796 men.
  • Karachayevo-Cherkesiya will send off 500 new soldiers.  It is 76th by population.  The Riakchr.ru portal indicates that 70 men are bound for the Ground Forces, 6 for VDV, 131 VKS, 189 Natsgvardiya, 78 Railroad Troops, and 15 MChS.  Fifty of the troops for VKS will serve in nearby military-space units — the Krona space monitoring facility near Zelenchukskaya specifically.
Physical exams in Barnaul

Physical exams in Barnaul

In Moscow Oblast — the RF’s second most populous region, 5,970 young men will be conscripted this spring and summer, according to Regnum.ru.  More than 80 percent of them will serve their year in units in the Western MD.  News outlets in two of the oblast’s major cities have reported on this year’s spring callup:

  • Odintsovo.info reports that Odintsovo’s levy for spring 2017 is 311 men.  Of them, 140 will serve in the Ground Troops, 62 in VKS, 30 in “units of central subordination,” 15 RVSN, 13 VDV, and 10 Navy.
  • In Podolsk, 274 men will be drafted.  Pro-Podolsk.ru states that 130 will head to the Ground Troops, 101 to VKS, 19 Navy, 17 Natsgvardiya, and 7 VDV.
Issuing gear in Orenburg

Issuing gear in Orenburg

There are, of course, other ways to peel the conscription onion.  Klops.ru reports that the Navy’s Baltic Fleet will receive 5,000 draftees this spring and summer.  The MOD’s Krasnaya zvezda states that Kaliningrad Oblast will draft 1,200, and send 80 percent (960) of them to the Baltic Fleet naval or ground units.

Mil.ru indicates that the Northern Fleet will get 2,500 conscripts.  Some 800 will come from Murmansk and Arkhangelsk Oblasts.  Each region is drafting 1,000 men.  The new Northern Fleet personnel will serve their year ashore in motorized rifle, air defense, supply, and aviation-technical units.  The most fit among them will go to the fleet’s naval infantry brigades.

Unlike the past, there seems more tendency to let conscripts serve close to home. “Extraterritoriality” used to be the rule when Soviet and Russian draftees would be sent far from their native areas just to discourage AWOLs.  Particularly notable is the induction of young men from maritime regions into their nearby fleets.  Or men from Pskov or Ulyanovsk to be conscripted into local VDV units.

Data on the contribution of various regions to the draft is summarized in this table. It is not large enough for grand conclusions with high confidence, but perhaps for some conjectures. 

Let’s look first at what we’ve heard recently about how the Russian Federation Armed Forces are put together.  President Putin’s March decree stated that the armed forces have 1,013,628 uniformed personnel.  However, Defense Minister Shoygu indicated the previous month that only 930,000 soldiers — including 380,000 contractees — were actually in the ranks.  The remaining 550,000 presumably included 220,000 officers, 50,000 warrants, and 307,000 conscripts who entered the service in the spring and fall of 2016.

But that math isn’t quite right; this would give the armed forces 27,000 more men on hand than Shoygu said.  Either the total is higher than 930,000 or one (or some) of the other numbers are lower.  In early 2017, the MOD admitted that it was short of officers and pilots.

Next we have to examine the even murkier claims about the size of Russia’s armed services.

We’ll start where the clarity is greatest.  The RVSN commander said last year his troops will remain around the 60,000 level.  VDV are generally put at 35,000 or 45,000.  The Navy is usually estimated at 130,000-150,000 men.  While they are ranges, they aren’t extreme.

Ground Troops and Aerospace Forces are the problems.  It may be easiest to start with the latter.  One sees reports of the VKS at 190,000 and at 430,000 (?!).  The Ground Troops range from 220,000 to 400,000 depending on the source.

It might look like this:

Armed Service Low Medium High
Ground Troops 220,000 310,000 400,000
Aerospace Forces 190,000 310,000 430,000
Navy 130,000 140,000 150,000
RVSN 60,000 60,000 60,000
VDV 35,000 40,000 45,000
“Units of central subordination” 295,000 70,000 -155,000
Total 930,000 930,000 930,000

Let’s look at the three ways of allocating 930,000 personnel.  The “low” estimates almost certainly leave too many in the MOD’s “units of central subordination.”  The “high” estimate for each service doesn’t even fit a force of 930,000.

The “medium” estimate looks like it might be fairly close to reality, with some adjustment.  The 310,000 for VKS seems a little high, although the new service was created in 2015 by merging the old VVS and VVKO each with roughly 150,000 personnel. Still, it may be less, perhaps 280,000 now.

Russian Federation Armed Forces manpower might be distributed like this:

Armed Service Personnel Percent
Ground Troops 340,000 37%
Aerospace Forces 280,000 30%
Navy 140,000 15%
RVSN 60,000 6%
VDV 40,000 4%
“Units of central subordination” 70,000 8%
Total 930,000 100%

The real issue could be the distribution between the two largest services, Ground Troops and Aerospace Forces.  There might be more in the former and somewhat fewer in the latter.

So what does the latest allocation of conscripts tell us?

About 42 percent of conscripts in this unscientific sample are headed for the Ground Troops.  It seems to make sense because this service likely still has a heavy concentration of draftees.  Some 19 percent are going to the VKS.  Again, not surprising since the VKS almost certainly relies more on contractees than conscripts.  Approximately 6 percent are bound for the Navy.  It has reportedly almost stopped using draftees for afloat duties leaving a smaller requirement for personnel to work in billets ashore.  The RVSN and VDV still rely on conscripts but have significant numbers of contractees in their ranks. They are getting 8 and 3 personnel from the levy, respectively.  “Units of central subordination” are receiving 9 percent of those drafted this spring and summer.

It looks like this:

Armed Service Personnel Percent Conscript Allocation
Ground Troops 340,000 37% 42%
Aerospace Forces 280,000 30% 19%
Navy 140,000 15% 6%
RVSN 60,000 6% 8%
VDV 40,000 4% 3%
“Units of central subordination” 70,000 8% 9%
Total 930,000 100%

The allocation of new conscripts is not a great proxy for showing how manpower is distributed in the Russian armed services.  But it isn’t a bad one.  It allows for some assertions that could be researched and tested in the future:

  • The Ground Troops have a higher number of conscripts in their ranks than a strictly proportional distribution of draftees would provide. 
  • The Aerospace Forces and Navy have fewer conscripts than their proportional shares.
  • The RVSN, VDV, and “units of central subordination” have conscript numbers that fit a proportional distribution in line with their share of MOD manpower. 

The sample size, of course, is small and the existing data incomplete. A significant percentage of conscripts lacked an identified service assignment.

Gerasimov Says No Sharp Course Change

General-Colonel Gerasimov (photo: RIA Novosti / Sergey Pyatikov)

General-Colonel Gerasimov (photo: RIA Novosti / Sergey Pyatikov)

Gazeta.ru pieced together RIA Novosti clips of General Staff Chief Valeriy Gerasimov’s session with foreign military attaches yesterday.

Gerasimov said army reforms begun by former Defense Minister Anatoliy Serdyukov will be “corrected,” not radically altered:

“Anticipating your questions on the possibility of a sharp course change in military organizational development, I would note there won’t be one.  In 2008, the Russian Federation President clearly indicated development tasks for our army, they will be fulfilled.  Naturally, some issues are being subjected to certain correction accounting for deficiencies revealed.”

“Organizational development” is primarily (but not entirely) TO&E and force structure.

Gazeta reports Gerasimov said mixed conscript and contract manning will be preserved, and the one-year conscript service term won’t be increased as some would like.

The new NGSh said the Defense Ministry is creating its own element to track fulfillment of the state defense order (GOZ):

“And by the minister’s decision, a structure will be created in the Defense Ministry which allows for controlling not only the completion of contracts, but work in all phases of the production cycle.”

Serdyukov’s Defense Ministry had various organs with this responsibility, including Rosoboronzakaz, Rosoboronpostavka, etc.  How will the new structure be better?

Gazeta closes with expert opinions on the fate of reforms introduced by Serdyukov.  Igor Korotchenko says:

“We didn’t have Anatoliy Serdyukov’s reform, but a reform the main parameters of which were set by the president.  That is the military reform course will continue fully with the exception of some cases of deficiencies revealed in the military education system, military medicine, and the reinforcement of control procedures over the activity of those structures involved in armed forces outsourcing.”

Ever-skeptical Aleksandr Khramchikhin doesn’t think there was a coherent course to be changed:

“In the army reform, there wasn’t a clear plan of action, one won’t appear under the new defense minister.”

“I don’t think Shoygu’s Defense Ministry will try to correct the course of reform or introduce some fixes.  There is nothing to correct.  Serdyukov’s reform had no kind of course, it went by the trial and error method.  There are grounds to believe that Shoygu will act according to the same principle.”

There’s a long list of policies commentators think will or might be changed, but little so far officially.  A new category to replace Serdyukov’s Reforms is needed.  Maybe Shoygu’s Nuanced Corrections?

Russia’s Fading Army Fights Losing Battle to Reform Itself

A very good article by the Wall Street Journal’s Richard Boudreaux . . . though missing a few of the most up-to-date pieces of the story, his report captures important aspects of the Russian contract service experiment that even so-called specialists overlook.

“VOLGOGRAD, Russia—Sergei Fetisov, a 23-year-old welder, signed on for one of the most ambitious projects in Vladimir Putin’s Russia: rebuilding the remains of the once-mighty Soviet Red Army.”

“A cornerstone of that effort was the creation of special combat-ready units staffed entirely by professional soldiers, not conscripts.  Mr. Fetisov volunteered to be one of them.  He enlisted for a renewable three-year stint, enticed by higher pay and the chance to learn new skills.”

“One of his first tasks, he recalls, was toiling past midnight shoveling snow and ice from a football-field-size parade ground.  The work that followed was menial, humiliating and of little practical use, he says.  Combat training consisted of two firing exercises a year, he says, and a chunk of his paycheck was routinely withheld by corrupt officers.”

“‘When I realized that being a professional soldier was just the same as serving as a conscript, I wanted to tear up my contract and get out of there,’ he says.  He quit when his commitment ended in July, he says, ‘but we had guys who simply ran away.’”

“With volunteers like Mr. Fetisov leaving in droves, the Defense Ministry has abandoned the initiative altogether.  The program’s failure shows the limits of Mr. Putin’s grand plan to transform the army from a cumbersome machine designed for European land war into a lithe force capable of fighting regional wars and terrorism.”

“Russia’s struggle to rebuild its armed forces comes as the world’s military balance is in flux.”

“Two decades after the Cold War ended, China is engaged in a military buildup that has many of its neighbors, including Russia, scrambling to bolster their defenses.  The U.S., still the world’s dominant military power, is trying to rein in defense spending—while simultaneously keeping a wary eye on China, projecting power in the volatile Middle East and dealing with the North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s persistent concerns about Moscow.”

“Currently, Russia is at odds with NATO’s air assault in Libya. Moscow has stayed out of the military conflict, despite its stakes in weapons deals and oil-exploration ventures with Col. Moammar Gadhafi’s regime.  But Mr. Putin said last month that the bombing in Libya is part of a ‘steady trend’ of U.S. military intervention around the world and ‘a timely indicator that our efforts to strengthen [Russia’s] defense are justified.’”

“In February, Russia outlined a $650 billion plan to acquire new warplanes, ships, missiles and other arms over the next decade, the Kremlin’s biggest spending spree since the Cold War.”

“Mr. Fetisov’s account of poor morale in the army’s ranks, however, raises questions about Russia’s long-term ability to assert power abroad.”

“The Defense Ministry declined to comment on Mr. Fetisov’s complaints, but has acknowledged that widespread discontent among volunteers undermined its enlistment campaign.  Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov has said that the program had been poorly managed and would cost too much to fix.”

“‘We cannot afford to create a fully professional army,’ he said in October.  ‘If we save funds elsewhere, we will certainly go back to this idea, but well prepared.’”

“The setback has the Kremlin in a bind.  Counting on volunteers to make up nearly half of all soldiers, Mr. Putin had bowed to public sentiment and shortened the draft from two years to one.  Now, the dearth of volunteers and a drop in Russia’s draft-age population have prompted the Defense Ministry to cancel some deferments and step up conscription of men 18 and older, risking discontent over a twice-yearly ritual that began anew on April 1 and is widely evaded.”

“Russia relies mainly on its nuclear arsenal to project power and protect its territory.  Tensions with the West have eased, but Mr. Putin sought a revival of conventional forces, which had been weakened by budget cuts, to put muscle behind his push for influence in former Soviet republics that are now independent.”

“The army’s decline became evident in the mid-1990s with its battering by separatist rebels in Chechnya.  The land, air and naval forces Mr. Putin inherited when he became president in 2000 were a pale shadow of the Red Army, five million strong at the time of the Soviet Union’s breakup in 1991.  They stand at one-fifth that size today.”

“Under the enlistment program, launched in 2004, officers were to train volunteers as career specialists and make the new combat-ready units fully operational by 2010.  The shift to professional soldiers was supposed to better enable the army to operate the high-tech weaponry Russia plans to acquire.”

“The U.S. abolished the draft in 1973, attracting volunteers through advertising, pay increases, educational benefits and re-enlistment bonuses.  By the time of the Persian Gulf War of 1991, the move was widely viewed as a success.”

“Russia’s campaign to attract volunteers, by contrast, was not as well funded or advertised.  By 2008, the army said it had signed up 99,000 volunteers for the new units, about 40,000 short of the goal.”

“Then the number began a sharp decline as most of them chose not to re-enlist or went AWOL.  That trend was evident during Russia’s clumsy but ultimately successful invasion that year of neighboring Georgia.  Conscripts were sent to fight and die there, despite Mr. Putin’s promise that only professionals would serve in hot spots.”

“Despite the shortage of volunteers, Mr. Serdyukov, the defense minister, announced at the end of 2009 that Russia’s ground forces had been reorganized into 85 brigades of ‘permanent combat readiness,’ doing away with bulkier divisions and making the army more mobile.  Only later did officials acknowledge that the brigades were made up mostly of one-year conscripts, men with few combat skills.”

“The enlistment drive’s failure puts constraints on Russia’s reach.  When ethnic rioting in June threatened to tear Kyrgyzstan apart, its president appealed for Russian peacekeepers, the kind of force Moscow once deployed routinely as a political tool.  This time the Kremlin demurred—in part, defense analysts say, because the army couldn’t spare a full brigade of professional soldiers.”

“Democratic reformers have lobbied for years to end the draft, arguing that a smaller, professionalized force could better defend the nation’s interests.  Opinion polls show majority support for the idea, and Mr. Putin endorsed it early in his presidency.”

“But tradition-bound generals favored keeping a large conscript army. Mr. Putin opted in 2003 for a compromise:  The Defense Ministry would continue to draft, but also would start recruiting for the combat units.  The government budgeted $3.3 billion for higher pay and better housing for volunteers.”

“By the time Mr. Fetisov received a draft notice four years later, the plan was faltering.  Recruiting stations, unaccustomed to any task other than rounding up draft-age men, were given no blueprint for luring volunteers.”

“The army was a tough sell, too.  Salaries for contract soldiers averaged $270 per month at the end of 2007, about half the average salary for civilians.  Housing construction at bases fell behind schedule.  Residential buildings paid for by the military were turned over without running water, plumbing or electrical wiring, government auditors reported.”

“Mr. Fetisov, who has dyed-blond hair and a passion for video games, had no interest in leaving his $370-a-month welding job.  He lived with his mother and two brothers in Volgograd, a ‘hero city’ once named Stalingrad and famed for resisting the Nazis in World War II, but he wasn’t attracted to military life.”

“Once he was drafted, however, an army contract seemed to offer advantages.  Draftees at the time served 18 months, earning next to nothing.  But they had the option to go professional six months after induction.  Mr. Fetisov, who says he was offered $400 a month, thought a contract would raise his status in the army and enable him to master new skills.”

“He reported to the 99th Artillery Regiment’s base near Nizhny Novgorod in November 2007.”

“His disillusionment began with midnight snow-shoveling duty.  ‘We worked in cleaning, construction, regular things, not serving as soldiers,’ he says.  ‘We didn’t do anything that would help us in a combat situation.’”

“Mr. Fetisov and others who served in recent years say the army’s search for contract servicemen centered exclusively on draftees already under its control.”

“The 99th Artillery, for example, had 600 volunteers on three-year contracts, including Mr. Fetisov, and 300 draftees.  Officers were under instruction to recruit as many new volunteers as possible.”

“Mr. Fetisov says they resorted to an unusual recruiting technique:  Nearly every night at 11 that first winter, conscripts were mustered on the parade ground and made to stand in formation for hours, facing superiors who sometimes were drunk.”

“‘Finally an officer would say, ‘Those willing to sign contracts, you’re dismissed.  The rest of you, stay at attention,’‘ Mr. Fetisov recalls.  ‘A personnel officer would tell stories about the great treatment contract soldiers get.’”

“‘They had to stand there in the cold until at least two or three men agreed to sign,’ Mr. Fetisov says.  ‘This went on for weeks, but they never got 100%’ of the regiment on contract.”

“Volunteers under contract lived three to a room in new barracks with televisions and DVD players.  Conscripts slept in bunk beds, 20 to a room.”

“Beyond that, the distinction seemed to blur.  Volunteers and conscripts alike were treated harshly, Mr. Fetisov says.  Sometimes a soldier who broke disciplinary rules was ordered to dig a deep pit and stay inside for days, he says.”

“His accounts were corroborated by two other contract soldiers, Artyom Pugach and Denis Pushkin, who served at the base and were interviewed separately.”

“The three soldiers say they experienced arbitrary deductions from their paychecks of $20 to $135 a month for what they say an officer described as ‘needs of the regiment.’  Some contract soldiers had to forfeit their final month’s pay in exchange for discharge papers, says Mr. Pushkin.”

“A 2008 study by Citizen and Army, a Russian human-rights group, said such deductions were widespread, amounting to large-scale misappropriation.  Mr. Fetisov says his commander had leeway with payroll money because his contract, like many others, didn’t state the salary he was promised.  He says the commander threatened to punish anyone who challenged the cuts.”

“‘We were told there were some financial difficulties with the military reform,’ he says.  ‘But we could see that the commanders got new cars.…We saw what they were driving, and it was clear what was being spent on what.’”

“Crime and coercion plagued other volunteer units.  Police in Russia’s Far East broke up gangs that extorted cash from soldiers on paydays at three bases.”

“In Kaliningrad, a military prosecutor’s inquiry led to the annulment in 2006 of 83 contracts signed under pressure, according to that city’s chapter of the Soldiers’ Mothers Committee, an advocacy group.  Elsewhere, commanders of soldiers who went AWOL kept them on the roster, pocketing their salaries, says Alexander Golts, a military specialist and deputy editor of Yezhedevny Zhurnal, an online Russian publication.”

“In 2009, Mr. Fetisov was among 160 soldiers sent to form the all-volunteer artillery battalion of the new 6th Specialized Tank Brigade.  There, he says, he injured his hand badly while cleaning the artillery barrel of a tank, and army doctors neglected it.  When his three-year contract came up for renewal, Mr. Fetisov bailed out.  At the time, he says, only 10 volunteers remained of the 160.  The rest had been replaced by draftees.”

“‘The army ran out of fools,’ his mother, Tatyana Fetisova, said recently as she listened to her son tell his story.”

“And so it went at bases across Russia.  The exodus left a handful of all-volunteer units, staffed by a few thousand contract soldiers, in an army made up overwhelmingly of conscripts, say defense officials and independent observers.”

“‘It’s no secret how the contract service was implemented,’ Mr. Serdyukov, the defense minister, told news magazine Odnako.  ‘Active duty soldiers were induced to sign contracts by all means.  Their [low] monthly salary and standard barracks life made them quit the armed forces as early as possible.  There was no systematic preparation of military specialists.’”

“Mr. Serdyukov, a former business executive close to Mr. Putin, was appointed during the enlistment effort and felt cheated by officers who resisted or mismanaged it, says Vitaly Shlykov, a retired colonel who advises him.  The minister, he says, concluded that Russia must change the culture of its officer corps before trying to switch to a professional army.”

“Backed by Mr. Putin and the current president, Dmitry Medvedev, Mr. Serdyukov is slashing the number of officers and changing the way new ones are educated.  He is training Russia’s first corps of career sergeants since the czarist era, starting with a class of 300.”

“But those leaders will take a generation to develop, Mr. Shlykov says, and meanwhile ‘Russia will have a conscription army for years to come.’”

“That is bad news for Russia, says Mr. Fetisov, the former enlistee, but at least those who serve will do so with fewer illusions.”

“‘Now everybody knows you just put up with a year of hell,’ he says, ‘and then you’re free.’”