Tag Archives: Conscripts

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.”

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.

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.”

GURLS

So, Do You Have a Girlfriend? (photo: Izvestiya / Gleb Shchelkunov)

So, Do You Have a Girlfriend? (photo: Izvestiya / Gleb Shchelkunov)

A strange and ironic title.  “Do Ask, Do Tell” might be appropriate too.

By chance, two recent articles focused on the Main Directorate for Personnel Work (GURLS or ГУРЛС).

Information at Nezavisimoye voyennoye obozreniye’s disposal indicates Defense Minister Shoygu will reorganize GURLS into a Cadre Policy Department (DKP or ДКП), like what he had at MChS.  The change would encompass everyone working with personnel issues, military education, and psychological evaluation and treatment.

Author Vladimir Mukhin concludes the Defense Ministry’s personnel structures haven’t been effective during the entire post-Soviet period.  But former Defense Minister Serdyukov, in particular, had little use for personnel work.  He dismissed the last chief of GURLS, and left the post vacant.  The chief before was convicted for bribery and sent to jail for seven years. 

Serdyukov cut personnel work officers by a factor of three, sold off cultural-educational institutions in large garrisons, and was prepared to privatize major facilities reportedly worth “several billion dollars” — the Central Academic Theater of the Russian Army, the Cultural Center and Museum of the Armed Forces.

The article in Izvestiya is much more interesting. 

Its headline says Russian officers are obligated to determine the sexual orientation of their soldiers (among other things).

This comes from “methodological recommendations” codified by GURLS at the end of last year.  They cover the spectrum of psychological work with young soldiers, from counteracting “barracks rackets” to national [ethnic] and religious issues.

As they put it, “disorderly sexual relations” qualify as a sign of nervous-psychological instability on par with alcohol addiction, running away from home, suicidal tendencies, and stealing.

Officer-educators (officer-indoctrinators) should get to know a soldier, ask about his sexual experience, if he has a girlfriend, and whether her fidelity is important to him.

A physical inspection of the soldier to look for tattoos is recommended:

“The reasons for having tattoos could attest to a low cultural and educational level.  If the influence of external motivations is established, for example persuasion, coercion, then this will attest to the compliance of the young man, his inclination to submit to another’s will.”

“. . . knowledge of tattoo symbols will help the officer best organize work with a specific individual.  Special attention should go to tattoos on areas of the face, the genitals, the buttocks.  They can attest not only to specific personal attitudes, but also to possible sexual deviations.”

A military psychologist from GURLS tells the paper the army remains a bastion of traditional views on sexuality:

“In closed military collectives, sexual minorities introduce unnecessary tension, negatively influence the moral atmosphere.  Soldiers begin thinking not about their service, but about extraneous things.”

An assistant battalion commander for personnel work says he can’t talk with every young soldier; this is up to company and platoon commanders.  But the perplexed officer asked rhetorically:

“Will they inspect genitals for tattoos?  And how do you ask about the first sexual experience?  ‘When did you try a woman for the first time, greenhorn?  Answer straight, don’t weasel.'”

He claimed he had one gay contractee who came to the army looking for more partners.

Other officers told Izvestiya they aren’t in a hurry to follow GURLS’ guidance. 

Before Serdyukov introduced the “new profile” reforms, companies had deputy commanders for indoctrination work, and battalions still had a staff psychologist.  Now there’s only the deputy battalion commander for personnel work, and companies have four officers — the company commander and three platoon commanders.

A Rock and a Hard Place

Russians in Tajikistan (photo: RIA Novosti / Vladimir Fedorenko)

Conscripts or contractees?  It’s difficult for the Russian Army to get the right kind of conscripts, where it needs them.  But, over time, it hasn’t been any easier to obtain long-term contract enlisted either. 

Last week, Izvestiya wrote about army plans to replace conscripts currently serving in its 201st Military Base in Tajikistan with contractees. 

An officer in the formation told the paper it’s too costly to keep 3,000 conscripts in Tajikistan, and, by the end of 2012, the Russian Army will replace half with contractees.  A GOMU source tells the paper replacing all 3,000 at once is “unrealistic.”  Contractees will reportedly serve on three-year deals getting 30,000 rubles per month.

The situation for Russians in Tajikistan, the officer says, is strained, and Tajik authorities regularly detain conscripts for one reason or another.  As an example, he cites the case of a conscript driver who killed three Tajiks last January.  Thus, he concludes, it would be easier with “professionals” – contractees —  who “know what they’re doing, and can be responsible for their actions.”

But there’s no reason to think contractees will avoid trouble any better than conscripts.  The first contract experiment proved that.  Contractees are more costly and just as difficult to control, if not more than their conscripted brother-soldiers.

According to Izvestiya, the 201st now has 5,500 personnel, including the 3,000 conscripts.

An old Krasnaya zvezda report says, in early 2007 – at the height of the first, failed attempt at introducing contract service – the military base had 7,000 servicemen in all, about 60 or 65 percent contractees.  Its two maneuver units had 50 percent or fewer in their ranks.

Back then, the Defense Ministry daily said the military was all set to send conscripts in place of hired soldiers.  It was hard to convince older, experienced men to go to Tajikistan because of the difficult living conditions and prospects for serving on contract in Russia.

As Izvestiya’s interlocutor intimated, relations between Moscow and Dushanbe are a bit strained right now, prompting some to wonder out loud if manning the 201st won’t become a moot issue.

Exercise Casualties

Russia’s fall exercises took a toll on some conscripts participating in them.  Three were killed in Union Shield-2011 at Ashuluk, and two more may have died during Tsentr-2011.

Life.ru reports a conscript died on September 26 from injuries sustained in a fall from a railroad platform while loading equipment during Union Shield-2011.

According to IA Regnum, at Ashuluk on September 24, an automated command and control system operator, a draftee, was found dead in a KamAZ.  An officer and two conscripts had to wait for help overnight when their vehicle broke down.  One of the conscripts apparently died during the night. 

On September 20, a Russian attack aircraft fired an errant air-to-surface rocket that flew several kilometers from its intended target before exploding, killing one soldier and injuring a second.  IA Rosbalt also noted Ashuluk was the scene of an August 23 ordnance accident that killed eight soldiers.

News outlets and military spokesmen are publicly disputing whether two tank crewmen died of carbon monoxide poisoning while President Medvedev and Defense Minister Serdyukov reviewed the concluding phase of Tsentr-2011 at Chebarkul on September 27. 

According to Novyy region, a Chelyabinsk rights activist says two conscripts died and the military is trying to cover up the accident.  Another source says the two men are hospitalized in critical and serious condition respectively.  The army says the men were poisoned by powder gases during training before Tsentr, and will soon be discharged from the hospital.  The Central MD’s press-service says the exercise was conducted without incidents, accidents, or equipment failures.

Military prosecutors are investigating at least some of these incidents.