Tag Archives: Valentina Melnikova

Trouble Brigade

Under Sergey Shoygu, the Russian MOD has pretty much accomplished two things.

First, it has generally improved service conditions for the average officer and soldier.  More money is available for this purpose than at any time since 1992.  It is financing military construction on a broad front.

Second, it has conducted a concerted and successful campaign to suppress almost all negative information about the armed forces.  It has driven once vigorous Russian military journalism to its lowest ebb.  It’s no surprise since President Vladimir Putin has done the same to civilian journalism.

Still, a Gazeta.ru piece by Vladimir Vashchenko from 29 September is reminiscent of the best in Russian military journalism.

welcome-to-boguchar

Welcome to Boguchar

Vashchenko writes (not for the first time) about v / ch 54046 — the 9th Independent Motorized Rifle Visla Red Banner Order of Suvorov Brigade.  The 9th IMRB for short.

Recall that the 9th IMRB — along with the rest of the 20th CAA — is relocating from Nizhegorod to Boguchar in Voronezh Oblast.  Boguchar wasn’t picked out of a hat.  It’s a strategic point on today’s map.  For Russia, it’s the frontline of the war in eastern Ukraine.

boguchar-map

The 9th adds significant ground power to Russian forces near pro-Moscow Lugansk.

Vashchenko writes about the deaths of several of soldiers in the brigade over recent months.

On 24 September, a 35-year-old contractee killed himself.  He was an infantryman from the 2nd Battalion.  His suicide was precipitated primarily by family problems.

Earlier in September, another serviceman died after a fight with some locals, according to official reports, but a source tells Vashchenko he was run over by an officer driving under the influence.

In July, a junior sergeant was found dead.  He previously had a conflict with an officer and had already requested a transfer.  His death is under investigation by the GVP and GVSU.

In April, a conscript died just 23 days before his demob date.  With no evidence of a crime, his death isn’t being investigated.

Another conscript died in the spring of last year, but Vashchenko could unearth no details about what happened.

Vashchenko writes that social networks of mothers with conscript sons report Boguchar has a bad reputation as a formation where officers extort money from their young charges.

The author talked to several men who serve, or served, in the brigade.  Some came to him after reading his August story about Boguchar.

One told of sleeping two men to a couch because of the lack of proper bunks.  He also had to buy his own uniforms.  A friend in his unit had to pay to go to the infirmary about a problem with his knees.

An emotional ex-soldier told Vashchenko, “It’s a ‘hole,’ not a unit!”

Another claimed the brigade keeps two sets of medical records.  One for inspections indicating all soldiers are perfectly healthy, and a second set detailing their true maladies.

He told Vashchenko that anti-terrorist drills in the brigade were a joke.  Its perimeter was porous, and it never passed.  A man acting the part of suicide bomber walked around the brigade and could have “exploded” several times.

He said the brigade’s command made sure to intimidate the troops before inspections to ensure none would tell their guests about real conditions in the formation.

He said officers looked at soldiers like cattle, cattle that gave them money once a month.  Soldiers were abused if they didn’t pay “for the company’s needs” on time.  They even had to pay 500 rubles to receive their demob.

The command used certain soldiers to “supervise” others and keep them in line. One group were troops from the material support battalion.  They ran the brigade’s canteen which was really a mobile “trading post” for the financial benefit of unit commanders.

Vashchenko’s interlocutor says his service in Boguchar dissuaded him from signing up as a contractee.  He sums it up:

“I believe the army certainly has to be harsh, at times even cruel, just not like there.  You know under pain of death I wouldn’t go into battle or on reconnaissance with a single one of our officers.  And this given that I served after getting a higher education, but imagine what happens with kids of 18 who don’t yet have a strong psyche.  To me the army and conditions like Boguchar turn little boys not into real men but into scum and vermin that follow a one-way road — prison, alcoholism or drug addiction.”

Vashchenko also talked to Valentina Melnikova, head of the Union of Soldiers’ Mothers Committees of Russia.  She traveled recently to Boguchar and called the situation “monstrous” with men living in tents and 4,000 personnel relying on a single water source.  But she hasn’t received complaints about abuses in the brigade.

A Different Take

On Topwar.ru, Roman Skomorokhov offered a spirited refutation of Vashchenko’s article on the 9th IMRB.  He writes that he visited the brigade six weeks ago.  According to him, Vashchenko simply repeats lies and throws mud on the army.

Skomorokhov claims security is good, and it’s not possible for an intruder to wander around the base.  Conditions are not ideal, he admits, but it’s not like the 1990s.  Boguchar is a hardship post at the moment, but one that is vitally needed to defend Russia’s southwestern frontier.

Moreover, Skomorokhov says, those now living in tents will be housed in newly-built barracks before winter.

There are injuries and deaths (outside of combat or training) and crimes in every army.  So what’s different about the Russian case?

The difference is a pervasive effort to suppress reporting of such incidents, or explain them away if they do make it into the news. Considerably more energy is expended on this now than ten years ago.

The brigade wants to keep incidents in the brigade.  The military district wants to keep them in the district.  The MOD wants to keep them in the MOD.  The Kremlin wants to keep them from gaining traction in the foreign media.  Remember the case of Andrey Sychev

Russians don’t want anyone to think their armed forces are not as modern, not as lethal, not as scary, not as well-financed, or not as orderly as they present them.  And this Potemkin village mentality has served them well.

The problem is, when fooling the bosses or the outside world about what is really happening, one also fools oneself.  And one is found out eventually.  

Look at the Baltic Fleet.  Its entire command was purged in June for this reason.  The MOD announced that high-ranking fleet officers were dismissed for: 

“. . . not taking all essential measures to improve the housing conditions of personnel, the lack of concern about subordinates, and also misrepresentations of the real state of affairs in reports.”

The Kremlin is not stupid.  It has always had its own channels of information inside the Russian military.  What does it do with what it learns?  The Baltic Fleet case might have been nothing more than serving notice on the rest of the military to clean up its act.  

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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.”

No One to Call (Part II)

Let’s continue our look at the just-completed fall draft before returning to the issue of contract service.

In Nezavisimaya gazeta, Sergey Konovalov counts 220,000 officers and 180,000 contractees at present, then quotes retired general Yuriy Netkachev:

“If we add the number of men called into the troops in the spring and fall of last year (135,900 [sic] and 218,000 lads respectively), then with authorized manning of the army and navy at one million men, undermanning is not less than 15%.  Given such indicators, it doesn’t do to talk about the full combat readiness of the troops.”

With due respect to Netkachev, this adds up to just over 750,000 men in the RF Armed Forces.  That would be 25 percent undermanning against a million-man army. 

Konovalov cites KSMR’s Valentina Melnikova on legal violations in the recent draft.  The fall call-up possibly set a record for rights violations even though it was the smallest post-Soviet draft.  Melnikova claims 6,000 violations were reported — one for every 20 men inducted.  And, according to Konovalov, prosecutorial data seems to support her number.  The main violation was simply drafting guys not fit to serve.  Melnikova believes commissariats did this consciously because it was the only way they could reach even relatively low target numbers.

Konovalov turns to military sociologist Colonel Eduard Rodyukov who worries that, following a precedent set in Chechnya, the Defense Ministry is not inducting men from Dagestan.  Only 121 were inducted against the republic’s plan for 3,320.  And those few entering the army appeared to be Slavs rather than Avars, Dargins, Kumyks, etc.

Rodyukov concludes:

“This is unjust.  In Moscow, to fulfill the call-up plan, they shave everyone for the army – both lame and near-sighted, but in Dagestan and Chechnya potential recruits are sent into the reserve [without serving as conscripts].  A peculiar Slavicization of military collectives is occurring, the structure of which doesn’t correspond to the country’s population.  But the Russian Army is not an imperial army.  It should be international [i.e. interethnic].”

Konovalov believes conscription’s been cut in other “hot” republics of the North Caucasus as well.

Let’s come back to a larger point where we started.  If conscription of Caucasians has been pared for fear of having them in the ranks, overall conscription has been cut in favor of having 425,000 professional volunteers in the army by 2017. 

The Defense Minister recently said he’d go as far as 90 percent contractees and only 10 percent conscripts in the Armed Forces if the budget allowed for it.

Viktor Baranets addresses, in understated fashion, the difficulty of going from about 180,000 contractees today to 425,000:

“But this requires enormous expenditures.  A soldier or contract-sergeant also needs, besides uniforms, weapons, and corresponding social benefits, to be given good housing (and among them there are also many who are married).”

Yes, housing was a huge downfall of the 2003-2007 contract service effort.  So was failure to recruit the right men, and make contract service truly different from being a conscript.

Baranets goes on to suggest G.I. bill-type benefits (privileged VUZ admittance, government hiring preferences, etc.) for Russia’s contractees.

But pay can’t be underestimated as the primary factor in whether the Russian Army can attract contractees this time.

In 2004, a newly-signed contractee might have gotten 10,000 rubles a month.  After accounting for inflation, the Defense Ministry will have to pay at least 20,000 today to give enlisted the same deal. 

General Staff Chief Makarov has talked about minimum pay of 23,000 — not much more than what was offered in 2004 after inflation.  As always, much depends on the supplements and bonuses an individual serviceman receives. 

Contract pay may be better than it was.  But it’s going to be, as Baranets said, an enormous expense.  We’ll have to see if it’s an affordable and sustainable one.

Possible Mikhalkov Replacement

Aleksey Nemov

Interfaks reports 35-year-old former Olympic gymnastic champion, Aleksey Nemov is the frontrunner to chair the Defense Ministry’s Public Council.  The agency cites Valentina Melnikova, head of the Committee of Soldiers’ Mothers of Russia and herself a member of Public Council’s presidium.

Nemov’s possible appointment first surfaced on July 23.  He’s reportedly a United Russia member.  Melnikova said the Defense Ministry proposed Nemov to the presidium, but the Council is also considering other candidates.  She said a final decision on a new chairman will come at the Council’s September meeting, according to Obshchaya gazeta.  She considers Nemov a sufficiently well-known and worthy candidate for the job.

Nemov would replace flamboyant and outspoken film director Nikita Mikhalkov who resigned abruptly in May when the Defense Ministry took back his migalka – the flashing light and siren enabling officials, the wealthy, and the well-connected to drive through and around Moscow’s monstrous traffic jams.

Mikhalkov claimed he quit to protest the way in which the last two Victory Day parades were conducted (participation by NATO troops, president and prime minister seated while observing, etc.), changes in military education and training, and his self-professed inability to influence the situation in the army.

Forum.msk concludes, if Nemov becomes the next head of the Defense Ministry’s Public Council, he’s appropriately named.  His surname comes from немой (mute, silent, or dumb).

For the Public Council’s current composition, see this Krasnaya zvezda from last December.  For its original, early 2007 makeup, see Nezavisimoye voyennoye obozreniye.

The Results of Reform

Trud’s Mikhail Lukanin offered an interesting one last Wednesday . . . with help from other frequent commentators, he takes a swag at describing the results of Anatoliy Serdyukov’s nearly 4-year tenure as Defense Minister.

It’s interesting because it’s unclear if Lukanin’s article is intended to damn by faint praise, to be sarcastic, or was ordered by someone.  Maybe he intends to say these are just results, the good and the bad.

It’s easy to see some good in Lukanin’s first five, but his final three are pretty much unleavened.

The Army’s Become More Mobile

Lukanin quotes Vitaliy Shlykov:

“Until 2008, our army looked like fragments of the old, Soviet one, weighed down with heavy weapons, oriented toward global nuclear war with practically the entire world.”

He says even in the August war against Georgia the army was still “Soviet” — slow to stand up, with an archaic command and control structure.  But now the situation’s changed with mobile brigades that can answer an alert in 1 hour instead of days.

The Army’s Rid Itself of the Spirit of the Barracks

Valentina Melnikova tells Lukanin that the soldier’s life has changed cardinally under Serdyukov.  She says, until recently, one-third of soldiers were typically involved in nonmilitary work every day.  Now soldiers are gradually being freed from such duties as commercial firms take them on.

New Equipment Has Come to the Troops

Lukanin writes that finally a start’s been given to the largest rearmament of the army in post-Soviet times.  One that will take new weapons and equipment from about 10 percent of today’s inventory to 90-100 percent [official sources only claim 70 percent] by 2020.

Lukanin quotes Ruslan Pukhov:

“The Navy alone will receive 40 submarines and 36 new ships, and the Air Forces 1,500 aircraft in the next decade.”

Officer Pay Has Grown

Lukanin says lieutenants and majors made 14 and 20 thousand rubles per month respectively before Serdyukov’s reform,  but now 50 and 70 thousand if they receive premium pay for outstanding combat training results.  And from 2012, premium payments will be included in their permanent duty pay, and 50 thousand rubles will be the minimum base pay for officers.

Lukanin quotes Aleksandr Khramchikhin: 

“The officers of our army are actually comparable with the armies of developed countries in pay levels. “

They Didn’t Talk Reform to Death

Lukanin says experts think it’s good Serdyukov’s reform was pursued energetically, without lengthy discussion and debate.  Pukhov gives the cut from 6 to 4 military districts as an example:

“At one time, it would have taken years to transfer a huge quantity of officers and generals from place to place, but the Defense Ministry did this in just 4-5 months.”

They Stopped Training Officers

Lukanin refers to Serdyukov’s halt to inducting new cadets into officer commissioning schools until at least 2012.  He says 2010 graduates were either released or accepted sergeant positions.  This led to the departure of experienced instructors, and their replacement with younger officers lacking the necessary experience.

Sergeants Almost Ceased to Exist

Contract sergeants were dispersed in 2009-2010.  The Defense Ministry considers them poorly trained, and in no way superior to ordinary [conscript] soldiers.  Now it’s counting completely on conscripts with an even lower level of training.

There’s Nothing to Defend Against China

Here Lukanin notes that some results of reform have put people on guard.  Anatoliy Tsyganok tells him tank units have been practically eliminated: 

“Now only 2,000 tanks, old models at that, remain in the army.”

In Tsyganok’s opinion, tanks are still very relevant for the defense of Russia’s border with China.

What do we make of all this?

  • It’s good that the Russian Army was restructured into smaller, more combat ready formations, i.e. brigades, and sub-units. 
  • We really have no clear picture of the extent and success of outsourcing nonmilitary tasks in the army.  Meanwhile, the “spirit of the barracks” is alive and well when it comes to dedovshchina and violence in the ranks. 
  • The promise of another rearmament program shimmers on the horizon, but it’s not delivering much yet, and there are plenty of serious obstacles to completing it. 
  • The officer pay picture has improved, but the Defense Ministry has real work to do this year to implement a fully new pay system next year.  Meanwhile, several years of premium pay have caused divisions and disaffection in the officer corps. 
  • Moving out smartly on reform was a change over endless talk, but there are areas where more circumspection might have served Serdyukov well. 
  • The Defense Ministry definitely had to stop feeding more officers into an army with a 1:1 officer-conscript ratio.  We’ll have to see what kind of officers the remaining VVUZy produce when the induction of cadets restarts. 
  • Aborting contract service cut the army’s losses on the failed centerpiece military personnel policy of the 2000s.  But something will have to take its place eventually to produce more professional NCOs and soldiers. 
  • Russia is probably right to deemphasize its heavy armor.  It doesn’t appear to have much of a place in the coming rearmament plan.  And tanks really aren’t the answer to Moscow’s largely unstated security concerns vis-a-vis China anyway.

So what’s Serdyukov’s scorecard?  A mixed bag.  Probably more good than bad, but we’ll have to wait to see which results stand and prove positive over the long term.  Definitely superior to his predecessor’s tenure.  Expect more Serdyukov anniversary articles as 15 February approaches.

Serdyukov Offers Access to Military Units

Varying media accounts of Defense Minister Serdyukov’s meeting Thursday with defenders of conscript rights lead one to think they attended different meetings.

But the Defense Minister deserves praise for facing some of the army’s sharpest critics.  And for apparently saying he wants to meet them routinely, according to Krasnaya zvezda.  His predecessors rarely did.

The headline story from the meeting was Serdyukov’s offer for civilian activists to accompany conscripts through the induction process until they reach their place of service, and settle into their units.  He also offered fuller access to the military’s bases.

RIA Novosti  quoted him:

“We want to propose an option for accompanying conscripts:  take part in the callup commission, and then go with them to units and see how they are billeted.” 

He added that he is prepared to let civilian representatives into all military units, with the exception of an unknown number of secret ones.

According to ITAR-TASS, he said:

“The Defense Ministry on the whole is interested in public organizations having access to military units.”

So Serdyukov bowed to greater civilian involvement, if not control or oversight, and also stumped for his efforts to ‘humanize’ conscript service in the armed forces.

His offer was interesting for the catch it included . . . these civil society representatives have to participate in the callup commission before they can go with new soldiers to their units. 

Maybe Serdyukov thinks they won’t take up the offer.  Maybe he thinks, if they do, they’ll dirty their hands in the difficult work of deciding who has to serve, or doesn’t, and where.  Maybe sorting through far-from-ideal candidates and still trying to meet manpower quotas will temper their criticism.

But it may give conscript rights activists even better insight into induction process problems and abuses than they already have.   We’ll see.

Serdyukov touted efforts to enable conscripts, especially those with dependent parents and children, to serve as close to home as possible, rather than sending them as far away as possible like in the past.

But Valentina Melnikova of the Union of Committees of Soldiers’ Mothers (SKSM or СКСМ) believes no one is fulfilling Serdyukov’s order to assign draftees closer to home:

“In military commissariats no one pays attention to this.”

According to Lenta.ru, Serdyukov cited his other innovations – introducing a rest hour after lunch, lifting virtually all restrictions on the use of cell phones by conscripts, giving them a chance to earn a weekend pass, and freeing them from all housekeeping and maintenance chores in their barracks, units, and garrisons.  But neither Serdyukov nor the media could say how widely these initiatives have been implemented. 

According to Krasnaya zvezda, Serdyukov wants to revive moribund parents’ committees introduced several years ago, but found impractical when young men served in remote areas far from home.  If they’re closer to home, their parents might be able to visit their units.  Serdyukov also mentioned the 4-year-old Defense Ministry Public Council.  Krasnaya zvezda reported that Melnikova is heading its working group to coordinate its activities with other public and human rights organizations.  Serdyukov expressed the hope that such a unification of efforts will be beneficial.

IA Regnum reports that Petersburg’s Ella Polyakova gave Serdyukov a detailed report on violations of conscript rights complete with statistics, concrete examples, and proposals to better protect them.

Polyakova would like to remove examining physicians from the callup commission, and from the control of the voyenkomat.  She said their qualifications need improvement also.  She objected to Serdyukov’s cuts in military medicine and called for better psychiatric assistance for conscripts in their units.

Polyakova says Serdyukov’s officer cuts have worsened the situation in the barracks.  Sergeants who were supposed to replace officers are ill-prepared for greater responsibility, and barracks violence has spiked as a result.  The Main Military Prosecutor’s figures support her.  Sergey Fridinskiy recently reported that hazing and other barracks violence increased 50 percent in the first five months of 2010.

Newsru.com reported Tatyana Kuznetsova’s concern about the army stretching its definition of fitness and taking men who should be deferred or exempt for health reasons:

“But, as we know, right away, having just reached the troops, many guys turned up in hospitals which were overflowing.  Like in a war, they laid in three rows, on the floor, in corridors.  These boys were called up sick, with chronic illnesses that weren’t discovered during the callup.  They weren’t discovered on purpose.”

All in all, it’s clear that, no matter how often they get together, Defense Minister Serdyukov and human rights activists will continue to disagree about the state of the army and how to change it.

According to IA Regnum, when Serdyukov said there’s no money for contract service, the activists asked him to explain:

“. . . how much money is being expended from budgets at all levels to fulfill the conscription plan in the ranks of the armed forces, as a result of which young men who are sick, invalids, and psychologically unstable end up in the army.  And next compare this with the amounts of expenditures to dismiss conscripts from the army after several months for health reasons, and to pay compensation to the families of those who have died or become invalids in peacetime.”

More on the Military Manpower Dilemma

Social Portrait of SibVO Conscripts (Photo: Trud)

Mikhail Lukanin wrote in Trud this week about the Defense Ministry’s unending manpower woes. 

He concluded that the first two months of this spring’s draft campaign showed there’ll be almost no way to avoid conscription.  Experts he talked to believe the Defense Ministry’s conscription plan is unrealistically high, and the armed forces will turn to inducting every student. 

The callup is supposed to run 1 April to 15 July, and take in 270,000 new soldiers.  Voyenkomaty have already sent 100,000 men—mostly from the Volga-Ural region and Siberia—to their units.  One-third of callup-aged men were screened out due to health problems, most of which were diagnosed initially when the men appeared before the military-medical commission. 

Experts consider the early part of the draft campaign the easy part.  Voyenkomaty have been dealing with young men not in school who go pretty willingly to the army, according to human rights advocate Sergey Krivenko.  

But he says in the last weeks of the draft the voyenkomaty have to meet their quotas mainly with VUZ graduates who don’t have any desire to serve.  Valentina Melnikova of the Soldiers’ Mothers’ Committee says: 

“Mass roundups in student dormitories have already begun.  They traditionally conduct them mostly in Moscow and St. Petersburg.” 

In the fall, 43,000 university and institute graduates found themselves in the army—that’s 15 percent of all conscripts. 

Demographers indicate that the number of 18-year-old men will fall, and not exceed 600,000 for the next two years.  That number equals the number of places available in higher education institutions.  Independent military-economic analyst Vitaliy Tsymbal concludes: 

“The Defense Ministry can fully meet its draft plan only by means of total conscription of students.” 

And it has done little to hide its appetite for students, according to Lukanin. 

GOMU Chief Vasiliy Smirnov already talked to the Federation Council about drafting students after one or two years in a VUZ, and the Education Ministry reportedly didn’t object.  The extension of the current draft until 31 August means that those finishing school at 18 can now fall directly into the army, rather than taking their VUZ entrance exams.  Similarly, the ‘nonstop draft’ means VUZ graduates hoping to start their graduate studies will now fall subject to the draft. 

Of course, Smirnov has also raised cutting sharply the number of VUZy that can provide students a draft deferment.  He talks about a 50 percent cut, expanded later to a 70 percent cut in qualified VUZy.  Trud has been told all nongovernmental institutions will lose the right to provide deferments. 

Sergey Krivenko believes in every draft about 130,000-150,000 conscripts are ready to serve [his number may be high since it wasn’t so long ago that 133,000 were drafted every six months, and surely not every one of them was happy to go].  If, according to Krivenko, the Defense Ministry stuck with this number, it wouldn’t have any problem with conscription [it would certainly have fewer problems].  He continues: 

“However, the whole point is that beginning with spring 2009 the plan jumped to almost 300,000 in one callup.  Troop commanders themselves say that half of this number is simply ballast for the army.  Mainly these are guys in poor health, with a low level of education, and also inveterate hooligans.” 

Lukanin had a second article reviewing data from a survey of 7,800 conscripts in the SibVO.  Every third conscript considers serving a burden.  Only 40 percent had a secondary school (high school) or initial professional (post-secondary technical training) education; 4.5 percent had a complete higher education.  A third of the men grew up without fathers.  One in ten admitted either misusing alcohol, trying narcotics, or having a run-in with the police before coming to the army. 

More than 30 percent said they came to the army just to avoid trouble with the authorities.  Two percent said they have a negative attitude toward the army [this represents the small number of young men willing to tell the army’s pollsters what they really think to their faces]. 

Experts tell Lukanin the poll results will change as conscripts from Moscow, St. Petersburg, and other large cities begin to arrive.  A figure of 15 percent with negative attitudes toward the army is about the norm. 

Ten percent of the conscripts have health problems.  Three percent are underweight. 

The medical condition of conscripts may be worsening.  Official data say half of conscripts have health-related restrictions on their service.  And army commanders confirm that it’s hard to find draftees without some kind of defect.  ‘Ideal’ soldiers (from a physical and social standpoint) are found only in honor guards.  The deputy commander of the Moscow honor guard battalion said last fall he traveled all over Kostroma Oblast and, of 1,000 candidates presented by local voyenkomaty, he accepted only 30. 

Finally, one last story of draft-related problems . . . Nezavisimaya gazeta ran an editorial this week describing how some conscripts finishing their year of service in the DVO, Pacific Fleet, and SibVO are not being demobbed on time.  According to this report, they are being held because the DVO doesn’t have trained soldiers to take their places and participate in the operational-strategic Vostok-2010 exercise starting at the end of June.  The editorial concludes that the spring conscripts don’t even know how to handle their weapons yet, much less find a target on radar.  NG calls it a symptom of the fact that the Russian Army never has, and never has had, enough specialists.  The editors could hark back to the need for a professional army, but instead they recommend a better system of reserve mobilization.