Tag Archives: Vasiliy Smirnov

Walking Back Contract Service (Part II)

Here are some particulars from Deputy Chief of the General Staff, GOMU Chief General-Colonel Vasiliy Smirnov’s press-conference on the spring draft — and contract service — last week.

After dropping his lower spring draft number (203,720) bombshell, Smirnov said an increase in contractees will accompany this reduction in conscripts.  The Defense Ministry will determine clear, strict criteria for selecting and training contractees, and will raise the prestige of their service (along with their pay and living conditions, of course). 

In other remarks to the press, Smirnov emphasized that conscript service will remain, and the Armed Forces will retain mixed manning (i.e. conscripts and contractees).

Smirnov listed the following priorities for contract manning:

“In 2011, we will man sergeant posts, Navy afloat personnel, Airborne Troops [VDV] formations and military units, formations deployed on the territory of the Chechen Republic, and also the most knowledge-intensive and high technology military specialties, which determine the combat capability of formations and military units, with servicemen on contract.”

Priorities for Contract Service

In the near term, according to Smirnov, the Defense Ministry will put contractees in all sergeant-squad leader billets and positions involving maintenance or operation of complex or new weapons systems and equipment.

He said training of professional sergeants in the Defense Ministry’s higher educational institutions began in six schools in 2009, expanded to 19 last year, and will be conducted in 24 in 2011.

In his Q&A with the media, Smirnov said there’s no plan to switch to large numbers of contractees immediately, but rather:

“The number of contractees will increase gradually, mainly because of the large-scale introduction of new types of armaments.”

So he linked the need for contractees to presumed future success in acquiring new equipment under GPV 2011-2020.

Smirnov told the media a pereattestatsiya was conducted last year, and only 174 thousand competent contractees remain.  He also noted (as indicated on his slide above) that Spetsnaz would also be a priority for contractees.  He said there are currently 55,000 contract sergeants in the training pipeline.

Smirnov defended the earlier contract effort in the mid-2000s, saying it was successfully fulfilled despite being only half financed at 76 billion rubles, and:

“The main Navy and VDV units and formations are half manned with contract servicemen.”

Not a stunning testament to the earlier program.

It’s interesting that Smirnov talked so much about contract NCOs when, less than two months ago, the Federal Targeted Program for Manning Sergeant Billets with Contractees, 2009-2015 was cut in half.  Financing was reduced from 243 to 152 billion rubles, and the number of contract sergeants to be trained from 107,000 to 65,000.  For stories on this, see KommersantNewsru.com, or Komsomolskaya pravda.  The sources in these reports also put the number of contractees remaining much lower than Smirnov’s 174,000; they say at or just above 100,000.

One finds it hard to fathom that the Defense Ministry can find 425,000 contractees when just a half dozen years ago it failed to recruit, train, and retain 133,000.  Thus far in these early pronouncements on reinvigorating contract service nothing’s been said about what or how it will be different this time.  The Defense Ministry will have to make such a case to its political masters, the public, and the men it’s trying to sign up at some point.

Some things, like the Defense Ministry’s other priorities, are already known.  A renewed contract service effort will have to compete with a new higher pay system for a larger number of officers starting next year.  And the Defense Ministry is also at the outset of a new and expensive GPV that’s supposed to provide modern weapons and equipment which demand long-term, professional enlisted personnel (aka contractees).  And there are overdue and unfinished agenda items like the provision of permanent and service housing to officers.

Yes, your author is skeptical that the renewed push for contractees can gain traction.  We have to remember this magical 425,000 number is somewhere off in the future.  There’s no promised delivery date.  And the entire issue began with the tacit recognition that, for many reasons, Russia can only conscript so much manpower.  Keeping fewer guys from being shaved and inducted pretty much against their will is always good politics on the cusp of a presidential election year.

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Walking Back the Draft

General-Colonel Vasiliy Smirnov

Reversing decisions made in the context of Defense Minister Anatoliy Serdyukov’s military reforms is apparently necessary, no matter how painful.  In early 2010, Serdyukov and General Staff Chief Nikolay Makarov announced their intention to curtail professional contract service and rely on the one-year draft to man the Armed Forces.  Scarcely more than a year later, they’ve been forced to retreat from this plan.

Yesterday Deputy General Staff Chief, General-Colonel Vasiliy Smirnov said Moscow will draft only about 200,000 young men in this spring’s callup.  See Mil.ru’s transcript of the press-conference.

The Russian military has tried to conscript in excess of 270,000 men in every draft campaign since one-year service started.  But General-Colonel Smirnov said the military will now induct only 203,720 men this spring, and (not mentioning problems with numbers) he attributed the reduction to a Defense Ministry and General Staff decision to raise the quality of the callup contingent.  He added that coming drafts would also aim for about 200,000 new soldiers, plus or minus 3-5 percent.

The Russians are also refraining from measures to round up more men.  Newsru.com noted the spring callup will run only until July 15, not August 31 which would have allowed for drafting more men before they enter higher educational institutions (VUZy).  President Medvedev decided not to make technicum (post-secondary trade school) graduates liable to the draft so they can attend VUZy if they choose.  Other ideas, such as extending the upper age limit for the draft from 27 to 30, or raising the service term back to 18 months or 2 years, remain off the table.

So Moscow is facing its manpower limitations head-on.

The simple fact is a million-man Russian Army was never going to have 600,000 or 700,000 conscripts, perhaps not even 540,000 at any given moment.  Vladimir Mukhin already reported in January on the fall callup’s failure, and approximately 20 percent undermanning in the ranks.  That would put draftees at about 430,000, or at what Smirnov says they now plan to conscript each year.  Mikhail Lukanin wrote last June that the military’s conscription targets were unrealistic when the number of 18-year-olds alone won’t reach 600,000 during the next couple years.  Army General Makarov said it himself back in September when he noted that only about 13 percent of draft-liable manpower serves in the army.  His 13 percent of 3 million 18- to 27-year-olds is 390,000.

Where does all this leave Russian Army manpower?

Taking recent pronouncements on the intention to have 220,000 officers and 425,000 contractees in the future, conscripts might number 355,000 at some point in a million-man army.  Smirnov’s statement yesterday indicates they intend to have somewhat more than 400,000 at any given time for now.  Where they are today is harder.  If there are 181,000 officers and 174,000 contractees (as Smirnov said yesterday), and there are no more than 540,000 conscripts presently serving, the Armed Forces are comprised of less than 900,000 men.  How much less depends on the actual number of conscripts.  That’s at least ten percent below their authorized level.  If there are only 50o,ooo conscripts, that’s about 850,000, or 15 percent under one million, and so on.

Contract Service Not Quite Abandoned

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More Talk of Raising Draft Age to 30

Appearing on Thursday’s RIA Novosti talk show ‘Civil Defense,’ Deputy Defense Minister, State Secretary Nikolay Pankov claimed raising the upper age limit for conscription would benefit the army, and Russian society as a whole.

Under Russian law, men aged 18 to 27 are subject to the draft.  In April, GOMU Chief Vasiliy Smirnov floated the possibility of increasing the age to 30 as a way to help fill the army’s ranks at a time when 270,000 new conscripts are needed every six months, and contract service has failed to produce sufficient numbers of professional soldiers.

Pankov told his interviewer:

“I think this question [of raising the draft age limit] is very productive, and I wouldn’t reject this idea.”

But he admitted it needs more study.

After Smirnov’s April trial balloon, Defense Minister Serdyukov and General Staff Chief Makarov backed awayfrom raising the draft age, saying they were only ‘reviewing options.’

The issue really boils down to this:  how many 27-year-olds are the Russians currently drafting, and how much would drafting 28-, 29-, and 30-year-olds really help fill gaps in the ranks?

One has to conclude the return on conscription greatly diminishes at the outer edge, while resistance to it increases.  Forum.msk editor Anatoliy Baranov commented that raising the draft age limit to 30 is unpopular because average life expectancy for men is less than 60.  He continues:

“Of course, against the background of a general decline in the draft contingent by almost 2 times for social and demographic reasons, there are no and can’t be solutions fully compensating for this ‘demographic hole.’”

“How do you keep general military training and not draft everyone into the army at the same time?  There are, of course, solutions, but the current Defense Ministry leadership, it seems, consciously ‘overlooks’ them.”

Baranov seems to be saying, if the military wants a million-man army, with 600,000-700,000 conscripts, it’ll have to increase, not the draft age, but the draft term from one year back to 18-months or two years.

Medvedev Opens Discussion on Conscription Changes

Presidential Meeting on Conscription (photo: Kremlin.ru)

Talk of military conscription changes has swirled in recent months.  Many potential changes have been attributed to General Staff Chief Makarov or his deputy, GOMU Chief Vasiliy Smirnov.  

While they talked about extending the draft age to 30, or tightening deferments, Defense Minister Serdyukov played ‘good cop,’ launching initiatives to ‘humanize’ military service, and make more men willing to serve.

In the last week, the press has published favorable reports on the just-concluded spring draft campaign.  But, meeting with PA officials and ministers in Gorki yesterday, President Medvedev sounded a different note, indicating that a deeper look at Russia’s military manpower resources and policies is needed. 

The meeting included relevant ministers, but not Prime Minister Putin.  Along with Makarov and Smirnov, Defense Minister Serdyukov and ROSTO / DOSAAF Chief Sergey Mayev attended.  Smirnov appears in uniform (bottom right of the picture), though it’s been thought he retired and put on civilian clothes.  He’s already 60, so he’s beyond the age limit for a general-colonel.  He’s served in the General Staff since 1982.  He was a GOMU directorate chief in the mid-1990s, then Deputy Chief, and Chief since August 2002.  Few Russian military officials should know their issues as well as Smirnov.

The key points in Medvedev’s meeting kickoff are that (a) Armed Forces’ manpower requirements are not being met; (b) no decisions on conscription changes have yet been taken; and (c) the public is supposed to get at least some kind of input on the issue.

Kremlin.ru’s coverage of the beginning of the meeting follows.

“Dmitriy Medvedev spoke of the need to conduct a rigorous analysis of the situation with military conscription and draw up proposals for its improvement.”

* * *

“D. MEDVEDEV:  Good day, colleagues!”

“We have an important issue for the life of our state — the issue of military conscription.  It’s clear that the overall effectiveness of the state, and ensuring security in the country depends on how we man our Armed Forces, and our law enforcement organs.”

“It’s clear that now there are complications:  army and navy requirements for conscripts are not being fully met.  This is connected to the demographic component, to demographic problems; this is connected to the health problems of young people.  All these issues have been discussed more than once both in meetings, and in the mass media.  We have to talk conceptually about what to do next.”

“There’s a range of proposals.  I want to say right off that all these proposals are still just proposals.  They need careful analysis.  Not a single one has any kind of preliminary approval, and we need to discuss them.”

“At first we’ll discuss them with the participation of the leadership of the Government, Presidential Administration, Armed Forces leaders, law enforcement structures, and special services.  Subsequent to such a type of decision all the same it needs to be discussed with the broader circle of society.  It’s essential to take public opinion into account in any case  because this concerns a sufficiently significant number of people in our country.”

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.

Sharp Cut in Contract Soldiers Coming

In the wake of General Staff Chief Makarov’s February admission that professional contract service had failed, a Defense Ministry source told Interfaks last week that contractees in noncombat positions will be sharply cut.  According to Newsru.com:

“It’s planned that by 1 July of this year only those specialists affecting combat readiness of military sub-units will remain in contract positions.”

He said this means combat vehicle commanders, driver-mechanics, gunner-operators, and other specialists, and civilians or conscripts will fill other contractee posts.  Lenta.ua noted the source didn’t specify how many contractees would be released or how many would remain.

Some of data cited referred back to a Vedomosti editorial about two weeks ago.  It said, under the 2003 Federal Targeted Program “Transition to Manning by Servicemen Conducting Military Service on Contract in Some Formations and Military Units” for 2004-2007, professional contract soldiers in permanent readiness units were to increase from 22,000 to 147,000 by 2008, and from 80,000 to 400,000 in the armed forces overall.  But in reality, there were only 100,000 in permanent readiness units by 2008, and only 200,000 in the Defense Ministry overall.  Meanwhile, the effort cost 84 billion rubles.  Vedomosti concluded:

“It seems the generals could not fulfill (or sabotaged) the directives of the country’s highest political leadership in peacetime.  Who will guarantee that the generals’ disobedience won’t be repeated in an emergency situation?”

“The Defense Ministry could not organize or make professional service in the army attractive and it sees as a way out stuffing the developing hole with a growing number of conscripts.  It’s understandable that the quality of these one-year draftee soldiers will be lower than that of contractees.”

“The abandonment of the move to a professional army promises many dismal consequences for Russia’s future.  Drafting 27-29-year-old higher educational institution graduates, who are in professional demand, could deliver significant damage to the economy and scratch the country’s modernization.”

So what is to be done?

This spring the Defense Ministry floated several trial balloons to answer its manpower problems.  As Parlamentskaya gazeta reported, the chief of the Genshtab’s GOMU, Vasiliy Smirnov told the Federation Council last month that he wants to increase his conscription base by reducing student deferments, raising the upper limit of the call-up age from 27 to 30, lengthening the semiannual callup until it becomes almost perpetual, and requiring young men to report to voyenkomaty without a summons.  Reportedly, the Kremlin has approved some or all of these proposals.

The Genshtab has proposed cutting the number of VUZy with the right to provide students deferments.  Even though deferments were trimmed in the recent past, Russians still have 21 legal ways to postpone their military service.  Smirnov claimed over 2 million draftees, more than 60 percent of the overall number, legally ‘dodge’ the army with deferments, the vast majority of which are educational deferments.  He continued:

“The number of higher educational institutions in which study is a basis for the right to a draft deferment from military service has to be reduced in stages.  Already this year it would be advisable to cut the number of VUZy having the right to a deferment in half or even by 70 percent, keeping that right only for educational institutions having a state order.  An alternative option could be having students perform conscripted service after the first or second year of studies.  The Education Ministry made this study and sees no negative consequences.”

Noting that voyenkomaty have been unable to notify 200,000 men to report, Smirnov concluded:

“Thus, the existing system of holding citizens liable who for some reason are not fulfilling military service obligation is ineffective today.  We have to change the system of notifying citizens.  In case a person does not receive the notice from the military commissariat, it is proposed that he go to the induction center on his own on the date indicated in the certificate of a citizen subject to call-up for military service.  This procedure functions in many states.”

Summing up, Smirnov said:

“A General Staff analysis of capabilities for manning the state’s military organization with conscripted servicemen showed that the needs of the state’s military organization for a draft contingent will not be supported as early as the end of 2010.”

In other words, the ‘demographic hole’ created by the sharp reduction in male births during the early 1990s is beginning to have its inevitable effect.

Deputy Defense Minister, State Secretary Nikolay Pankov and Main Directorate for Socialization Work Chief Yuriy Dashkin appeared at a Duma roundtable on 31 May to discuss conscription and conscript life.  According to RIA Novosti, Dashkin told Duma members, “Today the armed forces, dealing with a large number of tasks, are forced by the state’s economic condition, by resource provision, to rely still on a conscript army.”  Pankov said he could not give percentage figures on the future mix of conscripts and contractees in the Russian Army.  Soldiers’ Mothers Committee chair Svetlana Kuznetsova expressed doubt that the army will be able to induct 270,000 men as planned this spring.

Trud recently published a number of open letters to President Dmitriy Medvedev, one of which came from Soldiers’ Mothers’ founder Valentina Melnikova.  She asked Medvedev to end conscription, writing:

“Dear Dmitriy Anatolyevich, explain, please, why the Defense Ministry buried the idea of creating a professional army in Russia.   Back in 2003 the government adopted a special Federal Targeted Program on the full manning of all permanent readiness units with contractees.  All together, it was proposed by 2008 to bring into the forces 147,000 professional sergeants, for this 79 billion rubles was allocated.  The Defense Ministry reported that it was managing the task, and promised to increase the number of contractees in the army, and reduce the share of conscripts.  But in the end everything turned out exactly opposite.  At the beginning of this year the military officially stated that the task of building a professional army is being put off for indefinite long term.  As regards conscription into army units, the Defense Ministry intends to take it to 700,000 per year.  It’s simply impossible in Russia to find so many boys fit for military service according to the state of their health.  Almost a third of all conscripts that end up in the army have serious illnesses.  They’ll make just as many young citizens serve who have parents who can’t work.  End conscription and force the generals to create an army not of boys, but of professionals.  And don’t believe the generals when they say Russia doesn’t have the money for a professional army.  Independent experts believe that the state, if all expenditures are considered (pay for voyenkomat doctors, medical evaluation in hospitals, transporting conscripts to their service locations, assistance to soldiers’ wives, etc.), spends 150 billion rubles every year on conscription.  It seems to me that for this money it would be fully possible to maintain a fully contract army in a worthy condition.”