Tag Archives: VUZy

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.

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Bad News for Would-Be Officers

Future Officer, or Sergeant? (photo: RIA Novosti / Valeriy Titiyevskiy)

There’s no better time for bad news about changes in military education than the beginning of Russia’s academic year.

The Defense Ministry said Monday it’s stopping induction of cadets into military higher educational institutions (VVUZy or ВВУЗы).  And new students will not matriculate next year either.

There’s no doubt there’s lots of excess capacity that needs to be cut from Russia’s military education system, but, as usual, there seems to be more angst about the way the process is being managed than about the need for some kind of change itself.  The Defense Ministry is trying to ram many young men who signed up to be officers into sergeant’s billets, and generally changing the rules in the middle of the game.  There’s no doubt large numbers of VVUZ professors and other teaching staff will be pushed out of the service, but the Defense Ministry is denying this for now.  Perhaps most interesting, RIA Novosti elected to editorialize on this issue, saying it exemplifies the Defense Ministry’s, and the Defense Minister’s, poor way of dealing with the public and presenting its initiatives.

Deputy Chief of the Defense Ministry’s Main Personnel Directorate (GUK or ГУК), Tamara Fraltsova (who doubles as Chief of the Military Education Directorate) made the announcement during a video conference marking the opening of the Presidential Cadet Corps in Orenburg.  Specifically, she said:

“In the course of this year and next, the Defense Ministry is refraining from selecting cadets for its VUZy.”

“This is connected to an overabundance of officer personnel and a deficit of officer positions in the Armed Forces.”

“At present, graduation of cadets exceeds the officer positions we have in the Armed Forces by four times.”

In other words, the military educational system is still too big, and needs more cuts.  There are 56 teaching institutions in all – VVUZy and their branches (filialy). 

The ‘overabundance’ of officers is part and parcel of Defense Minister Serdyukov’s ‘new profile’ reforms in which officers are being reduced to 150,000 from well in excess of 300,000 in late 2008. 

Fraltsova has previously indicated VVUZy would be cut further and unified into ten ‘inter-service scientific-training centers.’  Duplicative or overlapping specialty training will also be eliminated.

Izvestiya reported that Fraltsova said the military education system is still configured to support a 4-million-man, rather than a 1-million-man, army.

Nevertheless, Fraltsova maintained that all 15,000 VVUZ graduates were placed in military billets last year.  But she didn’t say what kind of billets.

Krasnaya zvezda quoted her:

“. . . there is a chance for higher quality manning of the Armed Forces.  So, the requirements for future officers must be stricter.”

“There is a need for a review and selection of military specialties, according to which education in military VUZy is provided.  Part of [these specialties] will be transferred to the civilian ranks, part will go into to the duty category of sergeant personnel.”

There’s been media reporting for months that any cadet receiving even a single ‘2’ – an unsatisfactory mark – is now drummed out.  But this doesn’t eliminate many – 70 percent of cadets graduate without ever getting even a ‘3,’ according to the Defense Ministry.

Writing in Komsomolskaya pravda, Viktor Baranets indicated that only 100 of 600 lieutenants who arrived in the Pacific Fleet got officer jobs, and, in Voronezh, only the very top-ranked graduates found officer posts in the Air Forces.  About 20 percent of cadets normally graduate ‘with distinction.’  So the remaining 80 percent either accepted a sergeant position, or immediate dismissal into the reserves and the civilian world.  

Grani.ru reported that most graduates of the Defense Ministry’s Military University – a social sciences institution located in Moscow – got a ‘free diploma’ and an immediate discharge.   

According to Izvestiya, Fraltsova said there are only 5,000 command positions in the Armed Forces against an influx of 15,000 newly-commissioned junior officers.  The paper quotes her:

“Let them compete for what they will get.  The rest simply received a free higher education.  In my opinion, this is fair.”

She claims these changes are improving student performance, and she wants to use competitive ratings to make initial officer assignments.

She dismisses worries about the impact of cadet reductions on VVUZy teaching staffs because, in many cases, they’ll be busy teaching noncommissioned officers.  Some will be one-year conscript sergeants, and others three-year contractees getting nearly 3 years of post-secondary schooling.

Fraltsova revealed that 60 percent of VVUZy already teach on a ‘for-profit’ basis, and this will fully employ their instructors.

The effects of officer corps cuts, and VVUZy cuts, have rippled down to Russia’s venerable Suvorov and Nakhimov schools.  Without places in VVUZy, these young men will have to seek spots in other power ministry academies, if they want to be officers.  Premilitary Suvorov and Nakhimov schools now have to compete for students with the new Presidential Cadet Corps, which are supposed to train youth for the civil service in each federal district.

Forum.msk’s Anatoliy Baranov remarked that Fraltsova and her ilk “will suddenly observe in 10-15 years that everyone in higher military institutions has died, and there is no one and no way to teach new officers.”  Leonid Ivashov told Gzt.ru simply, “We are witnessing the destruction of Russian military education.”

RIA Novosti published surprisingly stark criticism of Fraltsova’s (and Serdyukov’s) performance. 

First, it quoted her:

“. . . not everyone in Russian society is sympathetic to this initiative.  Yes, these are very severe measures, not many like them, and we are being subjected to criticism for this decision.”

The news agency said Fraltsova’s press conference left the media with the impression that the Defense Ministry still doesn’t know what to do about the military education system.

It called the halt in VVUZ induction a ‘radical step,’ which calls attention to the Defense Ministry’s secretiveness in making important decisions.  The agency complains that, since 2008, when the ‘new profile’ started, the media and society have learned about most changes after the fact.  Veterans and other social groups have written to Serdyukov asking to give input, but it’s not clear their letters are even answered.  RIA Novosti concludes, in this case, the military department has once again ‘stepped on a rake.’

Yesterday Deputy Defense Minister, State Secretary Nikolay Pankov went on TV in damage control mode, saying these changes are intended to improve military education as well as to save money.  He intimated there will be lots more pain in going from 56 to 10 institutions.  Pankov said 20 percent of this year’s 10,000 VVUZ graduates will become sergeants instead of officers, but the Defense Ministry will keep these reluctant NCOs in mind if officer billets come open.

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.”