Russia risks reducing combat capability of its troops

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Visiting the Northern Fleet last week, Russian President and Commander-in-Chief Dmitry Medvedev announced that he was not going to change the conscript service term.

On Saturday, answering a question of a sailor if the conscript service term would be changed during a meeting with personnel of aircraft-carrying cruiser Admiral Kuznetsov, he said, “I have not made any decisions dedicated to this topic and will not make any.”

The President stressed, “The service term may change only in one situation. You understand yourself in which one: in case of real hostilities.”

Medvedev stated, “As we have agreed, all decisions have been made and they will be fulfilled. The state cannot behave in a way when it says one thing first and says another thing after that.” Medvedev is convinced that Russia should do its best for the creation of a new look for its Armed Forces.

It is difficult to expect another opinion from the head of the state. Meanwhile, unfortunately, the situation regarding the qualitative parameters of the conscript resources of the country and capability of the troops is not the best. First, the system of troops manning under contract is failing. It turns out now that in some military districts (Moscow Military District, Leningrad Military District) only a few professionals are going to continue the military service and to sign new contracts. In general, according to data of the Public Chamber that were provided to it by the sociological center of the Defense Ministry, only 17% of professional soldiers and sergeants speak about a possibility to prolong the contract firmly.

Commander of the Ground Forces, Army General Vladimir Boldyrev, announced recently that among the military units manned with contract servicemen “the level of skills practically does not differ from parameters of the units and formations manned with conscripts.”

Second, social and demographic parameters are growing worse. In spring of 2008, one-third of draftees were absolutely unfit for service due to bad health condition and more than a half of the drafted conscripts had limitations because of health.

Third, due to an approaching “demographic ditch,” it is expected that Russia will have a deficit of conscript resources. Meanwhile, due to the one-year service term, the quantity of conscripts drafted to the army will grow. According to presidential decree No. 1407 of September 28, 219,000 citizens from 18 to 27 years old who are not in the reserve will be drafted between October and December of 2008. Colonel General Vasily Smirnov, director of the main organizational mobilization department of the General Staff, reports that already in the spring of 2009, the quantity of draftees will grow even more. He does not name the figure but according to experts the quantity of youths drafted to the troops in 2009 will be no less than 600,000 (300,000 will be drafted in spring and in autumn each).

There is no doubt that 600,000 conscripts will be drafted in 2009. But what will be the quality of the conscript resources? Will the state manage to train a normal professional just in one year?

Sooner or later the state will evidently have to take unpopular measures and to increase the military service term to two years in the Ground Forces and three years in the Navy. Analysis of the military budget of the country shows that the main part of its funds is spent on maintenance of the troops still. To retain professionals in the army it is necessary to increase their money allowances tremendously. Russia living on petrodollars can afford such budget but does it need this? Serving the Fatherland has always been one of the important national values in Russia. Czars and gentry sent their children to military service and considered this a subject of national pride and high Slavic spirit. What is happening now? Service in the army is not prestigious. The majority of the youths wish to evade it. It is necessary to revive the national traditions of serving to the Fatherland and not to be afraid of taking of unpopular measures for transition to army service term of two and three years. Society will only benefit from this.

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