Another enlistment campaign began April 1. Despite expectations associated with the reduction of the Armed Forces, this spring military enlistment and registration officers drafted almost the same number of young men as last autumn, about 190,000. General Staff officers cited lack of personnel as the reason for this measure. According to Major General Victor Kozhushko, even after forces are reinforced with draftees in spring the active service personnel will still not account for more than 90% of the authorized strength of the Armed Forces. This trend is expected to continue. Even after reforming the Armed Forces and reducing their number to 800,000, five percent of vacancies for privates and sergeants will remain unfilled due to numerous exemptions and draft deferments; the state will still be unable to draft the necessary number of conscripts. In 2000, the draft plans were composed so that only 13% of registered conscripts were drafted.
The number of absentees totaled 31,500, including 29,400 men who deliberately evaded military service. In comparison to spring 2000 the number of absentees jumped by almost 3,000. Experts explain this increase by activities of public anti-military organizations which call on youth to give up military service, as well as the persistent negative image of military service in the public eye.
It is interesting that most absentees (over 19,000) reside in the Central and Volga federal districts, where, according to polls, military service is least prestigious.
Meanwhile, experts say this year’s enlistment campaign will be different in that regional authorities and law enforcement agencies will actively support the military enlistment and registration offices.
General Staff officers comment that regional authorities and government bodies will spend about 54 million rubles enforcing the draft. The Defense Ministry plans to spend up to 26 million rubles. The budget assignments will go mainly towards paying wages and traveling allowance to the medical and technical personnel participating in the organization of the draft, as well as to enterprises that offer transportation to deliver conscripts to the enlistment offices. The government will also assign money from the federal budget to the Defense Ministry to pay for printing, office, and mail expenditures, to notify and summon conscripts, and to pay wages to them while officials stay in the military enlistment and registration offices.
The military note with alarm that the physical, social, psychological, and medical qualifications of the draftees remain low. Thus, only 68.6% of draftees were considered able-bodied, and the rest were exempt or received the right to defer the draft. Even those enlisted are infected with various diseases. Last autumn over 50% of draftees were considered to be fit for military service with insignificant limitations.
In the overall number of diseases registered among draftees the most numerous are psychic disorders (20.3%), endocrine diseases and metabolic disorders (10.2%), bone and muscle diseases (10%), and disorders of the nervous system (8.8%). These parameters are the most alarming in territories with unfavorable social, economic, and environmental situations, such as the Urals and Siberian federal districts.
According to military experts, even the size of the Armed Forces is cut to 800,000 servicemen, it will be not realistic to give up the draft and employ only professional servicemen. The recently appointed Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov explained this standpoint in one of his first interviews on the new job. When asked about the possibility of transitioning to a professional army, he said that he did not want to undertake obligations set a specific date (such as, for instance, January 1, 2007). Ivanov emphasized that it would be necessary to move towards this goal without revolution, quietly, and in an evolutionary manner. According to him, the security field in general and the Armed Forces condition in particular are not areas where it is necessary to solve problems by a quick attack.
Ivanov reiterated that the same transition took ten years in the United States. Russia will not necessarily require more or less time, but it is necessary to bear in mind that this is a very serious task. According to him, experimentation with the combat capability of the Armed Forces proceeding from ill-considered decisions is not acceptable.
As of January 1, 2001, the share of servicemen serving under contracts in privates and sergeants positions accounted for about 25% of their authorized number.
However, some Russian politicians, such as Yabloko leader Grigory Yavlinsky, say it is possible to organize fully professional Armed Forces in Russia already now. The military denies such assumption.
These are the arguments of the General Staff officers.
First, implementation of contract-based service will make the difficult problem of mobilization even worse. If professional Armed Forces were to be established immediately, the state would lose the main basis for mobilizing and training reserves training through conscript service. Without reserves it is impossible to reinforce the Armed Forces to wartime strength in emergency situations. The state needs to find alternative methods to create such reserves and organize training programs, probably in civilian institutions of higher education. Experience and time are needed to develop this kind of program.
Second, at present the state cannot afford complete transition to contract manning. To make the Armed Forces competitive on the job market, the state needs to make military service attractive for young men as a lifetime profession. Currently, a young and strong man will hardly agree to dedicate his life to military service for 1,000 rubles a month. It is difficult for one person to survive on this sum let alone a family. However, increasing monetary allowances for this category of servicemen is not the only problem in making the military service attractive.
The third difficulty is that at present about half of sergeants and privates serving under contracts do not have housing. If the army is to transit fully to contract service, it will be necessary to provide housing for an additional 85% servicemen of this category. In addition, approximately 96,000 officers and warrant officers do not have their own apartment and have to live in small rooms in hostels or rent apartments, often spending the larger part of their salary on rent.
Other problems include employment for wives of contract servicemen, kindergartens for their children, construction of social infrastructure objects in remote territories, and so on.
Thus, it is possible to conclude that given the aforementioned problems the conscript system will remain almost unchanged for the next three to five years. During this time the state will be unable to radically develop the economy, and hence it will have no money to implement contract manning of the Armed Forces. It is quite likely that 180,000-200,000 conscripts will be drafted annually in spring and autumn just in order to maintain the strength of the Armed Forces at the level of 800,000.
However, the implementation of alternative service is expected. Of course, it will reduce the country’s conscript resources. How much alternative service will change things depend on which version of the bill “On alternative civil service” is finally passed. The Duma is to choose the bill’s final form in 2001. It is expected that the current pro-governmental majority of the Duma will hardly make the alternative service bill soft, and will not allow too many young men evade military service.