Unlike in the past, the new presidential decree on drafting of over 170,000 young men of 18 to 27 years old to military service caused big repercussions in the Russian society, primarily among political parties and movements. At the end of September, the Union of Right-wing Forces (URF) organized rallies, demonstrations and meetings in more than 40 cities calling on acceleration of the transition to professional Armed Forces. Leaders of the union visited the 76th Airborne Division, where an experiment was started for transition to contract service. After that visit, URF leader Boris Nemtsov announced that Chief of the General Staff Anatoly Kvashnin should be dismissed from the post of curator of the military reform “to avoid its complete discrediting.” According to Nemtsov, practical issues of the military reform and transition of the Armed Forces to contract manning “need to be concentrated at the level of the government and the Defense Minister.” The URF leader announced that after the visit of Kvashnin to the 76th Airborne Division more than 40 contract sergeants and soldiers submitted resignation reports. They did this allegedly because the housing to be built in the division will be given only to the soldiers and officers who have families, although during signing of their contracts, the command of the division promised to give housing to them too. Nemtsov insists that the promises of the military should be kept.

Meanwhile, on October 4, Deputy Chief of the General Staff Vasily Smirnov denied such accusations against his boss. “According to official information, since September 1 until now only six people terminated their contracts in the 76th Division,” emphasized Smirnov. According to him, “This is an absolutely normal phenomenon that may appear on the labor market.” At any rate, the conflict between the military and the URF is not resolved yet.

Duma deputy Boris Nemtsov says that the draft program for gradual transition of the Armed Forces to predominately contract manning prepared by the General Staff can be accomplished not in the six to eight years proposed by the military but much quicker. Nemtsov says that it is possible to do this already in 18-24 months. He states that it is necessary to raise wages for contract servicemen and to man all combat units of the Armed Forces with them. According to him, it is possible to draft conscripts only for six months to teach them a military profession and to make them into a mobilization reserve of the country.

The Defense Ministry offers something similar. At first glance, the concept of the URF related to their view of the future professional Armed Forces does not differ from that of the General Staff. The Defense Ministry plans that finally, or when units of the Armed Forces are manned with contract servicemen, the time for training of conscripts for the role of the mobilization reserve will be six months. Meanwhile, officers of the General Staff consider the ideas of the URF to be populist and destabilizing for society. Why?

Here is the comment of Major General Valery Astanin, Director of the Drafting and Manning Section of the Main Organizational Department of the General Staff, on the situation,

“The ideas of the URF are utopian because everything depends on financing. This means that transition to professional Armed Forces is impossible in the near future. Nemtsov and his supporters presume that if the military budget is increased by 30-40 billion rubles and wages of contract servicemen are set at 3,500 rubles a month there will be an abundance of candidates for the role of professional soldiers. As it is known, we are currently conducting an experiment for conversion of a whole division consisting of two regiments to the contract basis. We offer to each soldier and sergeant not 3,500 rubles, but 4,200-4,500 rubles a month. However, not so many people come there yet. So far only one battalion was manned, although in two months we should form a whole regiment consisting of five battalions. Of course, our Armed Forces have more than one division. According to our estimates, complete transition of the Armed Forces to the contract basis will require at least 300-400 billion rubles. Just compare: all defense expenditures in 2003 will be slightly more than 345 billion rubles. Thus it is clear that the state is unable to assign money to make all the troops professional yet.”

Many people, centrist and leftist parties and movements, as well as military-patriotic organizations and societies share the position of the General Staff. For instance, General of the Army Makhmut Gareev, President of the Academy of Military Sciences, says that it is necessary to convert the Russian Armed Forces to contract basis, “not hurriedly”, when there are financial and material resources available for this. “Let us suppose that we will convert all troops to contract basis quickly, spend enormous amounts of money, but we have old armament and no fuel and lubricants. How will we train soldiers? If they do not drive and shoot, they will not be professionals, will they?” asks the general.

“Nemtsov proposes not to spend money on construction of hostels and apartments for contract soldiers and officers because this requires a lot of money. The question is, who will serve in such Armed Forces? Outflow of junior officers from the troops is still high. They leave the Armed Forces because they have no housing, rent shacks or live with families in the barracks. If we solve the housing problem in the Armed Forces, we will keep them. If there are no officers, there are no Armed Forces,” comments Colonel General Vladimir Kulakov, member of the Federation Council.

Both Kulakov and Gareev have served in the Armed Forces for many decades. They know their problems very well, although it is possible to admit that they stick to the corporate views inherent to all military. Meanwhile, the opinion of an unprejudiced person would be interesting. Yevgeny Trapeznikov, President of the Academy of Spiritual Unity of the Nations of the World, has worked with social science problems for his whole life. When I asked him if it was necessary to accelerate transition of the Armed Forces to a professional basis he said, “Historically, patriotic feelings were inherent to the Russian people, and the whole nation rose to struggle against the enemy during the ordeals. The country is just recovering from the crisis, and it is the utmost craziness to waste money on professional Armed Forces. In Germany 30-40% of youths of conscript age serve in the armed forces, and Switzerland has a militia system, where almost every able-bodied citizen regardless of sex serves every year. There are strong armed forces in Israel and Armenia. There is a comprehensive military service duty there too. Strength of the armed forces depends not on the methods of their manning, but on the morale and ability to win.”

Thus, there are different views on problems of drafting and troops manning in the country. The military reform is going on in circumstances of limited financial and material resources. Being aware of the existing problems and caring about defense capability of the country, the authorities understand importance of steps for making the interests of the society as close as possible to the interests of the state. Progress has begun in this direction. The words of President Putin confirm this. Speaking in the annual message to the Federal Assembly in April, Putin announced that transition to professional Armed Forces with a simultaneous reduction of the conscript service period was one of the goals of the military reform. He added that it would be impossible to implement the new system of Armed Forces manning “in a single year.” Putin warned against all the “tumult with regard to this issue.” He concluded, “The work will be done gradually, taking into account both financial capabilities of the country and national security interests of the state.”