At a government meeting on April 24 Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov reported the draft of the federal program of creating a professional army. According to the program, this will cost the state 15 to 20 billion rubles a year. In addition, the duration of obligatory military service may be reduced to one year by 2007. Contract servicemen will be recruited to military units on duty. In the meantime, the call-up system will be retained.

Professional sergeants will carry out many officers’ functions. At the same time, they will live in barracks like ordinary soldiers. Representatives of the Defense Ministry say that this will make it possible to root out barracks hazing and increase the attractiveness of military service. Many other innovations aimed at improving the prestige of military service are underway. It is supposed that junior commanders will have an opportunity to become officers. Nikolai Pankov, Deputy Defense Minister and the Chief of the Defense Ministry’s Personnel Department, stated that sergeants will be able to study at military schools.

As is known, the program aimed at creating professional units was preceded by active debates in society over how all this should be organized. Representatives of Union of Right Forces criticized generals’ program. Rumors were circulating that Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov and the Defense Ministry had serious differences regarding this problem. Tatyana Razbash, the prime minister’s press secretary, has destroyed this myth.

She told WPS: “There are no differences between Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov and the architects of the federal program for creating professional units.”

She also noted that an interdepartmental group in charge of drawing this document was established by a government decision and Mikhail Kasyanov familiarized himself with its proposals only on April 24. According to the president’s instructions, the program is to be passed by July 1, 2003. It is evident that some amendments will be made to the program. However, it is hardly likely that these will be principal amendments.

Vladislav Putilin, Deputy Minister for Economic Development, told WPS at a press conference on April 3 that there are no principal differences between the Institute of a period of transition headed by former Prime Minister Gaidar (one of the leaders of Union of Right Forces) and members of the interdepartmental commission. According to Mr. Putilin, thanks to the Institute’s efforts the commission has received information from the security structures, the financial-economic bloc of the government and scientists regarding the prospects of creating a contract army.

Major-General Victor Kozhushko recently stated: “We do not oppose the idea of creating a contract army. The General Staff has examined Union of Right Forces’ proposals connected with the creation of professional units, and many of these proposals are reflected in the draft program.” Namely, the General Staff has taken in consideration Union of Right Forces’ proposals to cut the duration of military service for ordinary soldiers and increase the role of sergeants.

It has become evident that veterans of the Defense Ministry support this document too.

Former Defense Minister Dmitry Yazov said: “In general everything is correct. We created 57 volunteer divisions during World War II. They fought more courageously than standing units.”

This statement is not accidental. It turned out that precisely veterans of the Defense Ministry studied the experience of creating volunteer units and took part in preparing the program for the creation of professional units.

The press service of the Russian Defense Ministry commented on the necessity of discussing this topic with former military leaders as follows: “The program is underway, and we make amendments to it every day. This is why we need consultations and meetings with experts and specialists. Veterans are the best specialists and experts.” No one doubts that Ivanov received useful proposals from veterans. The defense minister stated at a mini press conference after the end of the meeting with generals and marshals that all sergeants will be contract servicemen by 2007 despite the fact that the call-up system will not be cancelled.

As is known, General of the Army Makhmut Gareyev, president of the Academy of military sciences, was the first to announce the necessity of reducing the duration of military service and recruiting professional sergeants. Veterans, many generals of the Academy of military sciences, and social movements (including Union of Right Forces) seconded him two years ago. Encouraged by such success, he criticized the Defense Ministry for a weak conception of a professional army in an article published in the newspaper Krasnaya Zvezda. It seems that the situation has improved since that time.

It is evident that the draft program aimed creating a professional army discussed at the government meeting will be prepared on time. The necessary amendments will be made to this document. However, firstly these amendments will not be principal, and secondly the program will work only when the state finds extra money. The financial factor is one of the main obstacles on the path to implementing this program.