As is known, the government must work out the basic provisions of the federal program aimed at implementing a contract system of recruitment in the Russian Armed Forces by June 1. First of all, the Cabinet will have to determine the sum of expenses needed for turning 195 military units into professional formations between 2004-07. An interdepartmental working group consisting of representatives of the Defense Ministry, the Ministry of Economic Development, and the Finance Ministry has calculated that this will cost 138 billion rubles. In other words, the state will have to spend 32 billion rubles a year on military reform, which is 10% of the total sum of defense spending. This is a huge sum but Lieutenant-General Vasily Smirnov, Chief of the Central Mobilization-Organizational Department of the General Staff, told WPS that this is the minimum need. No one knows if the government will find this money. At the same time, Mr. Smirnov noted that the General Staff is prepared to start a transition to a contract system of recruitment with a smaller budget.
He said: “We might reform fewer military units and prolong the timing of the reform.” Smirnov noted that plans to create a professional army in the Russian Federation are utopian, even in the long-term prospects. Smirnov said: “The call-up will remain forever. We cannot do without draftees in Russia owing to our vast territory.” According to him, the interdepartmental working group has calculated that a contract soldier must receive at least 5,300 rubles per month. In the meantime however, opinion polls show that people will only come to military registration and enlistment offices if contract soldiers’ wages reach 7,000 to 8,000 rubles a month. The government does not intend to increase financial incentives (only colonels receive 7,000 to 8,000 rubles a month). In other words, the Army will face problems with recruiting contract servicemen as has happened in the 76th airborne division.
Lieutenant-General Smirnov said that the experiment in the 76th division is carried out according to the schedule but there are serious problems with attracting contract servicemen. To date, only 55% of contract servicemen have been recruited. In the meantime, the division must find the remaining servicemen (around 3,000 people!) by June 1 in order to be able to begin combat training according to the General Staff’s plans. It is not clear how the command of the division will cope with this task.
People are not eager to join the 76th division (military registration and enlistment offices offer 3,500 rubles a month). Only a third of contract servicemen who joined the division have come from the reserve (originally the Defense Ministry thought that the ratio of soldiers and reservists would be 50 – 50). To all appearances, the division will cover all gaps by means of signing contracts with soldiers, who wish to become professional servicemen. Young soldiers have many incentives to remain in the division. Contract service will compensate 1.5 years, which they would have to serve as ordinary soldiers.
In the meantime, this measure will weaken ordinary military units. The Defense Ministry will not be able to solve the problem at the expense of additional call-up resources. The General Staff reports that the Army will lack 15% of servicemen after the end of the spring call-up owing to demographic reasons.
In the meantime, there are some other problems connected with the recruitment of contract servicemen for the 76th airborne division. For instance, housing. According to Vasily Smirnov, 50% of contract servicemen live in tents. This is why the representative of the General Staff said that the main lesson of the Pskov experiment is that the creation of professional units must only begin after the creation of the necessary infrastructure in military settlements. As is known, the Pskov experiment began before the government approved of such documents. Smirnov stated that the General Staff is making every effort in order to prepare military settlement for the next training period.
Smirnov did not rule out that the 104th airborne regiment (part of the 76th division) would be sent to Chechnya. It is supposed that contract soldiers there will receive 15,000 rubles a month. However, no one guarantees that the paratroopers’ mission to the Northern Caucasus will be painless. At the same time, the Defense Ministry is preparing administrative and financial penalties for servicemen who break contracts: soldiers and sergeants who refuse to serve will have to cover the state’s expenses; ordinary soldiers would have to serve in ordinary units. In addition, professional servicemen who refuse to go to hot spots can be prosecuted by law enforcement agencies. Corresponding amendments to Russian laws have already been prepared. The General Staff says that they will be submitted to the Duma by June 1.
In other words, the creation of professional units has some problems connected with substantial expenses and socio-demographic issues. The Defense Ministry and the General Staff will only be able to solve these problems if they combine their effort with the government and legislators. The creation of a professional army is a national task. However, a professional army is not a panacea, and to all appearances Russia will retain the call-up system in order to prepare mobilization resources. It is not ruled out that the duration of compulsory military service will go down to 1.5 years.