While the Kremlin was searching for decent candidates for members of the new cabinet, the Defense Ministry activated the personnel reform. Acting Defense Minister held a collegium of the Defense Ministry on February 26 at which the military discussed the main parameters of the military reform. It should be noted that discussion of problems was carried out in the spirit of the president’s demands announced in Krasnoyarsk. Vladimir Putin promised that the share of contract servicemen will reach 50% in 2007, and the duration of obligatory military service will go down to one year. Before such theses were represented as general ideas. At present the president and the Defense Ministry announce them as realistic tasks.

What’s behind these statements? Putin factually acknowledged in Krasnoyarsk that Russia cannot afford creating a purely professional army. Sergei Ivanov noted at the collegium that implementation of a contract system of recruitment faces many problems. He noted that “financial incentives are not enough to attract contract servicemen”.

Ivanov stated: “We must scrupulously select worthy candidates for contract servicemen.” The acting defense minister acknowledged that “pacifist and anti-army feelings are strong in society. Religious and ethnic factors, and problems of alcoholism and drug addiction play a very important role.” At present 9% of soldiers of the Russian Army had problems with police before the call-up; 5% of soldiers have previous convictions; 4% of soldiers took drugs; 11% of soldiers drank alcoholic beverages. Former homeless children account for 3% of soldiers; 4% of soldiers are former members of crime groups; 3% of soldiers tried to commit suicide before the call-up. In all there are around 30,000 of such soldiers in the Army (5% of the total quantity of soldiers). This is around two motorized infantry divisions. This is a dead weight for the Army. These servicemen do not have access to weapons. This is why the Defense Ministry plans to replace these soldiers with contract servicemen.

However, contract servicemen will not improve the situation since society has not got rid of these problems. However, the Defense Ministry is sure that professionals selected by military registration and enlistment offices will replace these 30,000 soldiers. The Defense Ministry thinks that all it needs to do is to organize patriotic education in society. Meanwhile, this does not depend on the military’s will. Russia needs other institutions interested in creating a strong army. This is the main problem.

The Defense Ministry is concerned about these problems. How does the military intend to solve them? As is known, soldiers and officers are leaving the Army. The Defense Ministry is sure that it can cover the gap by civil personnel (doctors, instructors, administrators, journalists and more). In this regard, decree No. 20 signed by the defense minister on January 28, which make it possible to replace some junior and senior officers with civilians, came into force last Saturday. The list includes over 170 officers’ posts. Nezavisimoe Voennoe Obozrenie notes that the matter concerns 7,000 to 10,000 vacancies. Will doctors or journalists agree to go hot spots? Won’t this decision undermine the Army’s combat readiness?

Over 500 officers and general refused to go to Chechnya in 1994. Almost all these servicemen were dismissed and replaced with incompetent people. As a result, a lot of Russian soldiers perished during an operation in Grozny. Is it possible that we will make the same mistake if we replace some officers with civilians?