Here are six words for the Russian army: too many soldiers, not enough money.
How can there be too many soldiers? With barracks brutality, Chechen bombs and snipers, poor rations and the contempt of women and potential employers, who wants to join Russia’s army today? No one of course. The army relies on the draft.
President Vladimir Putin launched the latest semi-annual conscription campaign with a call for the induction of 190,000 young men to two years of military service. They will come almost wholly from the bottom of society.
Colonel General Vladislav Putilin oversees the draft. He says that legislation on the books provides exemptions or deferments for 87 percent of all draft-age (18-27) men. Privileged Moscow, with 7 percent of the country’s population, provides about 2.6 percent of its draftees. Many of those who cannot find a legal exemption evade the draft illegally–Putilin estimated 32,000 escaped last fall’s call-up.
Of the remainder, the most recent draft found 37 percent of potential inductees unfit for service for reasons of health, and 55 percent fit only for restricted service. Of those inducted, 30 percent had alcohol or drug problems and 13 percent had criminal records.
It is no surprise that military reformers hope to upgrade quality with a reduction in force from 1.2 million to around 850,000 over the next three years. But Putilin says that after this fall’s draft is over, and the men completing the hitches they began in 1998 have been discharged, military manpower will be only 80 percent of statutory strength, around 960,000, not 1.2 million. A reduction to 850,000 turns out to be quite modest and implies keeping the draft at or near its current level for years to come.
The government’s proposed budget for 2001 provides 206 billion rubles, equal to less than $5 billion, for military spending. That is a small increase in real terms over this year’s budget, but it is still only 2.5 percent of gross domestic product, well below the 3.5 percent target pledged long ago by Boris Yeltsin and annually demanded by the General Staff.
The Duma passed the proposed budget on first reading, but many votes and much debate lie ahead. One issue is arrears. The ministry of defense owes its suppliers 60 billion rubles. Paying that off would use up almost 30 percent of the 2001 budget. Conversely, transferring the charge to another account–say, to the ministry of finance–would be equivalent to a large increase for the military. That option is under review.
The lack of money affects even the war in Chechnya. In the early weeks of the current campaign, which is one year old this week, well-funded Russian forces including $30 a day “contract soldiers” moved swiftly to take control of the northern part of the province. Now the money may be running out. In Samara last week, some of these contract soldiers picketed the headquarters of the North Caucasus Military District, claiming the state has reneged on their promised Chechnya bonus.
Poorly paid troops perform poorly. During Russia’s failed 1994-1996 Chechnya campaign, payment problems contributed to widespread looting by Russian troops and to the sale of Russian arms and ammunition to Chechen rebels.