As a result of the military reform initiated in 2008, Russia dramatically reduced the number of units in its ground forces from 1,890 to 172 (RIA, December 18, 2008). The Russian army accomplished this reduction mainly by disbanding the cadre units, i.e. units that during peacetime are manned at 5 to 70 percent of their wartime strength. The disbanding was a phasing out of a Soviet heritage of maintaining a vast mobilization reserve in order to fight a large-scale conventional war. Only 15 arms storage and repair depots, each able to mobilize a brigade, remained (Cast.ru, 2011). The reform does not seem to have given much thought to organizing a mobilization reserve, which was virtually absent in 2009-2012 (Polititotdel, July 13, 2017). It was surprising, as President Vladimir Putin had already approved a concept in 2007 for organizing a mobilization reserve; and in 2008, the mobilization department of the general staff was advancing the development of such a reserve (Redstar.ru, December 29, 2010; Redstar.ru, October 23, 2008). It is possible that the implementation of other aspects of military reform had delayed the formation of a mobilization reserve, or the risk of a war or conflict was assessed as low (Viek.ru, 2009).
Over time this changed and in November 2011, Nikolay Makarav, the chief of the general staff at the time, stated that Russia’s mobilization reserve consisted of 700,000 soldiers, mainly former conscripts, though he did not mention any details (RIA, November 17, 2011). At the same time, the Russian Duma considered a draft law introducing changes to existing legislation concerning the creation of an active manpower reserve, which was eventually adopted in December 2012 (EDM, February 15, 2011, Redstar.ru, December 29, 2010; Rg.ru, January 11, 2013). The law foresaw a mobilization reserve consisting of contracted reservists belonging to a certain military unit as well as individuals without a unit affiliation forming a kind of manpower pool (Olymp2010.ria.ru, December 12, 2011). An article in Voennaja Mysl discussed this concept in 2005 (Militaryarticle.ru, January 2005). Almost a year later, in November 2013, Russian Minister of Defense Sergey Shoigu underscored the need for a mobilization reserve and mentioned the creation of four reserve armies (Army-news.ru, November 13, 2013).
As a result of the law approved in 2012, an experiment was initiated in order to test the new mobilization concept. The experiment was comprised of two phases: the first phase aimed at recruiting about 5,000 reservists in 2013, and the second phase planned by 2015 to have 8,600 reservists organized in a brigade, manned by contracted reservists (Rg.ru, October 30, 2013). One of the first units consisting of contracted reservists was also set up in Abakan (Vg-news.ru, July 16, 2013; Army-news.ru, April 28, 2013). However, as the financial resources for the experiment were low, it was postponed at the end of 2013 to be resumed no earlier than 2016 (Nachfin.info, October 23, 2014; Livejournal.com, October 18, 2014). Despite this deferral, it seems that the recruitment of contracted reservists continued. In addition to the experiment in 2013, the army appointed personnel in each military district to be responsible for the military commissariats, the arms storage and repair depots and, in case of a war, the mobilization of reserves was established (Army-news.ru, October 8, 2014).
In July 2015, the Russian president issued a decree concerning the organization of a professional mobilization reserve. This decree was followed by a regulation in September 2015 that can be seen as the beginning of the implementation of a mobilization reserve according to the new concept (Pravo.gov.ru, July 17, 2015; Rg.ru, September 14, 2015; Vpk-news.ru, October 19, 2015). In an interview for Krasnaya Zvezda in October 2017, Vladimir Kondratov, head of the organizational and mobilization department of the Northern Fleet, said that the Northern Fleet had participated in an experiment involving contracted reservists since August 2015 (Redstar.ru, October 8, 2017). The mobilization system was also tested during the exercise Kavkaz-2016, as it can be discerned from the article in Krasnya Zvezda (EDM, September 29, 2016).
Obviously, it has taken the Russian armed forces a number of years to get its mobilization system in order; and according to Izvestiya, the time has now come to introduce the system with contracted reservists in full scale (Iz.ru, February 13). The reservists, who will serve two to three days a month and once a year for a longer period of 20-30 days, will also get paid for their service. The reservists will augment existing units but also form new units. With the introduction of this system, the existing 40 arms storage and repair depots will be reorganized into mobilization centers and a third of them will be closed.
Whether Russia will succeed in fully implementing the new mobilization system remains to be seen. The mobilization of reservists will undoubtedly be something to watch for during upcoming exercises, especially Vostok-2018. The system is also somewhat of a return to a Soviet model, albeit refined, which makes it possible to set up more partly manned units. It is possible that the new divisions that appeared in the last few years are not fully manned, where contracted reservists are intended to man the subunits that are not in place in peacetime.