The Russian defense ministry has announced that it will fully suspend the recruitment of new cadets for any of its military academies or schools for at least two years. The defense ministry is radically cutting the number of active service officers from 355,000 to 150,000 and does not need fresh entrants. It is believed that in several years the present officer surplus will somehow disperse. According to defense ministry sources at present 70,000 active service officers do not have service positions and 10,000 of these are lieutenants that graduated in 2009 and 2010 and did not find any jobs within the ranks. Most of the 70,000 unemployed officers that are officially listed as being “at the disposal of military command” will eventually be retired from active service (Interfax, September 1). Today, the Russian military education system produces 15,000 new lieutenants annually, while the defense ministry as it reduces the number of units and staffs, can offer these graduates only 2,000 to 3,000 lieutenant posts. At present the military academy graduate officers, as well as officers whose jobs have been cut in the process of the radical military reform, are offered the options of either filling sergeant staff posts, or becoming contract soldiers, or simply retiring (Nezavisimoye Voyennoye Obozreniye, September 3).
The commander of the elite Russian airborne forces Vozdushno Desantnye Voyska (VDV), Lieutenant-General Vladimir Shamanov, told journalists that “the VDV received 460 new graduate lieutenants in 2010 and 74 of them decided to immediately retire from active service because they refused to occupy sergeant positions.” According to Shamanov some 170 lieutenants are now serving as sergeants in the VDV (Interfax, September 1). Unlike the rest of the Russian army, the elite VDV has not suffered any massive cuts or organizational changes since the present radical military reform began in the fall of 2008 –it is better off than other parts of the military, but it still feels the strain. Russian military academies, including the elite Ryazan VDV academy, instead of preparing lieutenants will now be transformed to take on a new task –training professional sergeants. A special program to train 10,000 professional sergeants will be launched this month. Sergeant courses will last for 34 months and serving conscript soldier volunteers will have priority to become cadets in these improvised sergeant academies. While the suspension of recruiting cadets to receive officer education persists, the defense ministry plans to conclude the transformation of 65 highly specialized pre-reform military academies into ten inter-service educational centers (Interfax, September 1).
The overall idea seems rational: to stop the education of officers that are already in abundance and to channel resources into rapidly forming a badly needed professional sergeants corps. But the social disruption will be huge. Old Soviet-style military academies have no experience in training sergeants and hardly anyone in Russia knows how to train and promote sergeants or the difference between officer and sergeant education. School graduates that turn 17 in 2010-2012 and who planned to begin a traditional military career, including the sons of Russian colonels and generals (retired and active service) will find the gates closed and a lifetime opportunity slipping away. Apparently, all higher level military education will also be suspended. A Western military attaché accredited in Moscow informed the author that an officer from his country who arrived in Moscow (in accordance with a military cooperation agreement) for a course at Russia’s top military school –the Academy of the General Staff– had to return home after a three month Russian language course, because the academy is in disarray and receiving no new students.
The swiftness and brutality of the changes is causing massive resentment within the ranks (Nezavisimoye Voyennoye Obozreniye, September 3). However, the acute crisis and continued decay of the Russian military may indeed require radical action to break down the old system and create something new. It is equally clear that restarting the Soviet system to train tens of thousands of officers to lead to a mass multimillion mobilized armed force is virtually impossible: the number of colonels has been already cut from 60,000 to 8,000 (Interfax, September 1).
Traditional Soviet military education was highly specialized, there were multiple relatively small military academies scattered throughout Russia’s vast landmass. The new civilian chief of the directorate of military education, Tamara Fraltseva, insists that the ten educational centers will be bigger, better equipped and truly inter-service, providing quality education. Faltseva claims that in the process of closing the crumbling old academies and concentrating military education in several geographical locations the best military professors “will not be lost.” The new military educational centers that will at the same time educate and retrain officers in the course of their career, will be allowed to hire “the best civilian professors.” Of course, tens of thousands of officers will be dismissed, but Fraltseva promised that the defense ministry will run special re-education programs to help them find civilian jobs (Ekho Moskvy, September 4).
Defense Minister, Anatoliy Serdyukov’s, reform continues to radically change the Russian military. Joint operational strategic commands (West, South, Center and East) are being formed to replace the traditional military districts. Three new field armies are being formed in the Caucasus (“South”), on the Chinese border (“East”) and facing the Baltic republics near St. Petersburg (“West”), together with 6 new combat brigades. Units are being relocated closer to the borders in the East, West and South, while staffs and installations in central Russia are closed. Serdyukov announced that the naval command will be moved from Moscow to St. Petersburg, despite recent reports to the contrary (RIA Novosti, September 8). Other military staffs and academies will be moved out of the center of Moscow, the buildings and land will be auctioned to hopefully raise billions of dollars that will finance the relocation of troops, the retirement of unneeded officers and continued radical military reform (Nezavisimoye Voyennoye Obozreniye, September 3).