Russia’s military manning system continues to struggle with unwilling conscripts forced to serve in deplorable conditions and with inadequate training. Health problems among young conscripts arriving in the barracks are compounded by the widespread persistence of draft dodging and the rising numbers of men seeking exemption from military service on health grounds. These long-term signs of chronic decline within the Russian armed forces are again receiving comment from senior Russian military officers who are concerned by what they see as the continued decimation of the combat capabilities of the military.
According to Colonel-General Vasily Smirnov, deputy-chief of the Russian General Staff, criminal proceedings are underway against 420 draft dodgers. These cases were culled from files on 6,300 draft dodgers, and Smirnov believes the level of draft dodging in Russia currently stands at around 17,000. A more worrying development for Russian security planning is the growth in draft dodging in alternative civilian service, which has surprised even those familiar with the hemorrhaging of manpower from within the twice-yearly draft. Smirnov lamented, “In the spring of 2005, 186 people stated their wish to undergo alternative civilian service, and we do not yet know how many will try to dodge it” (RIA-Novosti, March 31).
Draft dodging within Moscow itself constitutes a substantial share of the national trend. Valery Karnaukhov, deputy head of Moscow’s main internal affairs directorate, confirmed that between January and March 2005 8,900 Muscovites had evaded military service. He tried to deflect negative attention from such figures by focusing publicly on the level of cooperation from individuals and organizations as the police attempt to trace draft dodgers in the capital.
General Igor Bykov, head of the Ministry of Defense main military and medical directorate, noted the poor state of health in young men eligible for conscription. “There are currently 89 articles under which people are exempt from military service for health reasons, about 70% of conscripts are exempt as a result,” said Bykov. Mental disorders head the list of illnesses for which people are exempt from service (6 % of conscripts), though Bykov believes that advances have been made in reducing the number of drug addicts drafted into service based on improved screening methods (Itar-Tass, March 31; Interfax, April 1).
Lack of funding cripples more generic campaigns to improve the quality of conscripts and address some of the most serious elements of declining standards in the Russian army. Conscription commissions must be supplied with medical equipment in order to screen out drug addicts and also to prevent those with HIV or hepatitis from being sent to troop units. Major-General Valery Kulikov, chairman of the Central Military Medical Commission, believes this problem will remain a feature of the manpower ailments afflicting the Russian armed forces until the authorities allocate adequate funding levels to deal with it. In his view, this would mean spending around 1.2 billion rubles to provide equipment and salaries for trained medical personnel to carry out screenings.
Instead of confronting the manpower crisis, the Russian leadership prefers cost-cutting methods that ignore decline within the army and prioritize other branches of service. Plans for the development of the Strategic Missile Troops, for example, are being implemented and are taking into account new anti-missile defense systems emerging abroad in the future. Lieutenant-General Vitaly Linnik, the Strategic Missile Troops Deputy Commander for Armaments said, “The approach used for development ensures the appropriate reaction to the plans of rolling out various air defense systems, while it has minimal risks and costs.” The Strategic Missile Troops consist of 15 missile brigades and divisions. The grouping of intercontinental ballistic missiles numbered 596 units at the end of 2004, and it is armed with stationary and mobile (ground- and rail-based) missile systems. It represents a key element in Russia’s nuclear capabilities and as such poignantly illustrates Russia’s vast military power was constructed for the challenges of a former era, while its military manpower is faced with the challenges of “small wars” and unable to reform.
An evaluation of the results of the winter period of training in the armed forces will be carried out this month, concentrating on performance evaluation exercises in various branches and components of the armed forces, military districts, fleets, units, and formations. Priority in the evaluation will be given to permanent-readiness combat elements and the units that are earmarked for transfer to contract service this year. Yet in setting priority on such units, the life and experience of the ordinary conscript elsewhere within the Russian military will be ignored in order to promote the image of an army undergoing professionalization. Senior military planners have abandoned the concept of transferring to all-volunteer force, not least because of the costs involved. For some time to come, low quality conscripts will affect the quality of the Russian army, and there is little evidence of any systemic effort to redress this dangerous imbalance. Smirnov and Kulikov are among a group of Russian generals able to define some of the internal troubles facing the military, but there are fewer willing to advance solutions (Interfax, April 3,4, 5)