The Russian military can no longer afford to provide a cheap labor pool for other sectors of the society as it and its Soviet predecessor did in the past. For that reason, the Defense Ministry is planning to shed some of its non-combat components, such as the bulk of its Road Construction Troops. Their main task has been to build roads in remote rural areas, roads which seldom have any military import. The Railroad Construction Troops are another likely candidate for divestiture. For decades this branch has provided conscripts to perform "coolie" labor for the Ministry of Transport, performing such duties as digging and ballasting track beds in regions where it would have been expensive to hire civilian crews.
One of the most important and traditional of the military’s contributions to the civilian economy has been to help with the harvest. In the 1970s and early 1980s more than a million soldiers were sent into the fields each year in response to requests from the various republics and oblasts. Even during the most confrontational stages of the Cold War this effort had precedence over military preparedness. For example, the Group of Soviet Forces in Germany — the Warsaw Pact’s front-line troops — were compelled each year to send thousands of soldiers and many of its trucks back to Russia for several months to support the harvest.
Although the magnitude of the military’s harvest effort has been reduced, it has not been eliminated entirely. A Moscow paper reported this week that some 15,000 enlisted men together with 3,000 college students would be "mobilized" to help bring in the crops this Fall in the Moscow region. (Podmoskovsky izvestia, July 23)
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