Vienna, March 26 – Less than two months after announcing a program for training professional sergeants, the Russian defense ministry has postponed this effort, reportedly because of “the extremely low quality” of those who had applied to a program intended to upgrade the military and rein in the hazing of recruits, a Moscow newspaper reports today.
One official told “Gazeta” that “in the military schools of Ryazan and Omsk, up to 60 percent of those tested turned out to be incapable of solving quadratic equations and have of them could not” perform other tasks that are expected of students “in the eighth to tenth classes of secondary schools” (gzt.ru/politics/2009/03/25/223011.html).
In another military school, in Ryazan, officials said that the selection process had gone “successfully” but that “the beginning of instruction” for the new sergeants “had been pushed back to September 1 as a result of orders from above.” As to why that had happened, the Ryazan officer said, “we have no idea."
Officials in the ministry said that the situation was also acceptable although they noted that the military’s training command had decided that there must be “an immediate review of the methods of selecting candidates for training as professional sergeants and also to revisit the definition of the level of demands for those who would be enrolling” in such programs.
These officials said that the ministry’s internal review is now slated to be completed by August 1 and that after that time, the 10-month training program for sergeants will take place in the ten higher military training schools that had been supposed to start this educational effort in February.
In many ways, this announcement could not have come at a worse time. First of all, the spring draft begins on April 1. Resistance is growing not only because the military will be seeking to take in more than twice as many young men as a year ago but also because reports of hazing are leading ever more Russians and their parents to explore ways of avoiding service.
The professional sergeant program was one of the efforts the authorities had announced in an effort to suggest that they were getting hazing of “dedovshchina” under control, and the announcement that this program has been put off is certain to lead many, including activists in the Soldiers’ Mothers Committees, to step up their campaigns against compulsory service.
Second, this delay in introducing one of the Russian government’s highest profile efforts at military reform not only will energize others who question that program, possibly leading to more demonstrations like the one in the Transbaikal earlier this month, but also raising questions about whether Moscow can pay for the “professional” army it wants.
One military analyst has posted a calculation of just how much such a “professional” military would cost, showing that it would be a budget-buster compared to the draft military that Russia has now. And his estimates, while not beyond dispute, are certain to prompt a new round of such projections (rusanalit.livejournal.com/653542.html).
And third, this delay, which may ultimately prove to be fatal to this program, not only means that the Russian armed forces are not yet ready or able to make the transition from a Warsaw Pact-style military to a modern force but alsocalls into question the ability of the government to reform those who are its last line of defense at a time of crisis.