New York, March 24 – Russia cannot maintain its military at current staffing levels through the draft because of the country’s demographic decline, and it cannot build an entirely professional one because of budgetary limitations, unless Moscow makes major changes, according to a member of the Presidential Council for Civil Society and Human Rights.
These are things that President Dmitry Medvedev, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, and most senior officials fully understand, Sergey Krivenko, who also serves as coordinator for the public initiative “Citizen and Soldier,” but that understanding leaves them with few attractive options (www.rosbalt.ru/2010/03/23/722566.html).
Although the interview Gen. Nikolay Markov, the chief of the General Staff, gave to “Rossiiskaya gazeta” attracted fare more attention, the press conference Krivenko gave together with Soldiers Mothers Committee of Moscow chief Tatyana Kuznetsova and VTsIOM sociologist Konstantin Abramov provided many more details.
Speaking first, Krivenko explicitly stated that “the failure of military reform in the form in which it has been conducted up to now is recognized by the leadership of the country.” The planned shift to a largely professional force has failed, and the draft, given the reduced length of service the government has allowed, is not working either.
Plans for contract service have failed so far “not as a result of financial causes but as a result of the incompetent administrative decisions of the Defense Ministry,” Krivenko continued, but plans to try to rescue the situation by boosting the salaries of professionals still further would bust the budget, particularly if the relative number of less-well-paid draftees continues to fall.
But their numbers appear bound to fall, at least in the next few years, given the small size of the cohort born in the troubled 1990s. If the number of soldiers is to be kept at 700,000 and if draftees are to serve only one year, then the military would have to draft 700,000 young people each year, a number far exceeding the number in the prime draft age groups.
One could address that, he says, but forcing people who avoided service earlier and who are still under 35 years of age to serve, “but for this would be necessary another kind of state, and one can imagine just what it would be like.” Such “a draconian variant” is something no one is now seriously considering.
Krivenko stressed that “the president and the government understand this. And they understand that ahead is a dead end,” one from which the country can escape either by spending more money on the military, increasing the length of service for those who are drafted, or cutting the size of the services still further.
Increasing the length of service is the easiest in some ways: after all, Moscow did it in the 1990s, boosting the requirement from 18 months to two years. But Krivenko argued that there are two reasons Moscow might not want to go in that direction. First, “the difference between one year and two” “is qualitatively different” than the earlier much-smaller increase.
And two, such an increase could exacerbate social and political tensions, possibly having an impact, he explicitly suggests, on who will occupy the position of Russian president after the 2012 election. Consequently, decisions on force structure are likely to become more not less political in the coming months.
In her comments, Kuznetsova seconded Krivenko’s suggestion that increasing the length of the draft would spark anger, especially given the continuing illegal behavior of the interior ministry in support of the draft and the equally illegal and highly offensive “dedovshchina” within the military.
But in his remarks, Abramov suggested that his polls indicate that Russian society still has not made a final judgment about military service. In 2009, 51 percent of those polled said that they favor retaining the draft, hardly an overwhelming majority but more than the 35 percent who favored such service in a 1998 poll.
Some 70 percent of those who favor a draft say they believe it is necessary to maintain the necessary reserves, while about 40 percent, Abramov continued, “consider the army ‘a good school of life,” and a slightly smaller number suggest that it is school that helps train good citizens more generally.
Asked why young Russians don’t want to serve, 70 percent mentioned dedovshchina, 29 percent pointed to the risks of internal conflicts, about 30 percent noted the difficultiesof service, 15 percent said young people were not patriotic enough, and “14 percent supposed that young people do not want to lose years” of the lives to such service.
Among the other figures Abramov offered were the following: “More than 70 percent of Russians consider increasing military spending necessary while only 25 percent favor an increase in the number of those in uniform,” with “about half of those polled offering that the number in the Armed Forces now is more or less optimal.”
A major reason for that support, the VTsIOM analyst suggested, is that the military enjoys a high and rising approval rating. The share of Russians saying they approve what the army is doing has risen from 32 percent in2006 to 56 percent in 2009, cresting at 61 percent at the time of the Georgian war.
According to Abramov, “the army and the media are the only social institutions which citizens place ‘in the positive part of the scale.’ For comparison,” he notes, “the Social Chamber of the Russian Federation is ‘at the zero point,’ with the remaining ‘social institutions’ being in an even worse position.