July 26, 2009: Russia's efforts to downsize and professionalize their military, especially their ground forces, continues to encounter problems. The idea behind the new defense reforms in the Russian military is to create a large, but more professional and competent force, than has been the case with the mass conscript armies that have dominated Russia since the Soviet period. Unfortunately, some of these goals are backfiring, as new measures to save money and get rid of excessive numbers of senior personnel are having the exact opposite result.
About 320,000 new draftees will be conscripted into the Russian Army during the Fall of 2009. This is a major jump up from the 219,000 inductees during Fall of 2008. Last Spring, only 133,000 new recruits were drafted for the ground forces. Part of this is due to the massive personnel cuts and reorganization that the armed forces have been undergoing recently. The officer ranks are being dramatically reduced and the entire rank of warrant officer has been eliminated and absorbed into other ranks. Finally, despite recently spending more money on their military, after years of massive neglect, the number of contract personnel (volunteer soldiers who serve longer than conscripts and are considered more reliable) is being reduced as well . The reason is simple: contract personnel cost more to train and retain than draftees, money that the Russians right now have to conserve as much as possible. All of this, of course, has crippled and cut down on the people needed most for a smaller, more competent military.
So it has all come down to a contest between numbers and quality. The Russians want to reduce their numbers from 1.34 million to 1 million personnel by 2012. But they still need, or feel that they need, to maintain at least a million troops available for war. This is a very different attitude from most European countries, especially Germany many NATO members, who often fall into the delusion that they will never again have to fight a major war. Countries like Germany and others in Western Europe are hesitant to deploy their forces anywhere in the world to begin with, and naturally assume that any deployments will be against terrorists or irregular fighters.
Not so for the Russians, who have been almost continuously involved in major conflict since the collapse of the USSR and automatically base their military doctrine on the premise that they will fight another major conventional theatre war sometime in the near or far future. Russia still views NATO as its primary conventional enemy, and prepares accordingly, particularly as countries within their traditional sphere of influence (like Georgia) become closer to the U.S.
The induction of larger numbers of conscripts is unlikely to alleviate the problems Russia has had with troop quality and morale in the last decade. Conscripts are poorly-trained, often abused, amd utterly unreliable in situations (like in crime-ridden Chechnya) where the presence of bribes is common. Conscripts frequently fall prey to alcoholism and drug abuse. The best troops the Russians currently have are their VDV Airborne Forces, which they used as their spearheads during the 2008 war with Georgia, and are the only significant units to make a make qualitative resurgence from the chaotic '90s. Given their current situation, the Russians are in dire need of deciding whether they want quantity or quality, since trying to have them both is obviously backfiring.