January 16, 2008
At the same time, Putin could not come out in contradiction to the military leadership, who were organically incapable of framing the concept of an all-volunteer army. One must admit that our military leaders were exceptionally effective at waging war against reforms. In the process they proved very adroit at using stereotypes about the military that are deeply rooted in the minds of Russian government leaders. The Kremlin quickly grasped that transforming the military from a conscription-based system would cause military service to become a profession, and stop being simply the harshest form of taxation. And this would fundamentally change the relationship between the government and the people. Because contract service assumes mutual obligations and responsibilities, whereas conscription preserves the right of the government to use people as it sees fit without having to answer to anyone. Freeing people from such a levy is completely inconsistent with the basic concept of the government created by Vladimir Putin. Consequently, while no real reform was actually undertaken, it was decided that in the event of a local conflict a few dozen units and quick-reaction forces would be assembled using contract service members. In theory, these forces could be detached to conflict areas without the need for additional mobilizations or work-ups. At the time it was announced that fulfillment of this plan was directly connected with a reduction of the required term of service for conscripts to one year.
And now the Ministry of Defense has reported that the objectives of the FTP have been met. But wouldn’t you know it, right then, in the first few days of January, representatives from the organization “Soldiers’ Mothers of Saint Petersburg” announced that in the Totskiy garrison, located in Orenburgskaya Oblast, around thirty soldiers approaching the end of their required term of service were subjected to actual torture to force them to sign contracts to extend their service. The military authorities immediately accused the mothers of slander and promised to sue them.
Actually though, the forcing of signatures from contract soldiers should hardly come as a surprise. I suspect the leadership of the military is right now making feverish efforts to prevent the collapse of a classic pyramid scheme, which is exactly what the FTP has become.
We begin by noting that in the course of carrying out the FTP the Ministry of Defense has several times gotten the Kremlin to agree to reductions in its objectives. Recall that the plan originally called for the transitioning of 144,000 soldiers and senior enlisted to a contract basis. This number was then casually reduced to 133,000, then to 121,000. And now, lo and behold, reporting on the successful completion of the plan, they say that there are now 100,000 contract soldiers. True, the head of the mobilization command of the general staff, General Vasiliy Smirnov tells us that in the quick reaction forces there is a 20-percent “vacancy rate” in soldier and senior enlisted positions. If that is so, however, then there can be no talk of the FTP having been fulfilled. Just as there can be no talk of a quick reaction force where one-fifth of its complement is missing.
At the same time, Smirnov claims that the missing contract soldiers will be “additionally acquired” in the first few months of 2008. It is entirely possible that the short-time soldiers at the Totskiy garrison came, as they say, up for release just as their commanders were receiving an order to secure, by whatever means necessary, the required number of contract enlistments.
On the other hand, there is absolutely no reason for believing any of the figures put out by the leadership of the military related to the FTP. Because they are never consistent. Embarking in the FTP, the military leadership informed us that at that time the army already had 155,000 contract soldiers, and now they claim that this number has grown to 206,000. At the same time, there has been no mention of a massive reduction in the number of contract positions in the regular army. Therefore their total number has increased not by 100,000, but by only 50,000 men.
But the issue is not only in the shortfall in the number of military professionals. Even worse is the situation with their quality. In between the triumphant reports, the truth about their true condition comes rupturing out. For example, the senior commander of Ground Forces, General Aleksey Maslov acknowledges: “For some reason, in the level of their preparedness the contract soldiers are not much better than military units composed of draftees.” And the chief military prosecutor noted at the end of the year a sharp growth in crime among the contract soldiers - twenty-five percent higher compared to 2006. No surprise here: ensnared into contract units, short-term soldiers leave at the first opportunity, since they sincerely cannot see why in the heck they should stay another year.
And here is why the figures do not add up. For exactly the reason that the figures from any organizer of a pyramid scheme will not add up. In private conversation, senior military leaders admit: in recent years they have hardly succeeded in bringing in as many new recruits as those that have left the army. It would appear that the number of military service members in contract units hovers somewhere around 50,000.
Of course it is understood that at the moment this program is completed the entire pyramid will collapse. But the military leadership here skips along like any financial manipulator, and simply starts up a new swindle. It announces that a new plan has been prepared, as a result of which in 2009-2011 all senior enlisted in the military, including all shipboard crew in the Navy - a total of 87,000 positions - will be on a contract basis.