Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Some Points on the Russian Military

A couple of Moscow Times articles caught my eye this morning. (Unfortunately, my Russian isn't quite good enough to read Russian-language newspapers, something I work to improve.) The articles are "2,606 Hazing Convictions Last Year" by Stephen Boykewich and "Hazing Opens a Door for Change" by Oksana Yablokova. The points that caught my eye from the Boykewich article:
Addressing the Federation Council's committee for legal and judicial affairs, (Chief Military Prosecutor Alexander) Savenkov said that 6,000 soldiers had been injured in hazings in 2005, and that increasing attention by military prosecutors had led to 2,609 convictions.

Hazing accounted for about one-quarter of the 139,000 crimes registered in the military last year, he said. Some 15,700 criminal investigations led to 15,000 convictions, including those of 104 commanders and five high-ranking officers.

Savenkov added that more than 10,000 deserters were detained last year, which was a slight drop from 2004.

And from the Yablokova article:
Many in the military's highest ranks recognize the necessity of changing the army, said Vitaly Shlykov, a former deputy defense minister and a leading independent military expert. But, he said, "there needs to be the political will. For example, the military itself cannot decide to give itself sufficient funding to start forming the sergeant corps." The money needed to create a professional sergeant corps and train the men would be about the amount needed to reform the entire officer corps, Shlykov said.

The creation of a professional sergeant corps is widely seen as the cornerstone of military reform. "Until there are sergeants, there is no real army. A sergeant corps is the backbone of the army," Shlykov said.

President Vladimir Putin does not support the abolition of the draft, but he reiterated during his annual news conference last week his commitment to halve military service to one year for all conscripts by 2008.

Putin also urged the military to boost what he called "the work of education and upbringing," but did not talk about the creation of a professional sergeant corps. He spoke in favor of creating a military police and public control over the army.

The crime figures seem rather high, and somehow I suspect that even more than that is going on ... it is doubtful that every crime is caught. This is true everywhere, perhaps more true in Russia where the populace often has a more-than-healthy disrespect of the law. (I won't repeat the discussion I had on one return flight from Moscow, regarding why highway toll-booths wouldn't work in Russia.) The attitude that Americans have towards speeding tickets, might be extended to other areas of the law in Russia.

A one-year service requirement doesn't make much sense, as you essentially are creating even more of a revolving door. I can't see how it enforces discipline or creates a more highly trained or skilled fighting force.

As for the money required to create a sergeants corp ... perhaps the first place to look would be the £6.5bn ($11.35 billion dollars or 320.7 billion rubles) that Putin is spending to improve the infrastructure at Krasnaya Polyana in hopes of luring the 2014 Winter Olympics there.

Oh, and having your own personal ski lodge already there is just another bonus.

Now I understand why the Army barracks in Rostov Veliky has to burn potato skins for heat. It provides the wonderful aroma of baked potato to the neighborhood, but it seems that oil-rich Russia might be able to provide other means to heat their Army barracks. But with an Army corp that is so poorly paid, perhaps they worry the soldiers will just steal a truck-load of heating oil and resell it on the black-market to make some money.

How about reducing the size of the military to something that Russia can afford, abolish the draft, and restore professionalism and dignity to the Russia military? Perhaps offer incentives to soldiers to enlisting, such as the New GI Bill in the US? I've seen many Russian politicians call for this already. The current Russian military is estimated at 1,130,00 with roughly 330,000 men drafted each year for 2-years of service. It seems to me that stopping the draft, doubling pay, and encouraging a professional path in the military might go a long way towards restoring honor to what should be an honorable profession.

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