September 29, 2010:
The Russian military is facing a manpower crises. The problem is simple. The Russian armed forces are still dependent on conscription, and dodging the draft has become a very popular endeavor with the youth of Russia. The draft dodgers, not the military, are winning. This year, the military expects to come up 20 percent short of the number of conscripts it needs. The generals and admirals appear to realize that the problem is partly their own. Potential conscripts believe the problem is completely the fault of the military.
The big problem is lousy morale among the troops. The cause of this goes back over sixty years. After World War II, Russia deliberately avoided developing a professional NCO corps. They preferred to have officers take care of nearly all troop supervision. The NCOs that did exist were treated as slightly more reliable enlisted men, but given little real authority. Since officers did not live with the men, slack discipline in the barracks gave rise to the vicious hazing and exploitation of junior conscripts by the senior, or simply stronger and more ruthless, ones. This led to very low morale, and a lot of suicides, theft, sabotage and desertions. Long recognized as a problem, no solution ever worked.
During the 1990s, when military budgets were cut by over two-thirds, most of the best officers got out, and went on to make their fortunes in the new market economy. That left a lot of career officers who saw no other job prospects. Many turned to corrupt practices to supplement their low military pay. Corruption got out of hand.
The hazing and corruption in the military is a complex issue. For one thing, Russia does not have military police to deal with this sort of thing. During the Soviet period (1921-91), the KGB kept an eye on criminal activity in the military, but was more concerned with loyalty and espionage. The violence and hazing in the ranks was not seen as a big problem. It is now, because Russians can vote, and the parents of young men getting abused while doing their conscript service, are making a lot of noise over this issue. Taxpayers are more interested in what the military is doing with their money.
Russian commanders, envious of the success of all-volunteer Western forces, have decided to adopt a lot more Western military customs. For example, from now on, Russian troops will not be confined to their barracks most of the time. In the Soviet era, the conscripted troops were treated like convicts, and their barracks were more like a prison than the college dormitory atmosphere found in troop housing for Western military personnel. Russian conscripts will now be free to leave the base on weekends, and work only a five day week. This helps, but the bullying and lack of security in the barracks persists.
Russia has also admitted that troop pay has to match what is available in the civilian sector, if the military is to get the quality of personnel it wants, and needs. With the number of officers being cut by 150,000, it's easier to afford big pay raises for officers and NCOs. Pay is also being raised for volunteer enlisted troops, as this "contract soldier" program did not offer enough money to attract sufficient capable recruits. But there's not enough money to use only volunteers. So the military still needs conscripts, and until life can be made bearable for them, they will continue to avoid military service.