Attrition: The Slow Death Of The Red Army


December 4, 2013: Back in 2009 Russia decided to shrink its armed forces and reorganize them. The plan was to reduce personnel strength from 1.2 million to one million by 2011 and increase the quality of the troops. Unfortunately reality had other ideas and today the military has only about 870,000 troops. The military was unable to attract as many volunteers as it wanted and popular pressure forced the period of conscript service to be reduced from two years to one. That meant twice as many conscripts were needed, but draft dodging has grown in popularity over the last two decades and most potential draftees bribed or faked their way out of conscript service. Thus the current force only has 406,000 volunteers (half of them officers) and only about 464,000 conscripts.

The 2009 reduction included the removal of 200,000 officers. Thousands of these officers remained in service, but as civilians, not officers. This included many doctors and other technical specialists. All this was intended to end the era of the "Red Army" (the force created by the communists who put together the Soviet Union in the 1920s). The Red Army was noted more for quantity than quality, and Russian military experts noted that this approach no longer worked as well as it used to. These days the key ingredient in military success is quality and Russia has been having a rough time getting it.

Another big change was converting the force from one based on divisions to one based on brigades. This also includes the elimination of many other Soviet era practices. For example, nearly all brigades will be at full strength in peacetime, eliminating the need to wait for reservists to arrive to fill out the unit before it can get to where it is needed. Another change is storing weapons and ammunition near to where the brigades’ troops live, instead of distant locations. That was an old custom, largely meant to prevent mutinous troops from arming themselves. The reforms make it possible for a brigade to be available for combat, or movement to a combat area, within a few hours, not a day or more. Improved training, better leaders, and new equipment is to bring Russian peacetime forces up to the same quality level of those in the West, particularly the United States or Britain. The Russians were impressed with the performance of these Western troops in Iraq and Afghanistan and want to emulate it.

All this is a big change, especially for the old timers who entered military service before 1991. The Russian armed forces lost 80 percent of its strength since the early 1990s, but a disproportionate number of officers remained. At the beginning of the reforms the Russian military had about 1.2 million personnel (400,000 in the army itself, the rest in paramilitary units that are largely uniformed and armed like soldiers). But there were 355,000 officers in this force. That's more than one in three and included 1,107 generals, 25,665 colonels, 99,550 majors, 90,000 captains, and only 50,000 lieutenants. With all that, some 40,000 officer positions were still vacant. The reorganization eliminated 20 percent of the generals, 65 percent of the colonels, 75 percent of the majors, and 55 percent of the captains. The number of lieutenants increased 20 percent. The number of military organizations (about 2,500) were cut by 80 percent. Most of these were reserve units, Cold War relics containing only a cadre of officers. In the event of a major war reservists (who were no longer available) would be called up to use the stockpiled equipment (also now missing). The Stavka (general staff) had its personnel cut 61 percent (to 8,500).  Many generals were not happy with all these cuts but the resistance never went beyond sharp words and bitter regrets.

After all this the old Red Army is truly gone, except in fading memories and the many military museums Russia still has. But the new force is not as reformed or as ready as the government would like, fixing that seems to be an endless task.





Help Keep Us From Drying Up

We need your help! Our subscription base has slowly been dwindling.

Each month we count on your contributions. You can support us in the following ways:

  1. Make sure you spread the word about us. Two ways to do that are to like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.
  2. Subscribe to our daily newsletter. We’ll send the news to your email box, and you don’t have to come to the site unless you want to read columns or see photos.
  3. You can contribute to the health of StrategyPage.
Subscribe   Contribute   Close