Leadership: How Officers Ruined The Russian Military


February 8, 2014:   The Russian military recently admitted that they had 25,000 officers on the payroll who did not have jobs. There is also a problem with the reserves (former troops who are organized for activation in wartime) because younger officers who join the reserves when they leave active service are entitled to housing and many who want to join the reserves cannot because the housing is not available. These are just two more items on an already long list of problems within the Russian military.

Russian military leadership has been in trouble since the 1970s. It began back then when most of the combat experienced World War II era officers were retiring and the senior officers (who could stay in longer) began to notice that the officers who entered the military after World War II were much less skilled in military matters, but were very adept at peacetime careerism and all manner of hustling.

All this bad behavior was in sharp contrast to the old days when the military was full of combat veterans. After 1991 it got even worse. When the Soviet Union dissolved in 1991 it had 5 million troops on active duty. By the end of the 1990s most were gone and now it's less than 1 million in just Russia (which has about half the population of the Soviet Union but most of the territory).

Although the Russian armed forces lost over 80 percent of its strength since 1991, a disproportionate number of officers remained. A decade ago the Russian military had about 1.2 million personnel (400,000 in the army itself, the rest in paramilitary units). But there were 355,000 officers in this force. That's more than 1 in 3. With all that, some 40,000 officer positions were still vacant. The recent reorganization eliminated over half of the officers but left many surviving officers bitter and in a bad mood.

This odd situation, with so many officer positions unfilled because of a lack of qualified officers and many officers with no assignments available for which they are qualified is the result of several unique factors. For one, the army recently disbanded hundreds of headquarters and reserve units, which had used a large number of officers and not much else most of the time. Moreover, most of the good officers had left service after the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991. For over a decade now Russia has been trying to build up its NCO (sergeants) numbers because it was obvious that the Western practice of using carefully selected and well trained NCOs was important. Building an NCO corps was difficult because the 1930s reforms had gotten rid of it (because officers, all members of the Communist Party, were considered more politically reliable than NCOs). Thus for over half a century the Russian military used officers to do jobs handled (usually more effectively) in the West by NCOs. These transitions have left the Russian leadership in a sorry state that will take time, effort and a lot of money to remedy. It’s been slow going and every two steps forward tends to be followed by one or two steps back.





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