Staunton, March 21 – Vladimir Putin’s push to make the Russian military an all-volunteer force has fallen short, and Russia continues to rely on the draft to fill roughly a third of all billets in the services. But to limit the impact of the draft on the economy and win popular backing, the Kremlin leader in 2008 cut the length of service for those drafted to only one year.
That has dramatically reduced training time, and some Russian generals and politicians are now complaining that while the Russian army has not declined in size, it has in effectiveness because in the words of one retired general, many Russian soldiers now don’t know how to fight and will never learn to do so (svpressa.ru/war21/article/227956/).
That observation belongs to Viktor Bondaryev, a retired colonel general who serves as chairman of the defense and security committee of the Federation Council; and it constitutes both a direct attack on Putin, although the president was not named, and a warning that the Russian army is not the well-trained fighting machine the Kremlin insists it is.
Instead, Bondaryev’s statement suggest, the Kremlin has cut the length of service too much given the increasingly high-tech environment in which soldiers must operate. If they do not receive the necessary training in how to use these weapons, they are useless however impressive they may be in the abstract.
According to Svobodnaya pressa commentator Sergey Ishchenko, Bondaryev’s conclusions are shared by many senior military commanders, even though most of them have remained silent because Putin made the decision and challenging him openly at the very least is not career enhancing.
Seven years ago, Admiral Vladimir Komoyedov broke this silence and complained about the poor training of draftees given the brevity of service. In his words at the time, Ishchenko says, the soldiers and sailors really only receive serious weapons training for six months, the first six months of their time in uniform is dedicated to adapting them to military life.
There were indications at the time that many officers agreed with him, but they were not prepared to risk speaking out. And there have been echoes of those objections indirectly since that time; but Bondaryev’s criticism is the most open so far, an indication that there is growing concern about where Putin’s military program is leading.
(Another problem that reducing the service time to only a year was supposed to solve was dedovshchina, the mistreatment of those who have been in service for short periods by those who have been longer. But military prosecutors reported two years ago, Ishchenko says that this has not proved to be the case.)
But now the situation in the military has deteriorated to the point that the military analyst says means that one in every three draftees never has the kind of training he needs to be an effective combat soldier. And the rapid turnover caused by such short service periods is undermining unit cohesion as well.
Ishchenko adds that the defense ministry has even stopped requiring that Russian battalions “really learn how to fight because in the existing conditions” of a rapid turnover of poorly trained draftees “this is impossible.” Either Putin or his successor, the commentator says, are going to have to make changes or Russia won’t have the military it thinks it has or needs.