Saturday, April 13, 2019

Russia Not about to End Military Draft Anytime Soon Because It Can’t Afford To

Paul Goble

            Staunton, April 13 – Vladimir Putin has once again declared Russia must move from a draft-based army to a professional one, winning plaudits from experts and the Russian people -- just as he has ever time he has repeatedly made exactly the same declaration in the past (

            And while most experts say that Russia is and will continue to move toward a professional army, they say that the shift is unlikely to be rapid or complete given the imperatives of geography – its size means it must have a far larger army than many think -- and the high costs of doing so, costs now too high for Moscow to pay (

                Igor Korotchenko, editor of Moscow’s National Defense journal, says that the draft won’t completely disappear, but it will “simply be minimized” as an element of the formation of the army. Russia needs “the mobilized reserve” that draftees can serve in the event of a military conflict. That requires a draft as well as professionals.

            “We have too large a territory” to defend by a professional military alone.  And therefore, he argues, Russia must have a military based on both the draft and the recruitment of professionals.  Over the next several decades, Korotchenko says, this principle will not be changed fundamentally.

            Instead, “the number of draftees will simply be reduced to a certain figure which will be defined by the General Staff of the Russian Federation. Over the next 30 to 40 years, the draft will not disappear.”

            But geography and tradition are not the only reasons the draft will continue. Viktor Baranets, a retired colonel who serves as a military commentator for Komsomolskaya pravda, says that shifting to an all professional army is “impossible because of Russia’s weak economy.”
Draftees simply cost less.

            A draftee who is paid 2,000 rubles (30 US dollars) a month is a lot less expensive than a professional soldier who must be paid 25,000 to 35,000 rubles (400 to 600 US dollars) a month, the military commentator says; and that doesn’t include the additional supports and benefits the latter must receive in order to make such service attractive. 

            According to Baranets, Putin likely has in mind retaining a “symbolic” draft of about 50,000 a year, a number that would be about a sixth of the current call up. The General Staff could tolerate that if it received enough money to fund the professionals who would be needed as replacements.

            The Russian military has already made progress in that direction, the commentator says. Before 2016, the number of soldiers and officers who were draftees was about the same as the number of contract professional. Now the balance has shifted to 260,000 draftees as against 370,000 professionals.

            But at some point in the future, probably not very soon, Viktor Litovkin, a retired colonel, tells the URA news agency, the draft in Russia will disappear. But that will happen only once the Russian economy turns around and there is enough money to pay for the far more expensive professional force.

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