Russian History


Reform Plans

In 1996 Aleksey Arbatov, deputy chairman of the State Duma Defense Committee, stated that the armed forces must be reduced by at least 500,000 personnel, a force reduction of one-third, with a simultaneous increase in the annual military budget of about US$20 billion--more than twice its level at the time.

The official plan for armed forces reorganization was put forth in a presidential decree of August 1995. Reforms would occur in two stages, which were outlined only vaguely. The first stage, to last from 1996 to 2000, would include reorganization of the civilian economy to provide better overall budgetary support, stabilize the defense industry, and revamp the territorial divisions of the national defense system to match a new concept of strategic deployment. The second stage, 2001 to 2005, would address the international role of the Russian armed forces, ending with the creation of the "army of the year 2005."

The first phase was defined by five goals. First, a "rational" level of strategic nuclear forces would remain in place on land, sea, and air to defend against a global nuclear or conventional war. The level of such forces would be influenced by whether other powers had developed ABM defenses. Second, further downsizing was possible, depending on the leadership's estimation of optimal size given world conditions. Third, organizational structure would be changed only after comprehensive research, with numerous ground forces units to be combined and maintained at cadre strength. Fourth, procurement would be centralized, spending priorities strictly observed, and expenditures carefully monitored. Fifth, the command and control system would be improved in all operational-strategic groupings, optimizing control to ensure maximum combat readiness. There would be a clear definition of the respective functions of the Ministry of Defense, the General Staff, and the main directorates. The newly created State Commission for Military Organization and Development and the General Staff were to direct the fifth phase.

After issuing the reform decree, President Yeltsin periodically criticized the military (most notably Minister of Defense Grachev) for what he described as a complete lack of progress toward the stated goals. According to Western experts, this was a justified criticism, given the disorder and internal friction that prevented the military establishment from reaching consensus on any policy.

Military service became particularly unpopular in Russia in the mid-1990s. Under conditions of intense political and social uncertainty, the traditional appeal to Russian patriotism no longer resonated among Russia's youth (see Social Stratification, ch. 5). The percentage of draft-age youth who entered the armed forces dropped from 32 percent in 1994 to 20 percent in 1995. The Law on Military Service stipulates twenty-one grounds for draft exemption, but in many cases eligible individuals simply refuse to report; in July 1996, a report in the daily Pravda referred to a "daily boycott of the draft." In the first half of 1995, about 3,000 conscripts deserted, and in all of 1995 between 50,000 and 70,000 inductees refused to report. According to a 1996 Russian report, such personnel deficiencies meant that only about ten of Russia's sixty-nine ground forces divisions were prepared for combat. The armed forces responded to manpower shortages by extending the normal two-year period of active-duty service of those already in uniform; only about 19,000 of the approximately 230,000 troops scheduled for discharge in December 1994 were released on time.

The two most compelling reasons for the failure of conscription are the unfavorable living conditions and pay of soldiers (less than US$1 per month at 1995 exchange rates) and the well-publicized and extremely unpopular Chechnya operation. The Russian tradition of hazing in the ranks, which became more violent and was much more widely reported in the 1990s, also has contributed to society's antipathy toward military service (see Crime in the Military, this ch.). By 1996 the approval rating of the military as a social institution had slipped to as little as 20 percent, far below the approval ratings achieved in the Soviet era.

Although by 1996 Russia's armed forces were less than one-third the size they reached at their Cold War peak in the mid-1980s, there still was a need for large numbers of personnel who were appropriately matched to their assigned duties and who could be motivated to serve conscientiously. The issue of gradually replacing Russia's ineffectual conscription system with a volunteer force has brought heated discussion in the defense establishment. The semiannual draft, which has set about 200,000 as its regular quota, has been an abysmal failure in the post-Soviet era because of evasion and desertion. During evaluation of an initial, experimental contract plan, in May 1996 Yeltsin unexpectedly proposed the filling of all personnel slots in the armed forces with contract personnel by 2000. In 1996 some units already were more than half staffed by contract personnel, and an estimated 300,000 individuals, about 20 percent of the total nominal active force, were serving under contract. At that time, more than half of new contractees were women.

But the main obstacle to achieving Yeltsin's goal is funding. To attract competent contract volunteers, pay and benefits must be higher than those offered to conscripts. Already in early 1996, a reported 50,000 contract personnel had broken their contracts because of low pay and poor housing, and many commanders expressed dissatisfaction with the work of those who remained. In mid-1996 a final decision on the use of volunteers awaited discussion in the State Duma and a possible challenge in the Constitutional Court.