Russia: No conscription by 2012?

According to an article in the Financial Times, Russia aims to abolish conscription by 2012, as part of a modernisation of the Russian military. However, these reforms are contentious in Russia.

Plans announced last ­September by Dmitry Medvedev, the president, call for a cut in the officer corps from 350,000 to less than 200,000 by 2012, an end to conscription and an equipment modernisation programme. In tandem with the shrinking officer corps, the enlisted ranks are to be gradually replaced by kontraktniki, or professional soldiers. Almost all division-level commands (typically 10,000 to 15,000 soldiers) will be eliminated in favour of smaller, brigade-sized forces of 3,000 to 5,000 by 2020.

The Russian Armed Forces are presently roughly 1 million to 1.5 million strong, according to different sources. Of these, 200.000-300.000 are conscripts, and more than 300,000 are officers. Officers and the remaining soldiers are professional soldiers.

According to the Financial Times, by 2012 the Russian military is to be reduced to 1 million soldiers, of which only 150,000 will be officers - a cut in officers of 50%.

There is also a culture of violence and leadership through brutality in the Russian military. The heart of this problem is the conscription programme. Rampant brutality and hazing known as dedovshchina (formerly practiced by those in their second year of conscription before the two-year term of service was reduced to one year on 1 January 2008) often results in serious injury and death, including suicide. (Dedovshchina reportedly resulted in the loss of several hundred conscripts in 2007.)

Another problem is that already now many conscripts are being pressured, often through physical intimidation, into signing contracts to extend their service by up to three years. Thus, contract soldiers are not necessarily volunteers.

Sources: Financial Times: Moscow marches on with military reform, 25 June 2009; STRATFOR Global Intelligence: Part 2: Challenges to Russian Military Reform, 10 February 2009; Military.com: Russian Conscripts Forced to Enlist?, 24 January 2008