Cablegate: Russia Begins One-Year Conscription Requirement

DE RUEHMO #0255/01 0320932
R 010932Z FEB 08




E.O. 12958: N/A

1. (U) Summary. Russia has adopted a multipronged approach
to the professionalization of its military: seeking to
enhance the quantity and quality of its conscripts by
reducing the numbers of exemptions and limiting the draft to
one-year; shifting the balance of forces within the military
between contract and conscript; and endeavoring to make
contract service more attractive with increased pay and
better quality of life conditions. However, the 2006 law on
military conscription which came fully into force on January
1, 2008, fails to tackle adequately the continued problems of
hazing, Russian demographics, and abysmal living conditions
for enlisted men. The overarching failure to make
significant changes in Russia's military doctrine will
continue to make it difficult for Russia to meet its manpower
and professionalization goals. End summary.

One-Year Mandatory Military Service

2. (U) Following the Second Chechen War, Putin reportedly
became convinced that a conscript army was ineffective to
defend the country and to engage in new high-tech,
rapid-reaction, counter-insurgency and counterterrorist
operations. In 2003, Putin and the military leadership
reached a solution to develop a cadre of professional
soldiers able to handle future regional conflicts, with the
goal of having 70 percent contract and 30 percent conscript
servicemen by 2010.

3. (SBU) At the same time, Putin insisted on also cutting
conscription service from two years to one year. This
decision was opposed by the military leadership, but was a
popular political move, and partially intended to help deal
with the serious problem of hazing in the military. In June
2006, the Russian State Duma passed the law cutting the term
of conscription from two years to 18 months in 2007, and then
to one year in 2008. Along with the cut in length of
service, the new law also eliminated a number of exemptions
from serving and imposed stricter requirements for
registration of 17-year olds and for approval of exemptions.
According to most estimates, up to 90 percent of draft-age
men avoided service by taking advantage of the numerous
exemptions, including for university or technical education,
health, hardship, alternative service, and other reasons, and
by paying bribes to officials to escape being drafted.
Aleksandr Golts, Deputy Editor-In-Chief of the Weekly
Journal, noted that "avoiding military service became the
national sport."

4. (SBU) Deputy Chief of the General Staff Vasili Smirnov
claimed that the new regulations would double the number of
conscripts. Officials would be expected to approve fewer
exemptions, to undertake greater efforts to identify and
register 17-year olds and to make 18-year olds report for
service, to enact programs to address health issues at an
earlier age, and to ensure border guards scrutinized more
closely the reasons young men were going abroad and refused
exit to those who appeared to be dodging the draft. Also,
there would be more effort to enforce the requirement that
those who received university and technical education
exemptions served their term after they graduated.
Then-Defense Minister Sergey Ivanov said in 2005 that the
military was made up of "workers and peasants," because so
many Russians with access to education were obtaining
exemptions. Tatiana Parkhalina, Director of the Center for
European Security, agreed that going to a one-year term would
increase the percentage of those entering service, noting
that one year was psychologically more palatable. Golts
disagreed, predicting that draft-age men would still seek to
avoid service, by paying bribes to local officials, or
emigrating abroad. Both acknowledged, however, that Russia's
demographics would make it very difficult for Russia to meet
its manpower goals.

Positive Impact on Hazing?

5. (SBU) Ministry of Defense officials also contended that
going to a one-year term for conscripts would help reduce the
serious problem of hazing, and thereby eliminate one of the
principal reasons young men sought to avoid service. Some
experts, including Parkhalina, and Aleksandr Belkin, Deputy
Executive Director of the Council on Foreign and Defense
Policy, agreed, noting that most hazing was done by
second-year conscripts of first-year recruits. Others,

MOSCOW 00000255 002 OF 003

however, like Golts and Valentina Melnikova, Executive
Secretary of the Union of Soldiers' Mothers Committee in

Russia, argued that officers were increasingly carrying out
the hazing, and they did not anticipate a significant
decrease in the amount or severity of cases. Golts noted
that Russia did not have an effective Non-Combatant Officer
(NCO) corps, and in its efforts to create one, it was simply
forcing specialists to sign contracts as Sergeants. With
little supervisory experience, he argued, these new NCO's
would continue to see hazing as an easy way to keep

Demographics and Corruption Undercut Manpower Goals
--------------------------------------------- ------

6. (U) The MOD declared its intention to cut the number of
active servicemen from over 1.3 million in 2001 to 1.1
million by 2011-2015, and to achieve 70 percent
professionalization of the forces by 2010. According to
demographic statistics, the number of males reaching military
age annually was 1.5 million in 2005. Given current
demographic trends, that number is expected to drop to
roughly 840,000 by 2009. To maintain the forces at the
levels desired, Russia would need to draft approximately
400,000 - 500,000 young men in 2009 (since all those drafted
in 2008 would leave service after one year). Even if the
exemption rate dropped below 90 percent, the MOD would be
hard-pressed to meet their conscript-level goals.

7. (SBU) Similarly, the MOD has had to cut its anticipated
number of sergeants and soldiers switching to contract duty
from 144,000 to 100,000. General Smirnov has acknowledged
that 20 percent of contract positions remain vacant.
According to Golts, the MOD was drawing most of its
professional soldiers from the ranks of current short-term
personnel, many of whom were being forced into signing
contracts through the use of "deceit, fraud, psychological
pressure, and violence." He added that many of these
contract soldiers were simply not returning from leave.
Rather than seeking them out and forcing them to return to
duty or face disciplinary action, he said, many commanding
officers were not reporting their absence and pocketing their
pay instead. Additionally, MOD estimates were that only
15-19 percent of contract servicemen were renewing their
contracts upon expiration. Golts estimated that only about
50-75,000 of the reported 100,000 professional forces were
actually available for service.

Systemic Problems and Lack of Resources

8. (SBU) The MOD has taken a number of steps to improve
quality-of-life conditions, including increasing pay and
pensions, establishing educational benefits, and constructing
thousands of new housing units for enlisted personnel, in
order to make both conscription and contract service more
attractive. Vitaly Shlykov, Founding Member of the Council
on Foreign and Defense Policy, noted that Defense Minister
Serdyukov has made improving the quality of military housing
and conditions a top priority.

9. (SBU) However, Shlykov, and other experts, noted that
there was still a significant housing shortage and much
existing housing was in very poor condition. Furthermore,
salary and pension increases, while substantial (pay
increases were 15 percent in 2007), could not keep up with
inflation rates in Russia (inflation has averaged 10 percent
annually over the past five years). Thus, perceptions among
draft-age males were still of difficult living conditions,
and insufficient remuneration and benefits. These, coupled
with the fear of being killed or seriously injured in hazing
incidents, continued to make serving in the military
unappealing to many young men.

Doctrine Does Not Match Planning

10. (SBU) Finally, according to most experts, despite the
announced goal of using professionalization to modernize the
Russian military and make it better able to handle regional
conflicts and insurgency and terrorist operations, the
military brass continues to base its doctrine on the need for
mass mobilization of the army, and sees conscription as the
best way to get large numbers of cannon fodder into the field
fast. Thus, some experts, including Golts, predicted that,

MOSCOW 00000255 003 OF 003

in the face of significant manpower shortfalls beginning in
2009, the military leadership could seek to reinstate the
two-year draft.


11. (SBU) The change to a one-year term for conscription and
accompanying exemptions are likely to lead to a slight
increase in the numbers of young males carrying out their
military service, but systemic problems in the Russian
military, such as hazing, low pay, poor living conditions,
negative perceptions, and corruption will not disappear in
the near future. Similarly, while the Defense Ministry will
(reluctantly) continue to carry out the Kremlin's edict to
professionalize the army, its failure to overhaul its
doctrine, coupled with inadequate defense spending and
demographic trends, will make meeting its long-term goals
increasingly challenging.

© Scoop Media

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